The State(s) of Education Today

education in america-state of education

If there is one word that defines the state of the educational system in the United States, that word is “varied.” It’s simple but packed with meaning. To talk about education in America is to talk about the equality of educational opportunity or the lack thereof. Education ultimately shows what we value in society; in a melting pot, we require kids learn to cooperate and collaborate, to use technology to enhance their education and their lives, and to seek out interactive sites for learning, whether that be a virtual learning academy or sitting down in classroom.

But it’s not the same for everybody. The state of education can use a hand or two.

education in america-states of education

Take Jacob, a dad raising four kids and juggling three minimum-wage jobs in an inner-city ‘hood in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Jacob’s kids have it rough. They use 20-year-old textbooks that were printed when Bill Clinton was president. The teachers use duct tape to seal the windows when it rains, and place garbage cans in the hallway because the roof leaks.  The library’s budget can be rounded off to $0, and it shows in the poor reading and math scores. School psychologists, campus tutors, and personal computers aren’t even on the drawing board. On the plus side, Jacob doesn’t have to worry too much about his kids starving. His household income is under $20 grand, so the kids at least qualify for the school lunch program. On the whole, though, this neighborhood was more than left behind; it never even made it to the starting gate.

Less than twenty miles away from Jacob, Daniel has three kids in a preparatory science-and-math academy, thanks to high property values and taxes. His kids concentrate on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. The school takes full advantage of former President Obama’s “Computer Science For All”initiative that invested over $4 billion for states to develop computer science programs at the K-12 level. They go on field trips through Google Cardboard to see the Inariyma Sword first hand, tour the Peacock Room in the Freer and Sackler Galleries, and study the rain forest in VR360. The digital classroom includes games and brainteasers, while interactive platforms empower kids to explore new cultures. For Daniel, subsidies from all ends have made educational possibilities endless.

American education is indeed boundless. Jacob’s kids need extra resources that the community lacks. Not every school is created equal and many kids, parents, and teachers struggle just to get through a day’s lesson. Some kids make it with that extra help and some don’t. For those who do need that extra helping hand, the challenge is where to look.

When Betsy DeVos was tapped to fill the role of Secretary of Education in 2017, she stated, “Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets the needs of every child.” DeVos has drawn a lot of fire from her politics and positions on education. But one thing she has noted is that there are choices for children to improve themselves. Each community is different. But all are united in their dedication to their kids’ futures. As poetess Anne Isabella Ritchie wrote in 1885, “If you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.”

education in america_dedication to their kids’ futures

Sometimes, a kid needs a little bit more. He might need a fishing rod. Or a box of tackle. Or a worm.

When he does, we should be there to give it.

I will.

Will you?

History of Education: From One-Room Schoolhouse to 2017

public education history

The history of public education in the U.S. isn’t very public. People can point to the first public school in the United States (Boston Latin School, 1635)  and say the little red schoolhouse built up from there. But the US education system is more than just an increase in student bodies and rules. As John Taylor Gatto’sThe Underground History of American Education argues, the system of education has grown amok, where bureaucracy and big business conspire to keep an underclass of children uneducated and confined to careers as cheap laborer. Teachers, administrators, and social workers are well-meaning in their desire to elevate all children, but they face the odds of a monolithic, unchanging system that forces kids into standardized compartments.public education history_first school in US

It wasn’t always this way.

Education in the United States was a slow evolution, tied into the changing notions of adulthood and the changing expectations for American workers. States, counties, and cities had different moments on when they made schooling mandatory (in 1647, MassachusettsBay colony required all townships with over fifty households to make schooling compulsory to escape “the old deluder Satan”), but all educators came to believe that children were “blank slates,” needing guidance and tutoring to achieve their full potential as citizens.

public education history_old deluder satan act

Not much has changed in terms of children as tabula rasas. In the 1890s, educator and philosopher John Dewey argued, “Education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.”He meant that children needed progressive education, defined as hands-on learning, problem-solving in real life scenarios, and guidance from professional, trained teachers.

