university

Thanks a lot Obama

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Uh oh.

It’s happening.

I’m growing up.

And it’s all Obama’s fault.

I am still a graduate student. It’s been 18 long years of school and somehow I still scribble down my assignments in a planner, rush to class late (but with coffee), procrastinate my work and consider Cheetos a part of the food chain. We have had a good run, school and I.

I mean, I like school. I just don’t like like school, you know? However, one benefit of going to school is I get to work in the Office of the President at USC. I really like my job. I enjoy the people who work there, I feel challenged all the time and I get to be a part of really great, inspiring things at the university. Plus, the President’s kitchen is definitely something to write home about. All the granola bars, diet cokes and yogurt-covered almonds you could ask for. Then you wash it down with a coffee and eat some pretzels to round off the meal. It’s great.

Here is my problem: Obamacare is messing with my access to yogurt-covered almonds. In fact, it’s messing with a whole lot of things in my life. I’m not going to pretend like I know the ins and outs of this whole thing, but it boils down to this: student workers are no longer allowed to work more than 20 hours a week for the university. I spend 20 hours a week on watching Friends alone, so how can you limit me like that? I understand that it’s a rule meant to protect students, but from what? Being able to pay their bills??

So here I am, forced to look for a real job. Can you put “stocked kitchen” under minimum compensation requirements? A girl can dream.

I have been working on my resume all week wondering what employers are looking for. Like sometimes I realize I didn’t drink any water for 3 days and I should be kind of dead but I’m not. Is that a skill? I can’t tell you how many times I have pulled up a thesaurus to find another word for “qualified” or “hard-working” so the employer will be like, “This girl has such a diverse vocabulary and didn’t repeat the same word twice which is totally a skill we are looking for.”

Basically, Obama is making me grow up and I’m kinda bitter about it. Pretty soon I’m going to be working a 9 to 5 for The Man. Until then, I am going to wake up at 10am tomorrow and eat a cookie for breakfast because I will never be this young ever again and being an adult is overrated.

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Farewell Summer

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This is it.

Despite my attempts to turn back the clock, despite dragging my feet and digging my heels into the ground, despite my refusal to cross days off my calendar…

School has started again.

It’s not that I hate school. In fact, if you look at my track record, you might think I like it a lot. I’m going onto my 6th year in college. Six years. I haven’t done much of anything for 6 years straight. I have freckles on my body that are less than 6 years old. I am leaving college with more freckles than I came into it with.

So anyhow, this is my last real semester in my master’s program. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. I still have to do my thesis in the spring, but it totally doesn’t count, right? I’m basically graduated besides the massive, overwhelming, looming thesis project I have yet to think about. But let’s not get hung up on the minor details…

I had a nice break after my summer course. A whole month of classless bliss. To be clear, I was classy during my break, I just didn’t have a class to go to. That month was a whirlwind of friends, concerts, lying by the pool, and even a little bit of state hopping. I knew I would get too comfortable. The sun would be too warm and the pool too refreshing. The drinks would be too delicious. The relaxing would be too relaxing.

Then this. Out of nowhere, without warning, class would start again. My attempt to will time to stop was unsuccessful, so here I am. It’s my first day of class and I already hear a margarita calling my name later.

Cheers to the beginning of the last real semester. Sort of.

A Commencement Speech from a Fellow Student

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“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.”

I’m pretty sure I saw it on the Abraham Lincoln parody Twitter account… or was it the Tupac one? Anyway, that saying and many other cheesy phrases are always thrown out around graduation time. Commencement speeches always talk about reaching for the stars, realizing your potential, and grabbing the metaphorical bull by the horns. I mean, it does make sense. They could give a speech about how half the graduates in the audience won’t land a job that utilizes their degree and will probably move in with their parents again, but that doesn’t do much for morale.

So they stick to the cliché topics about aspirations and how to be successful in a competitive marketplace. As cheesy as they are, I actually love listening to commencement speeches. Universities seek out people who have been exceptionally successful in their field and ask them to address the future generation that is about to embark on the scariest part of their lives. I’m sure speakers spend a long time deciding what they want to say to these young people and how exactly to say it. There is a lot of pressure to perform well, but the students are generally pretty receptive to anything since they are so excited to never take a midterm again. I am the perfect example; my commencement speaker made no sense whatsoever and spent more time talking about his list of achievements than actually addressing us. It was like he was reading his resume except it took an hour and he didn’t skip over the boring parts. But we all cheered and give him a standing ovation when he was finished because, as I said before, no more midterms is exciting.

The older I get, the more I appreciate hearing advice from others. I try to soak up knowledge from anyone and everyone who is more experienced than me. Part of the reason behind that is because students today are highly pressured to know exactly what they want to do in life. The question that always follows “What are you studying?” is “What do you plan to do with that degree?” I have always felt like I had to know the exact field and type of job I wanted by the time I graduated. Not being 100% sure made me feel panicky, as if I was falling behind. Then, I realized at graduation that no one else knew what the hell they were doing either. We were all asking each other about our future plans hoping to discover that other people are just as lost as us.

Coming into graduate school I realized that most people have no clue what their future plans are. Careers are rarely a linear path. Every professor and professional I have come across has told me they worked in many different fields before finding their passion. These people, who are extremely successful, did not start working in the industry they exceled in until they were thirty or older. They don’t usually mention that in commencement speeches, but it sure would help take the pressure off. Forcing students to pick their careers at such a young age can actually impede them from finding their dream jobs. Graduates are so pressured to find something to do that they often settle for a job that makes their family and friends happy, but not them. Maybe if they knew that jumping around from company to company is normal, that most people don’t start in the field they will end up in, and that it might not happen until you are in your thirties, they might dream a little bigger. Having a sucky job after graduation doesn’t mean you will always have a sucky job. Just because it doesn’t happen in a year doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. You have to give yourself room to explore in order to find what you are truly good at and passionate about. All you can do is go out and try things. The worst that can happen is you will fail, but isn’t that better than never trying at all? Just remember, as Twitter Tupac said, if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.

