Right Sizing Your Education Options

Aligning a Course of Study to your Ambitions

Guest post by Scott Wachtmann

by Schlüsselbein2007 CC Flickr
by Schlüsselbein2007 CC Flickr

Choosing a college is a big decision.  It seems to me that students who choose to pursue an education after high school often look at college as the only option in reaching that goal.  The truth is the decision to attend college should be a strategic choice made because it is the best path to reach one’s ambitions.

When I was a high school my parents had heard of a local charter school by the name of Washtenaw Technical Middle College (WTMC).  The program would allow me to leave my current high school and enroll at Washtenaw Community College (WCC) as a full time student.  I would complete a semester of college prep courses and then begin a course of study that was completely blended with the traditional students of WCC.  The charter program would completely cover my cost of attendance and by the time I finished my senior year I would graduate with at least a certificate in a technical field as well as my high school diploma.

Being a student at WTMC gave me a chance to greatly accelerate my education. Every class I took in high school was being directly translated to college credit.  By the time I graduated I had achieved 101 credit hours, completing two Associate Degrees, and two Advanced Certificates.

The course I pursued at WTMC opened up new opportunities for me.   But the decision to enroll also cost me opportunities I would have had staying in a traditional high school.  Leaving my old school and the social circle I had there was a deliberate choice. I was blessed to have opportunities that allowed me to stay connected with my old social groups even as I attended WTMC but the difficulty of staying connected now fell on my shoulders.  I had to work to maintain what my peers had automatically.


By making a change …school became something I enjoyed and that passion refreshed other areas of my life as well.


For me the choice was made easier because I was not performing well at my traditional high school.  I needed a program that would be more academically challenging, one that would engage my attention and give me more control in the direction of my education.  Until I aligned myself to that goal my academic failures were stunting my social life as well.  By making a change to accommodate the needs of my academic performance school became something I enjoyed and that passion refreshed other areas of my life as well.

Education is more than a certification process and every decision has its tradeoffs.  The end goal of most college students is to get a degree and find their way into a job they enjoy.  But traditional college education has become just one of many possible choices.  The smart student must be honest about what they really want to achieve with their education and find a course that compliments those desires.

This might seem like an odd place to begin a talk about choosing college.  Shouldn’t the academics be at the forefront of the decision? Not everyone looks at college as a purely academic venture.  Moreover the social aspects of education will play a major role in the happiness students find in their decision.  If the student sees college partly as a social experience (and that experience itself can be very valuable) then already many choices are eliminated from the pool.  Courses of self education, night classes, and non-traditional enrollment will all have an impact on that social side of the collegiate experience.


College is not …something required in order to get a good job… to grow up.  Or meet people.  Or be happy.


by clairity - Flickr
by clairity – Flickr

Despite what high school counselors might say college is not for everyone.  College is not something that must come after high school.  It’s not something required in order to get a good job.  It’s not something needed in order to grow up.  Or meet people.  Or be happy. 

College can help with all of those things.  However depending on one’s motivations some schools and alternative tracks are better able to deliver on those desires.

For example, going to college to acquire a skill set to land a job then will require a college that can provide training in those skills.  But if the education is all that matters then the choice between a 4 year university or a community college that could provide the same training for a quarter of the cost should be an easy one.  If social immersion or prestige in accreditation were factors as well that choice might be different.

There is a cost to everything and college is no exception.  Some schools offer more prestigious reputations then others.  Some do a better job of creating social communities for their students.  The one thing they all have in common is that the students  pay for what they buy into. They pay in with time, money and the opportunities surrendered just by making a decision at all!  It would be foolish to pay for anything that isn’t needed or desired.

The truth is, community colleges cannot compete with everything a major university has to offer.  But the larger truth is that community colleges do an excellent job in their area of focus, and that is simply providing introductory and occupational level academics.  Community Colleges are staffed by some of the most engaging and passionate teachers one could hope for.  Often the teachers are community members who work in the field that they teach.  They instruct part time simply because they’re passionate about the subject matter.

Students who need to exceed the level of community college study can choose to attend a larger school.  If they want on campus housing, Greek life, Big Ten Football teams; any of that, they’ll obviously need to attend a larger school.  But if they don’t want any of that then why pay for it?

Many transfer programs allow students to start their first two years at a community college and then transfer to a new school for years three and four.  By planning ahead a student can save thousands of dollars.  Michigan has a program called the MACRAO Transfer Agreement that allows students to complete a course of study at the community college level that will allow them to transfer to any four year school in Michigan with all of their general electives complete.

Some schools have partnerships that allow students to begin a program at a community college and transfer 100% of their credits to a complimentary program at a sister school in fields such as nursing and education.

Many people want a college degree from a big name school just for the doors that name can be used to open.  That’s fine!  There are certainly huge benefits to those big names if a student is willing to pay for them.  But if they only want the education then perhaps an accredited course of self study is a better fit.  Check out this article on Hacking Higher Ed.  The author outlines a self-study course that can be completed to obtain a Bachelor’s degree for about $5000.

Students thinking of attending a Masters program might consider a course of self-study instead.  If learning is the only goal and the student is willing to make their own way in the world there are tools for that as well.  The Personal MBA Booklist can be a great place to start picking up some of those MBA skills for a lot less than the cost of college attendance.

College is a valuable experience and shouldn’t be sold short.  Take time in making these decisions.  There are a lot of options out there; picking the right program is the first step towards other ambitions ahead.  So when it comes times to research schools take a little extra time to consider what the real reason for attendance is.  What will it cost?  And has the best road been found? 

Author notes:  Wachtmann is graduate of the Western Michigan School of Business Management. Scott is a web strategy consultant dedicated to helping his partners find solutions in social media, branding, search, and design. He currently lives in Ann Arbor Michigan where he works on the account management team for eSearchVision, a paid search marketing firm. Email: swachtma@gmail.com Scott’s twitter account @CoffeeCC

Photo reference:  Statue of Phillis Wheatley, 1753-1784, poet, was the first African-American to publish poetry.Born into slavery, she was taken from her parents at an early age. She was raised Christian and offered an exceptional education by the family that owned her. She received he freedom on the death of her owner in 1778 and married. She had three children and none survived infancy. She died in poverty at age 31.

`TWAS mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew,
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.´

Deb Nystrom:  Thanks for visiting REVELN and for reading Scott’s guest post. Comments enrich the learning.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Published by dnrevel

Change & transition, Leadership team & organization development. Executive Leadership team coach. My LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/dnrevel

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