As American labor laws and manufacturing technology eliminated the need for child laborers, school systems expanded. Young adults were now called “adolescents” and were encouraged to use their teens to explore their interests, not find work. Schooling expanded, partially to assimilate new waves of immigrants from Europe, and also to keep children from loitering on dirty street corners with criminals and prostitutes.

But the system has changed. Big business entered school houses in the form of vendors who placed Coke dispensers and IBM computers on campus. Private schools of all types sprang up that promised exceptional schooling if parents were willing to pay for it. Little red school houses also bulged with politicians—in the 1950s, McCarthyites accused teachers of being subversive commies—and education specialists who argued that all children should conform to the same standards or be shuttled into “special education.” The most notable of these programs was No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, under President George W. Bush, which placed special emphasis on testing and teacher accountability.

public education history_no child left behind

We all know that educating kids is more than just filling in multiple choice bubbles on a Scantron. Educators and reformers duke it out over the definition of the words “quality education.” But everyone agrees that many kids need helping hands—resources that can cut through the layers of fighting and politicking. Statistics vary year to year and with different emphasis, but it is clear the U.S. educational system is not as competitive as it once was. They system itself is being “left behind.”

Our kids aren’t geniuses, but they aren’t dumb, either. They thrive on challenges and they don’t quit easily. But they can be discouraged. On the tabula rasa of life, a little penmanship can go a long way.

Who’s there for them?

Technological Singularity: What is it, and how is it Affecting Your Child’s Education?

technological sigularity_personalized learning

If your child has just recently begun his or her educational journey and is in elementary school, or is preparing to go to college shortly, there’s no doubting that he or she has been raised in a prominently digital environment. Desktops computers have transformed into portable tablets, and cell phones have become devices that can research information and call two people simultaneously in the span of a few short years. These changes that have made technology more portable have also made it more personal, and this phenomenon is known as technological singularity. As our children become more connected to technology, our classrooms have taken the same path.technological-singularity_kids-with-technology

One of a teacher’s most difficult tasks is to provide each and every student with the individual attention that he or she needs. With teacher shortages becoming more pronounced, and class sizes increasing, a personalized approach to learning is not always possible. Technological singularity is changing that as technology makes its way into schools. In many classes, students are encouraged to use their smartphones to quickly look up information or ensure a fact is correct. Many new educational review games require students to answer questions on their smartphones and allow them to track their personal progress after they’ve answered all the questions. These types of technological additions are currently welcome in the classroom, but many believe singularity is heading in another interesting direction.

Online learning and virtual schools have become as increasingly popular as technology within the classroom, but is it possible that our schools of the future will be entirely digital? Research devoted to artificial intelligence is also on the rise, leading many scholars and teachers alike to wonder if virtual reality education will soon become the norm. Is it possible that your child will soon be taught from a computer screen by a robot, rather than in a classroom by a living, breathing teacher?

technological singularity_virtual reality education

The answer is probably not, at least not in the foreseeable future. Singularity’s ultimate goal is to provide students with the most personalized approach to education as possible, but eliminating all human contact to do so does not seem to be the best possible path. It’s likely that more technological elements will be incorporated into your child’s classroom to personalize his or her educational journey, but not to the point that schools are eliminated altogether. For more information about singularity and educational innovations, visit Core-Ed.org.

How Corporate Education Creates Better Employees Instead of Better Humans

corporate university

Corporate university education giants like Wal-Mart, Apple, and Disney have long dominated retail and hospitality markets through the sheer size of their franchise and employee base. In recent years, however, all of these businesses made the decision to hone their employee’s life skills through training programs called Wal-Mart Academy, Apple University and Disney University. These programs claim to “build transferable skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, guest service and effective communication”, but their true nature does not appear to be as promised.

