Fall 2007 is when I made my first attempt to extract a degree from Portland State University. Attending Benson High School and “majoring” in health occupations, I was put through the ringer. The classes were science heavy, with a heavy emphasis on anatomy and physiology to boot. In short: I was experiencing a living hell.
This experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I knew there was a lot of money to be made in science, but the classes were so challenging to me that the idea of getting a degree in the sciences was laughable.
The silver lining to running this gauntlet was that I was more than prepared for college. These classes were more difficult and stressful than any I have taken to this day. Naturally, a science whiz would have blown through these. Unfortunately, that is not how my brain works. My brain is geared toward the social sciences, so when I was accepted to PSU in ’07 I did so with the intention of obtaining either a political science degree or a history degree.
Beyond obtaining the degree, I had not put much thought into how I would transform a degree in the aforementioned areas into a lucrative and rewarding career. I didn’t have a plan at all. So I did one of the things I do best: I threw caution to the wind, put my best foot forward and rolled the dice.
Unfortunately for me, the first time around I rolled snake eyes. In the fall term, I gave a pedestrian effort and received pedestrian results. Then winter term came around, and my plans for the future were still uncertain. Midway through winter term, I cracked. I couldn’t keep up this purposeless advance toward the unknown.
I do not fear the unknown, or else I would not have started down the path toward a degree without a defined outcome. The unknown was not the only factor giving me doubt and making me worry.
The freshman inquiry classes were easily the worst classes I have taken at PSU. The freshman inquiry class I selected was called Ways of Knowing. The only entertaining part of that sequence was when our professor had us reading about hippies in the Haight-Ashbury district of the 1960s in San Francisco, and how their way of knowing was getting high on acid and living in appalling conditions. While this is interesting, I wasn’t exactly sure what the purpose of this was. I was paying good money to learn about hippies? I can do that in my spare time.
The freshman inquiry classes are also eerily similar to high school English classes, except the professors are much more intelligent and personable than high school teachers, and the material is a little edgier. Either way, I had just finished high school and was expecting something different from college.
I decided to quit indefinitely and just work and carve out a meager existence in Portland. Not as meager as the hippies in the Haight-Ashbury district, but pretty meager.
Making my way through life gave me time to experience the real world and see what it has to offer. The world has a lot to offer, and eventually I had a moment of clarity. I realized one of the biggest reasons to get a degree—any degree—is to show potential employers that you are a human being that is capable of successfully navigating a complex process that is fraught with pit-holes and distractions. With this in mind, I figured a communications degree would be fairly flexible, and it seemed like a good thing to gamble on.
My newfound life experience also found a solution to the problem of having an ambiguous degree. I needed to take measures now, so that when I have my communications degree I have specialized skills and experiences that are attractive to a very specific group of employers. This means a person who is working toward a liberal arts degree needs to take internships as well as part-time jobs that will provide meaningful experience, references and hopefully skills that you can talk up in a job interview or cover letter.
Currently, an internship is the one thing I need to really spice up my resume. Aside from the degree, this is probably the most useful part of the college experience. You are able to essentially flex your muscles and show companies or people what you are made of in a courtship ritual of sorts. If you are able to impress this company, you might find yourself hired when they get word that you have completed your degree.
If you are green with envy at your friends who are going to become engineers, do not fear. You too can have a successful and high paying career, you just have to apply yourself outside of school more than them. If you are a political science major, intern with a prominent local politician or bureaucrat. Getting a communications degree? Intern with one of the many regional newspapers. Getting a history degree? I would say find a museum or a historical society to intern with. The sky is the limit, and you can certainly get creative with it. Above all, try to find something that is useful and hopefully fun.