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Know What You Wish For

September 18, 2012

The old phrase is: Be careful what you wish for, you’ll probably get it.  I have a different one: Know what you want, and pursue it with abandon.  You’ll get it, and you’ll be surprised at how it ends.

Case in point: I often talk to high-school students about going to college.  I generally have a couple pointers that I suggest they want and pursue:

  • Get a meaningful degree that inspires your passion.  Maybe not everyone is going to be an architect or an engineer, but technology is exciting and likely means you won’t be sleeping in a tent in some public park.
  • Take all the time you need and graduate as debt-free as possible.  I got lucky to graduate in five years with no debt.  I can’t say everyone will get that lucky.  That doesn’t matter, focus on getting the degree and doing it responsibly.
  • Don’t focus on name brand.  Focus on what you can afford and that satisfies the above.  You’ll get the results you want.  I graduated from a good but not great engineering school, and I’d say I’ve done pretty darn well in comparison to those MIT and Stanford grads… maybe not always better, but I’ve acquitted myself well, thanks.

Would you like your data point for today?  Hot Air nicely provided this pointer to Bloomberg data.

Harvard University’s graduates are earning less than those from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology after a decade-long commodity bull market created shortages of workers as well as minerals.

“It doesn’t seem to be too hard to get a job in mining,” said Jaymie Trask, a 22-year-old chemical-engineering major who was offered a post paying more than $60,000 a year at Freeport- McMoRan (FCX) Copper & Gold Inc. “If you work hard in school for four or five years, you’re pretty much set.”

I think I’m going to copy that quote and hand it to every kid I meet.  By the way, I know a bunch of SDSM guys, and they’re all pretty solid, so it’s not like we’re talking a tier-nth school.  But it’s clearly not what “some people” might expect, and very clearly not fitting the narrative of how to get ahead in life as seen in the imaginations of those that run either party of our government (with some clear exceptions, that’s a different post).

So tell the kids that they should focus on what motivates them, and what makes a reasonable starting point for a career.  Like the people at this blog, they’ll likely find that humble beginnings and hard work make up for a lot of name recognition, at a much lower cost of entry.

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