walmart academy_corporate university

The core objective of Wal-Mart Academy, Apple University, and Disney University is to instruct employees about the history of the corporation they’re working for, the image each one strives to project, and how each employee can contribute positively to the corporation’s culture. Employees are offered incentives to complete company courses, and even just to be invited to attend, which can leave employees hanging onto promises of a better life for years on end. Wal-Mart often promises employees pay raises if they complete coursework at their academy, as well as the opportunity to rise through the ranks and become a salaried store manager. Apple University’s courses are not even advertised on the company’s website and are only offered as a reward to high-level employees like corporate managers. This attitude towards company education strings employees along as they hope to gain skills that will help them build a better future for themselves when they are simply just building a better future for their company.

corporate university_apple university

Disney University requires mandatory attendance from all of its cast members and is also offered to college students willing to work at one of the corporation’s locations. If college students choose to participate in the program, they are required to pay for housing in the chosen resort, which can cost hundreds out of pocket. Again, these employees are supposedly trained to better themselves for future career opportunities, but their course material is so limited that it is only relevant within the specific corporate culture.

The next time you think further education at any level is beneficial, do your research. Corporations are indeed educating their employees, but only to survive in a singular setting.

Effective Parenting Tips: What NOT to do When Your Child Gets a Bad Grade

Parents carrying their two young kids piggyback in a park

When your child walks into school on his or her first day of kindergarten, it’s inevitable that he or she will make plenty of mistakes on the long educational road ahead. No matter how many parenting tips you’ve received from everyone and your mother, or what discipline methods you practice, your child is bound to bring home a bad report card or a flunked pop quiz, and that’s totally okay. Children aren’t perfect and neither are you, but it is always your job to be your child’s number one supporter; chances are, your child will crave your help and advice the most when he or she is struggling in school. When your child brings home a grade he or she isn’t too proud of, avoid these behaviors that can escalate an already less-than-ideal situation.

Parenting Tips #1: DON’T raise your voice or display aggressive body language.

effective parenting tipsYour first reaction sets the tone for the entire exchange with your child, and he or she will be unlikely to approach you for help in the future if he or she expects you to react negatively. Remember that a bad grade isn’t the end of the world, remain calm, and ask your child what they think went wrong.

Parenting Tips #2: DON’T interrupt your child or place blame right off the bat.

Respect your child by listening attentively, and give him or her a chance explain the situation at hand. If the story seems odd, or something doesn’t add up, don’t automatically shift into interrogation mode; instead, remind your child that you want to help them be as successful as possible, and you can’t do that if you aren’t aware of the entire situation.

Parenting Tips #3: DON’T nitpick or obsess over trivial details.

pareting tips_what not to doReassure your child that any mistakes are in the past now, and the best possible option is to learn from them and move forward. Form a proactive solution with your child that targets the issue as a whole; if your child didn’t understand the material, suggest getting a tutor or making efforts to improve study habits. If there seems to be a grading discrepancy, encourage your child to meet with his or her teacher one-on-one to discuss it.

Above all, remember that your ultimate goal as a parent is to help your child be successful in the best way that you can. If you’re lucky enough that your child seeks out and respects your opinion, don’t waste the opportunity for a valuable learning experience – one they won’t find in the classroom.

Helicopter Parenting: Being Overprotective can Help and Hurt Your Child

Helicopter Parenting_parenting tips

We’ve all seen that overprotective parent at least once in our lives: the one who volunteers to supervise every field trip, or whose children have never lifted a finger to do a chore. If you’ve never encountered said parent, you probably are one. While you may get some snide looks from those who take a more relaxed approach to parenting, you know you’re trying to look out for your child’s best interests. Nonetheless, it pays to take a leaf out of the free-ranger’s book more often than not. A child who’s too sheltered will turn into an adult who’s too anxious to step out of his or her comfort zone and achieve real success. Keep reading to find out the benefits and setbacks of helicopter parenting.

Helicopter Parenting Pro: Your child feels secure.helicopter parenting_family support

Children of older generations have often reported that their relationships with their parents felt conditional, or relied solely on achievements parents found worthy. By being involved in every aspect of your child’s life, he or she receives constant reassurance that you will always be ready and willing to love and support them.

Helicopter Parenting Con: Your child will not be able to survive independently.

