First times and second chances

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First times and second chances

Making the most of your college experience

By Sarah Richards

Most of us go to college to get a degree so that we can have a career that will pay for that education.  However, if your sole objective is to get your degree and get the hell out, you’re missing out on everything else the college experience has to offer.

Taking advantage of opportunities to make connections and do new things is one of the keys to getting the most out of school.  

Your student card will grant you free access to cultural events, such as shows at the Lyceum, ranging from one-act plays to musicals to poetry readings to concerts.  

Pensacola State has a variety of clubs for every persuasion, be it philosophy, mathematics, or geology.  

A full gym and swimming pool is also available for those who need to burn off some pre- or post-test stress.  To help alleviate such stresses, there is access to free virtual and on-campus tutoring in writing, math, and other subjects.  There are also in-school scholarships and free textbook rentals (for those who qualify) to help ease the financial burden or enable a student to take an extra class, career counselors, job boards, and a health clinic.  You even get printing privileges (250 free pages a semester) at the library.  Numerous work-study positions are available for students who have the time and need the money.

Though higher education is an expensive investment in oneself (timewise and moneywise), college has been proven to enhance critical thinking, oral and writing skills, abstract reasoning, and to aid  in the solidification of soft skills.  Studies have shown that a college education exposes one to more viewpoints and increases open-mindedness.  For myself, it heightened my confidence and perspective.

What’s more, when you do restaurant or retail work, you complete repetitious tasks, but in college, you’re advancing every four months to something more challenging.  When you’re working for a boss, all they care about is that you get the job done; in college, most professors are interested in your success.  (I go to to find them.)

One algebra professor gave us daily pep talks about practicing math (you don’t “study” math, you do it—sort of like brain surgery) and that “life is better with a degree.”  He admitted that Pizza Hut, where he worked so much harder for far less money. made him want to finish college.  He was interested in our minds, and, unlike a boss, wasn’t interested in keeping us there forever, but wanted us to go forward, and, if we must, “hate math again.”

College will connect you to people you would have never crossed paths with otherwise.

In college, you learn the answers to questions you didn’t know you had.  For example, this same math professor finally shed light on why we have to learn this “nonsense” (meaning algebra)–that it was to sharpen our attention to detail.  “Sometimes, we’re one keystroke from ruining somebody’s life,” he said, and so I could work on this “nonsense” with a newfound sense of purpose.

College gives you time to think, not just act.

So, you watch “Shark Tank” and see the hustlers who never went to college and articles about people like Bill Gates being a college dropout, but a degree isn’t just a window of opportunity–it’s a door to experiences unique to the college life.

The diversity of a public community college makes everyone feel like it’s never too late to get an education, reinvent yourself, or launch a new career, so no matter your age or background, get involved in something outside the classroom.  

Until I took a reporting class, I didn’t have an online portfolio of published work to show to a potential employer.  

Seek out internship opportunities as well, which you’re more likely to get as a college student, as you’re perceived as a “serious individual.”  Internships are the answer to that old dilemma about needing experience that no one will hire you without.

If you have the chance, take a few classes just because they interest you.  (Many people figure out what they want to do by getting a general studies degree.)  

College is a time of chrysalis–I enrolled as a Health Information Technology major, so sure I wanted to be a medical biller and coder (to appease the introvert in me), and now, more than a couple years in, and through a series of misunderstandings as well as a suggestion by a cybersecurity professor, I will be specializing in something else in the healthcare field (something far sexier than medical coding, like hearing aids)–something I might not have thought of on my own.  Stay after class once in awhile.  You might learn something else.

So whether your passion is in STEM or in the arts, there is something for everyone at a liberal arts college.

And always keep in mind that no education is ever wasted.