By Trisha Chen
What does Mr. Wilgus, our brilliant 11th grade American history teacher, have to say about college? Turns out, quite a bit. And it’s all pretty important.
Q: What college did you go to and what did you study?
I went to Occidental College in Los Angeles, and I studied English and Comparative Literature with a minor in Spanish that I couldn’t use.
Q: Were you ever unsure about your major?
Absolutely. The whole time, especially the beginning, but also the middle and the end. I wanted to work in international politics somehow, and I was going to take the foreign service exam, and work as a diplomat. I ended up not doing that, because I hated my first history-politics class, and loved my first English class. So I was like, “Oh! Okay, this. I’ll do this.”
Q: How much did your standardized testing scores weigh on whether you got into your college of choice?
It didn’t seem super relevant. It turned out to be important for getting academic scholarships outside of the umbrella of Pell Grants and the FAFSA. So, having done well – I was kind of an idiot savant – like, perfect score in English, less-than-perfect score in Math. So that savant-y approach meant that schools went, “Oh, well you seem like you’re pretty good at verbal things. And we’ve got a little bit of extra merit-based scholarship money to throw your way.” So, it was important, but not for admissions. It was important for affording it once I had been admitted.
Get off the fence. This is not a time for mugwumpery.
Q: Do you think college is really necessary for people my age?
Yes. Except in the most unusual of circumstances. Like, if you are certain of what you want to do, with no waffling, no vacillating, no second-guessing, and you’re like, “I am going to be this, come hell or high water…” If that’s the case, and that this, your that doesn’t require college as part of the process…then college may not be a good fit. It’s four years of delay from doing the thing you really wish to be doing.
But for most people who aren’t sure – because most people aren’t sure – it is such a good thing to do, not only because of the things you learn academically, but because of the things you learn socially, and the way the rest of the world interprets what it is that you did. When 95% of people are competing for the role you want also went to college, it helps that you did too.
Q: What was the most important thing you learned from your college experience? Does it still help you now?
Hmm… I don’t remember what the most important thing was, because I don’t know if I can be sure yet. The two most important things I learned were – like, I kinda already knew it from high school – it’s to participate, because you can dictate what ends up happening, because you’re a participant. …Participate in a way that is authentic for you. You really want to squeeze the juice out of [your college experience]. If it’s going to be this expensive, you wanna extract every bit of meaningful value that you can while you’re there. So participate.
The second thing is how to network in a way that doesn’t feel icky. The icky-ness of networking is the idea that you would show up at a convention hall of young entrepreneurs, and walk around with a stack of business cards, going, “Hello, young entrepreneur, I am a fellow young entrepreneur. Please, take my card and call me someday, for reasons.” But in college, I learned what it meant to network. It’s mostly just treat people with respect and remember them. Help where you can help, and seek help where you need it, and then remember that that happened. Most people get jobs because they know a person, or they know a person who knows a person…it helps if you know persons. So get to know persons.
network in a way that doesn’t feel icky.
Q: What advice would you give to people stressing out about college?
A: If you’re stressing out about it, it’s good to be a little bit stressed. Like, it’s serious and important. The decisions you make matter. The thing you don’t have to worry about: the thing you major in doesn’t have to become your job for sure.
Do stress about where you go. Where you go is probably where you’ll stay after you’re done. You should pick a place where you’re willing to stay, because it’s really, really hard to be like, “I’m gonna do four years of school here, and I’m going to network, I’m going to make friends, I’m going to embed myself in this community a little bit…and then leave.” That part is worth stressing about a little bit, and choosing a loose idea of what you’d like to do when you’re done. Not like a clear, definite, I’m-for-sure-going-to-do-X, because most of the people I knew who thought that ended up not doing it, and had the most devastating pivots.
Q: What advice would you give to those who don’t care/are on the fence about going?
Get off the fence. This is not a time for mugwumpery. When in doubt, the answer is go. The longer you wait to go, the less likely you are to go.
Q: What are some loopholes that can benefit me in college?
- Don’t declare a major until you’re a sophomore, because you don’t know yet, so take a variety of classes your freshman year.
- Get paid by the school for whatever you can get paid for by the school. If you can get a job there, that’s a form of participation, but you get paid for it. It’s like a double-dip.
- Have a good relationship with your academic advisor. They’ll know about opportunities you didn’t even think to ask about, and they’ll point you to them.
- Use whatever the college provides for free. Squeeze out all of the juice. Go to the writing lab. Go to the library. Go to the sports games, even if they’re dumb.
- Meet people and get out there. This is your best shot at getting a chance to meet some really cool people. You will only do it, though, if you talk to them. So, talk. Engage. Participate.