If you’ve intervened in every aspect of your child’s life, he or she will not know what to do when the time comes to act of their own accord. After all, how can you expect your child to solve a disagreement with a peer or change a tire if you’ve always done it for him or her? Give your child space to learn and make mistakes; he or she will come to you if help is needed. You can find out more parenting tips here.

Helicopter Parenting Pro: Your child will provide you with the same care and attention as you grow older.helicopter parenting_parenting skills

An old saying claims that parenting is a thankless job, but a child who receives unconditional love and support will undoubtedly feel grateful and be more likely to treat you the same way. Seniors are prone to isolation as they become less active, but a well-loved child will ensure that’s never the case.

Helicopter Parenting Con: Your child will never become a critical thinker or take necessary risks.helicopter parenting_how to be a good parent

If you teach your child that your way is always the right way, he or she will never be able to think for him or herself and decide what’s truly best. You may think you have everything figured out, but your child will never form unique opinions or answer important questions about the world at large if he or she doesn’t stray from the path you’ve laid out.

No parent is perfect, and every single one worries about their children, but take a breath and think before you swoop in to save your child from learning to act independently. It’s normal for a child to take a few tries to correctly iron a shirt or pump gas. If it won’t hurt him or her to make a mistake, it won’t hurt you to stand by and let him or her gain valuable learning experiences.

Keys to Success: 2 Big Ways to Help a Digital Native Succeed in School

Education Success Tips

Back in the day when I went to school, classroom technology was limited to this:

It was mobile because it was on a cart. The little fan spun around in the back. That was kinda neat.

Technology in education has progressed leaps and bounds since the 1990s. If your school was anything like mine, budgets and administrative constraints meant that you couldn’t take advantage of all the latest advancements. It’s like the new joke that already sounds trite:

If your kids are like the “typical” Generation Zer, she’s probably already a whizz with mobile and digital learning. If they’ve been online at an early age, they’re already used to exploring the digital world around them. They’re comfortable with it and aren’t afraid they’ll break it. Even if their classrooms aren’t equipped with the latest holographic displays, they can take advantage of digital resources to succeed in relatively low-tech school.

Even if those ways require being less digitally dependent so they can better prepare for class.

This might sound like an old, but worth repeating: encourage your child to read. 

Here’s the catch: read print books.

technology in education_read

According to one study from 2015, many college-aged kids who grew up on Kindle and e-readers prefer buying print copies of their assignments. Even if the e-copies were given away for free. The answer: print books discourage skimming and scanning that screen reading makes so easy. No ads. No sound effects. No adjusting lighting and font size settings. No clickable pictures. No new web tabs. No writing made up of short and incomplete sentences or #impropersyntax. No sound bites like the sentences in the paragraph. Just you and a book.

But how can technology help with that?

By doing what it does best, open doors.

If your child likes to read already, then bravo! You’re a great parent.

But try this little experiment: Download a free e-book, say Harry Castelmon’s Our Fellow; or, Skirmishes with Swamp Dragons. It reproduces an old book faithfully, complete with original pictures and vintage ads from 1872.

Then, switch off the internet.

And have Junior read out loud to you. Just a few minutes, every day. And you can prove you’re paying attention by reading along.

Break a Sweat

Getting ready for school means getting back to large work loads. Homework. Classwork. Mental strain in general.

Sure, workout out problems can be good for flexing your brain power. But there’s a darker side: work overload can cause students to burn out. Kids go to school because they have to. But going to college is a choice, and freshmen who drop out of college cite stress, too many expectations, and depression. Students give up, drop out, or choose self-destructive choices instead of working them out.

So, what to do about it?

Work them out. Literally, by working out.

technology in education_work out

Exercise is one of the best ways to fight off stress. Working your body improves your mood by releasing “feel good” antidepressants in your body, and can help relax your brain. You can improve your sleep, improve your appetite, and burn off calories at the same time.

What’s in it for a digital native?

technology in education-video gamesVideo game exercising is one of the largest booming digital industries. Since over 90% of kids and adolescents play video games, the industry and nutritionists have teamed up with smartphone apps and traditional console games to get kids moving. Some of these exergaming programs are free and some aren’t, while some require specific equipment. But whichever ones you do, the game itself is less important than the benefits for the body—and the mind.

