“Money,” a line from one of my favorite musicals begins, “makes the world go ‘round.” It’s a phrase that many of the students I work with are keenly aware of. If I were to be asked what one of the top answers students gives when I ask them why they choose to go to college, I can safely place my bet on money –or to get a career and be successful, which inevitably leads us back to money. And I get it. I was a first generation, low-income student and the first in my family to attend college. A lot of the focus on me going to college wasn’t necessarily the experience, but the end result: getting the bachelor’s degree and being “successful,” largely meaning a white collar job and making money. But when I graduated college, I realized there was some loopholes in this frame of thinking. I got a lot more from my college then simply skills for a career.
As a SCI AmeriCorps Outreach Coordinator, when I joined Bottom Line and started presenting to high school students, I wanted to change the dialogue surrounding college and bachelor’s degrees. A bachelor’s degree does not guarantee success or lots of money. When I’m presented with “money” as a reason to go to college, I immediately challenge students to think of people who haven’t attended college and have, in its varying definitions, become “successful,” whether it’s someone they know, historical figures or their favorite celebrities and I’ve gotten a considerable amount of responses that shows it is possible. Although many might find it odd for an Outreach Coordinator for a College Success program to talk about success without going to college, this method helps open up other ideas about college that they may not have known about and creates a space for self-reflection. It’s a time of transitional independence with other peers, finding your passion, getting involved with the community, exposure to people different from yourself, looking critically at your ideas and experiences and discovering new ones along the way, confront fears, create a network, or even maybe discover that college isn’t for you (and that is okay). When the focus is on money for students, there’s a false expectation of immediately graduating college, getting the dream job, and falling into this narrative of being a “success.” As many can attest, this is not always the case and the path to “success” often resembles a journey – one that Bottom Line is here to help students with.
-Written by Bottom Line, SCI AmeriCorps Member, Amanda Miner