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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

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Readers Blog: The World on Wheels

Don't Squander College Years

Ten years ago this month, my life changed. The security blanket of high school had been removed, and I was going away to college. Being a person who tends to fear the unknown, I was initially terrified. A decade later, I can honestly say that college was the best time in my life, at least so far.

Fast forwarding to today, thousands of young adults have packed their cars, moved into dorms and attended their first classes in which a teacher didn't take attendance. Some might be homesick and feel like just a number in the largest classroom they've ever seen. Many others are relishing the freedom of not being under constant supervision.

One hopes both groups understand they're on campus to learn and that their newfound independence means time management, discipline and sound decision-making are paramount to success. Any choice now, especially a bad one, can and likely will have a significant impact on their future.

Today's students are entering college at an opportune time. It's obviously a terrible time to need a job, but one hopes that improves in the next four or so years while they are deciding what they want to do with their lives. Provided that students work hard in college, they will come out ready to contribute to a once-again growing economy and be on a path to personal prosperity.

You hear a lot about changing the world in college. As our state and country navigate troubled waters, this year's freshman might be in a unique position to actually make that happen.

Wisconsin's system of two- and four-year institutions gives students plenty of options for higher education. If you're reading this on one of those campuses, I hope you've found the right fit. Maybe you're biding time at a two-year school to improve your grades or at a four-year university and unsure what to study. That's fine; changing schools or majors is not the worst thing you could do. You have the luxury of time, if not always the luxury of money in an era of increasing tuition and fees.

However, the worst thing you could do is to enter college unmotivated to learn. Sure, Wisconsin students party hardy, but sooner or later, nearly everyone will need to find work. As of mid-2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 28% of people aged 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher, and the overall number of college graduates was 54 million. The same study found a 61% jump in median earnings for college graduates. In sum, education equals higher wages. Everybody likes money, right?

You never know where your college years might take you or what historical event might mark the time period. Mine was Sept. 11. I hope a horror of that magnitude doesn't strike again, but rest assured, your life and the world around you will change in ways you can't fathom now.

These are the best years of your life. Enjoy them. But whatever you do, don't waste them.

 

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