So, power up your screen with a book. And then relax by working it out!

John King’s Perfect School: How to Make the Dream Come True

quality education in us

Two words that get most parents’ blood boiling: “academic assessment.”

We all know the school system in the U.S.A. is far from perfect. While I like to think that I—a product of the public school system—turned out okay, there are many, many kids who struggled and continue to struggle, to get a quality education. We all agree that every child should have a good education. But we disagree on what that term means and how to get about achieving it. Part of the reason is that every child learns differently. What works for Adam won’t work for Eve. National test assessments for learning, like the National Assessment of Educational Progress probably won’t even rightly represent Adam or Eve.

Enter John King. King has a dream. That dream is the quest for the perfect school. Dreams differ from person to person, but King sees a perfect school as physically clean, warm in spirt, enthusiastic and in outlook, and comprehensive in content. He sees a perfect school as one where everyone, from administrator and nurse to parent and student, are equally dedicated to the proposition that all students are entitled to equal opportunities to learn.

quality education_school system in the us

But how to get from here to there?

Let’s be realistic.

We can’t.

Because the one-size fits all model doesn’t work. Not even for perfect schools.

Standardized testing shows us this—a system that shoehorns every kid into an ideal mold, as determined by filling in scantron bubbles. A kid who goes from K-12 ends up taking 112 required standardized tests in core curricula, and they spend more time stressing over test preps that have zero effect on their grade.

Don’t get me wrong. Math and reading are important. And let’s not say that standardized testing is useless. The National Assessment of Educational Progress and the Programme for International Student Assessment are well-respected gauges of student progress. They’ve been around for decades and they generally work. But they should be just one factor to gauge a child’s learning.

But there’s much more than that.

quality education_King's perfect school

In every aspect of his idealized school, King has a single theme: emotional satisfaction. Kids want to be at school. Parents want their kids to be in school. Teachers and administrators love having kids in their schools. Emotional fulfillment is sorely missing as a bubble on a standardized scantron. In its stead are stressed out, burned out teachers, pupils, and parents.

Emotional well-being, maturity, confidence, and grit aren’t measured, yet they are key factors to a student’s success. Eve may be a student who learns by reading, while Adam learns visually. Jacob may learn through music while Daniel is a hands-on whiz kid. Government doesn’t want to leave any kid behind. No one does. But the way the system is set up shows an emphasis on filling in bubbles.

Parents, teachers, and kids know this, too. That’s why there’s a debate raging about what education should be in America. Who defines it? What system is best? How do you measure it?

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has drawn a lot of fire from many critics, and continues to do so. I’m one of these critics. But one thing that she does understand is that parents, teachers, and kids should have choices to decide which school is best for them. Whether public, private, charter, religious, or even a trade school, kids need options. Kids need schools where they can thrive in a learning environment suited to them—where they can use their strengths to address their weaknesses.

Public school is open to all, where any and every child, no matter what background they came from, has a chance. I did well there.

But what’s right for me isn’t necessarily right for you. Does that mean anyone’s school learning experience has to disappear?

Big Education Budget Cuts in 2018: How President Trump’s Budget Affects Students, Teachers, and Parents

education budget cuts

In late May, President Donald Trump released his full budget plan for the 2018 fiscal year, which can be read in full here. Although the budget is not official until it is approved by Congress, several departments are wary of some of the changes being offered, including the Department of Education. As a part of a plan to decrease the country’s spending, as well as national debt, President Trump has proposed to education budget cuts by 13.5%, or approximately $9.2 billion. Below are some key changes the budget proposes to make in education, and how they could affect you or those you know.

Education Budget Cuts: Teacher Training and Supplementary Programs

The budget plans to cut $2.3 billion from teacher training programs and workshops that prepare new teachers for the road ahead and perfect the skills of seasoned educators. $1.2 billion would also be cut from providing after-school programs for children with parents who work later into the day. A $190 million literacy program is also expected to be completely defunded.