If I Could Kill an Intangible Thing it Would be Financial Aid

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During my time as an undergraduate student I was lucky enough to have my college paid for. Through scholarships and family help, I left with a bachelor’s degree and zero debt. I am very aware of how lucky I was in college, even during that time. I didn’t have to deal with loans at all. I was first introduced to the crippling world of financial aid when I started my $100,000 graduate program last year. Since then, we have had a hate-hate relationship. I always say road rage has nothing on financial aid rage. I would rather cut off my baby toe than deal with financial aid, but school is expensive, so here I am with ten toes. I believe there are some fundamental issues with our financial aid system in America. Our government has a system in place that is supposed to promote higher education for people who cannot afford to pay the money upfront, but I believe it has flaws that can cripple students along the way.

1. Applying requires a high IQ in itself

Okay first there is the FAFSA… Okay I can handle that. It’s annoying, but at least it walks you through it step by step. Of course, if you get one little detail wrong it can impact whether or not you get any financial help for college… so no pressure. So you turn it in and you feel all good about yourself. Then your school(s) contacts you. They want information as well. Then an outside loan website wants you to fill out paperwork for specific loans. Each of these things has to happen before any money is released. The fact that you have to turn things in to three different places for one loan is a little crazy. If you accidentally overestimated the amount of credits you plan to take on your application (that you did 5 months before classes started) then you don’t get your money. If you forget to do online loan counseling, you don’t get your money. There are a million different things you can do wrong which will screw you over. HERE IS THE BEST PART: They will not tell you that you messed up along the way. If you think no news is good news you are WRONG. No news could mean you are getting nothing because you messed up. You will not know you screwed something up until your tuition is due and the financial aid didn’t disperse. During the beginning of a semester, the financial aid offices are bombarded with frantic students. Get ready to wait in the office for at least a few hours or wait on the phone for even longer. I wonder how many low-income smart students didn’t go to college because they stumbled over these hurdles.

2. You have to go to school full-time

Okay, I am sure there is some brilliant reason for this but I can’t think of one. I don’t know why students can’t get loans while going to school part-time so they can work in order to make payments on their loans at the same time. It makes me feel like they want students to be full-time so they can’t work enough to pay their bills. “Why would they want that?” you ask. Because it means they have to get loans for their living expenses as well. More loans is more $$$$ for the government. I might just by cynical but I don’t see any other reason to force students to go full-time. Maybe they don’t trust us and think we are using the money to go to Cancun, but who says you can’t get a good education and a good tan at the same time?

3. Late charges come before loan money comes

THIS ONE IS MY FAVORITE. The most baffling of all the baffles. Let me set up a little scenario for you: You are going to school in the fall and classes start on September 1st. You did a great job applying for your student loans and you agreed to go to school full time. You got all your school supplies. You are ready to go. Your student account alerts you in that your tuition for fall is due to be paid on August 15th. Wait, this can’t be right! Your loans don’t disperse until the first day of classes in September. WELL TOO BAD, GOOD LITTLE STUDENT. You will freak out and make calls and they will tell you, “Don’t worry, good little student, it’s okay.” You still worry. Especially when you get an email giving you your first notice that the tuition cost will go to collections. Collections! So you get late charges. LATE CHARGES even though you haven’t gotten your GOVERNMENT GIVEN FINANCIAL AID YET. Even though this is the system THEY MADE. Of course, when you finally get your money, most schools’ financial aid offices will reverse the late charges if you call them and ask. They don’t advertise that, so most students pay the late charges unknowingly. So the government/schools make money off of your naïveté. Want to cut off your toes yet?

4. Interest grows while you are in school

This makes me giggle like a psychiatric patient. The predominant reason the government allocates money to students is because they want to “invest in the future.” There are good intensions at the heart, but the infrastructure does not reflect that. For example, I don’t have to make payments on my loans until I graduate (or for some, 6 months after that) which is a great system. However, some of them accrue interest along the way. That’s right folks, you don’t have to make payments, but the lump sum will get bigger and bigger if you don’t. That interest is pure profit for the government. This school year I accrued about $1,000 in interest. It’s so nice of them to “invest in my future” that way.

5. It puts more stress on school

You have to think whom this system benefits and whom it hurts. The graduation rate of students is directly related to income level. It is 2014 and money is still power. The lower your income, the less connected to resources, and the less options you have, the more likely you are to drop out of college or never try at all. Those who do try are overwhelmed with stress. Failure in classes isn’t an option because of the financial cost to low-income students and their families. When they hit rough patches in classes (which everyone does) they have a significantly higher dropout rate. Students without loans and financial stress can focus on their classes and may not have to work at all. Don’t get me started on the fact that unpaid internships are now considered “necessary” on the resume of students which is nearly impossible for low-income students who have to work and make money while in school. College is hard enough without crippling financial stress.

6. Made for profit

As I said before, I don’t think the whole financial aid system is evil. I know there are great things about it. I wouldn’t be getting my master’s degree without it. I am just pointing out that the system is for-profit. Something created for the betterment of society should not be focused on making money. I know I speak for everyone when I say I would be able to make a better impact on society when I graduate if I wasn’t so burdened by debt. At least I have all my toes.