An honest look at college and life after from a recent graduate

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

But like I said, I have learned a lot through the last phase of my life, and I think that phase is ready to be built upon. It wasn't easy for me to get to college. I didn't have access to a lot of the information I needed, and definitely didn't have the financial resources to attend college, but I knew that in the end it would be worth it.

During college I had to work a lot to pay for the interest on my school loans which covered tuition and rent, and everything else I needed to survive during college - like coffee and food. Although I worked a lot, I still knew it was necessary to get involved in other activities on campus. Looking back, I wish I could've been involved more, but I still value the experiences I had.

Even when it's hard, it's worth it to get involved during college - everybody says that. But involved in what? I found the most fulfilling and worthwhile activities to be service-learning activities, which higher education institutions afford by utilizing their knowledge capital and community partnerships. These are courses or activities that introduce students to real issues and equip and encourage them to do something about them: issues like poverty, disaster relief, child-abuse, racial discrimination, or access to education.

I've always been stirred by issues about access to education, so when a Social Justice Immersion course that focused on economic access to education emerged, I quickly signed myself up. On top of 20 credit hours and 24 hours of work per week, the course required 30 volunteer hours over a quarter. Studies show that students who are actively involved on campus, including a job and other activities, get more out of the college experience. I found it to be true: it was a bit to juggle, but it was worth it! For me, the course turned into an internship with the Ohio College Access Network (OCAN).

For the past year at OCAN, I've been working with the program director of a new AmeriCorps initiative called the Ohio College Guides. AmeriCorps is America's Domestic Peace Corps, which seeks to meet critical unmet community needs in education, public safety, health and the environment, by engaging willing volunteers in direct service. These volunteers, dedicated to making real impacts, commit to a year of full-time service, and receive a modest living allowance in return. After completing 1700 hours service, AmeriCorps members receive the Segal Education Award, which is $4,725, and is schedule to increase to $5,350 next year. Members also can elect to have interest on federal student loans to be paid by AmeriCorps.

On August 3, 2009, I became an Ohio College Guide. I have to be honest, it wasn't an easy choice to decide whether I wanted to serve in a capacity of something I love - spreading the word about post-secondary education options - or make money, having earned my degree, doing something else.

Whether or not serving is selfless is not an avenue I wish to pursue in this writing, but nevertheless, I ultimately chose to serve because I learned through my experiences in college that serving is never a one-way street. Those who serve are always rewarded, whether through the learning experience, the relationships built, or other opportunities that arise as a result of the service. I am choosing to serve because I know it is worth it; just like I chose to take on debt because I knew my education would be worth it.

If you're looking for a larger point, here it is: Don't be afraid of non-traditional paths after high school, through college, or even after college. Try out your skills and passions through service and internships.

And if you are unsure of what to do after high school, or how to do it; if you are wondering how you can make up for lost time and become equipped to secure a better job; if you are wondering what types of opportunities are out there for you to become involved in that meet the needs of your community; you're not alone. There are programs and lots of dollars invested in making sure people are connected with such information.

For those outside of this year's Ohio College Guides 'jurisdiction,' check out:

Finally, for those facing the threshold between college and real life in our current economy, keep your heads up! For those entering post-secondary education in our economy, take advantage of all that your educational path affords, so when you're finished, you can say that you've truly learned something.