Education Budget Cuts: School Choice and Distribution of Federal Funding

education budget cuts_ School Choice and Distribution of Federal Funding

The largest K-12 federal education program that also supports the poorest school districts, Title I, would be completely defunded. The budget proposes to instead offer $1 billion towards a program that allows students to move from poor school districts to wealthier ones, and take that money along with them. Another $250 million would create vouchers for private schools, and $167 for charter schools.

Education Budget Cuts: Student Loans and Loan Forgiveness

education budget cuts student-loan-rates-cartoon

The budget plans to cut $1 billion from subsidizing interest on student loans, which could leave students paying thousands more out of pocket for college. Public service loan forgiveness is also expected to be cut, a program that allows graduates working in government and non-profit organizations to erase portions of their student debt. Almost 500 million teachers, doctors, lawyers, and non-profit employees currently benefit from this program.

Education Budget Cuts: Medicaid

The budget offers a cut of $4 billion for Medicaid services in public schools, which students with disabilities rely on. Services like vision screening, speech therapy, and mobility aids could disappear, or only be obtained by paying the out of pocket costs.

How Standardized Testing is Preventing Your Child From Really Learning

standardized testing cons

Ever since former president George W. Bush implemented No Child Left Behind in 2001, standardized testing has flooded the public school system and a debate has begun. The intentions behind the legislation were honorable: to hold teachers and students accountable for their efforts, distribute federal funding fairly, and measure academic progress routinely so that every child would be able to meet the minimum standard of proficiency. However, the legislation had quite the opposite effect on our public schools, and children have unknowingly suffered as a result. Read on to learn how standardized testing is detrimental to your child learning valuable skills and information.

Standardized tests cannot measure any child’s true intelligence, but their future depends on their scores.

standardized testing

It’s long been known that many students suffer from testing taking anxiety, or showcase their knowledge best by creating projects or making speeches. Others are wise to test-taking tricks, and are able to correctly answer questions based on the test’s construction, not their knowledge base. Every child is unique, but the standardizing testing process is “one size fits all”. Students are placed into English and math classes based on their standardized test scores, rather than their abilities or skills, and are often improperly categorized. Others are not permitted to graduate because of low scores on state tests, even though they’ve completed their coursework satisfactorily.

Teachers are forced to spend more time teaching to the test, rather than teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

standardized testing effects

Teachers already have limited time in a class period to deliver thought-provoking and stimulating material, and once they have to devote entire class periods to go over test questions and strategies, the true purpose of the class is essentially lost. Teachers lose control over what they feel is necessary for students to know because their salaries and reputation are based on how their students perform on tests. They are forced to shift their priority from instilling true student understanding and inspiring creativity to drilling students to think the way one test wants them to.

School districts with high student achievement can still be denied federal funding if test scores are low.

Impoverished school districts that have large student populations and an inadequate amount of resources are the ones who suffer most from the education system’s emphasis on standardized testing. Testing corporations regularly release new tests and corresponding materials to teach students how to successfully take the test at hand, but poor districts simply cannot afford new materials every year. Even if their students are proficient in important skills, and achieve high grades, they will still achieve low test scores because they do not have access to the correct materials. These districts are then denied access to necessary funding because of their low scores, and the cycle continues.

To learn more about the perils of standardized testing, and what you can to do help your child, visit FairTest.org and TED.com.

Follow Your Dreams vs. Actually Getting a Job: How to Pick a Career

how to pick a career

I wanted to be an astronaut, but the only thing I launched into orbit were hamburger patties. Wisely choose a major to pick a career of dreams.

It’s not easy to pick out a major, much less find a career afterwards. Career tests, quizzes, assessments, and aptitude tests all point to what job best fits “you.” Guidance counselors and mom and dad have their own ideas about what careers are right for you. “You’re great at STEM classes,” Dad told me, “a STEM career is waiting in the wings!”

Sorry, Dad, but chicken nuggets don’t have wings.

I don’t mean to be downbeat and I know dreams die hard. But let’s face it: it’s a tough world out there and a lot of people aren’t gonna get to do what they want to do.

How to pick a career_stem

I wanted to go into space. I had it all planned out after studying NASA’s requirements. I knew beforehand that the odds weren’t very good. NASA accepts only 8 to 14 candidates for their astronaut school every four years—that’s an acceptance rate of .04% I would have had a 135% better chance of getting into Harvard. But I loved science in high school; it wasn’t my best subject, but it was the one I put the most effort in. I had a tutor and used homework hotlines and everything. I had perfect vision and built up my endurance. I was going to finish high school, major in Engineering and physics, and prepare to beam up.

“Houston, we have a problem.” Man, only in my dreams…!

how to pick a career_huston we have a problem

In my senior year in high school, my mom lost a really good job and ended up suffering from depression and a mid-life crisis. She was in and out of hospitals for over two years. The bills piled high, and our bank account went south pretty quick.

On top of that, I didn’t get any of the scholarships I applied for. I couldn’t move to another city, anyway. Not with Mom the way she was. Being an only child of a single parent, we were pretty close. Still are.

So I started looking through the want ads. The first one that called me back was the local fast food chain in the mall. Decent wages for a kid straight out of school and it kept the bill collectors happy. I thought it wouldn’t last long. Just enough for Mom to snap out of it and then I could pick up where I left off.

Well, it’s been about three years now. Working fast food may be a sh*t job for some, but I found out I’m good at it. The planning and prep work I took to become an astronaut really disciplined me for helping the company serve over 27 million customers a day. I’m a people person, can delegate tasks and work in teams, I’ve learned about accountability and transparency to the public, and I found I have a knack for business. Is this going to be my career? I don’t know…maybe. It’s not a passion, but it’s not a bad alternative. I’m a manager, with some benefits, a better pay, and starting to take some classes at the local community college. Marketing and business administration, with an occasional astronomy class thrown in.

We all dream about striking it big. It’s hard to give up on those dreams. But sometimes, reality drags us from the stars and the moon and drags us through the mud. When it does, we have to fall back on what we’re good at, build up where we’re weak, and take it one step at a time. I have a tutor to help me with my business classes and I’m starting to like it. I see possibilities opening up—not up to space, but here on Earth. If not in food, then in something else.

And the best part is I don’t need to beam anywhere.

How to Graduate College With Your Sanity and Bank Account Intact

how to pay for college-student loans

Whoever said that high school was the easiest time of your life clearly didn’t have to think about transitioning into the next phase of his or her education. As highly accredited universities become privatized, their tuition increases at an alarming rate.

In fact, many bright students who get accepted to prestigious institutions simply cannot afford to attend, or choose not to because of the tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt they would accrue. If this sounds like you, or you’re worried it could, know that there are boundless ways to pay for college or make your education more affordable that you might not have even known existed. Check out these tips to learn more!

How to Pay for College Tip#1: When looking at schools, check out their rates of financial aid.

Both public and private universities are required to publish what percentage of their students receive aid, and the average percentage of need that is met. If over half of a college’s student body relies of financial aid, it’s safe to say that you’ll be eligible for some sort of aid if you’re accepted. There are also universities that promise to meet 100% of their student body’s financial needs, which are definitely worth looking into. FAFSA.gov is the official website to apply for federal aid, and it will give you financial aid estimates for each school you’re accepted to after you create an account.

How to Pay for College Tip #2: Search for scholarships and grants.how to pay for college_scholarships

Scholarships and grants are both financial gifts that you don’t need to pay back after you graduate, so apply to every single one you’re eligible for. Your school guidance counselor or librarian can help you locate local scholarships and grants, and you can find more information about larger financial gifts from the official website for student aid.

How to Pay for College Tip 3: Research loans and their interest rates.

If you’ve exhausted your free financial aid and still need an extra leg up, see what loans you qualify for. Start with federal loans first, as their interest rates are usually fixed, and then take out a private loan if you still need help. If a loan looks like a good deal because its interest rate is low, double-check to see if it is variable; if so, you’re likely to see your interest rate rocket after you graduate.