College Advice, with Love

Monday, November 26, 2001
Down the Hill

In Hawaiian tradition, kupuna (elders; grandparents, senior aunts and uncles) are respected and revered as keepers of wisdom and repositories of knowledge. Young Hawaiians are still taught to Nana i ke kumu (look to the source). 

>> Charles Kauluwehi "Uncle Charlie" Maxwell Sr.'s
thoughts on Nana i ke kumu 

To this day, I look to my sources, here on Earth and in spirit. I seek them out and ask for advice. Without exception, they willingly oblige, generously gifting me with their precious pearls of wisdom accumulated from their own wide-ranging life experiences. 

My kupuna are the wayshowers of my life's path. With their collective counsel and advice, I am pointed in positive directions and shown the way with fewer obstacles, pitfalls and deadends.  

The tables are turned, and I am now a fledgling elder. As chronicled in the entries, Thanksgiving Morn and Thanksgiving Afterglow, these days, my family members turn to me, seeking direction, counsel and advice.

It is my turn to ho`iho`i (give back). "To whom much is given, much is expected." What follows is my response to a request for college advice, distilled from my life experiences and the wisdom of my kupuna. If you are family, friend or a visiting reader --  student or parent -- with college concerns, I invite you to listen in. 

I offer my thoughts in the spirit of my kupuna who did not exhort or scold. With Aloha, they advised me warmly, welcomingly, and nonjudgmentally, always respecting my free agency. I hope to do the same.

Dear Loved One,

This is YOUR life, and you are ultimately responsible for it. You are the only one who can make the decisions. We, as your elders, can only advise you.

Going to college will broaden your horizons, give you confidence, and allow you to learn and grow as you never have -- it will undoubtedly be an adventure. To ensure that it will not be a misadventure, begin now to seek out good, solid advice. Learn from the experiences (and mistakes) of others. 

When it comes to college-planning, ignorance is not bliss. I personally know of people who picked their majors and careers on a whim, or because they took a class with a  "totally awesome" professor, or because "It's what my mother (father, grandparents, boy/girl friend, or spouse -- you get the picture) want me to be," or based on their peers' advice. The price of their haste is a dear one.

Before you accept any advice, always consider the source. You are making life-determining and -altering decisions.  Ask yourself, "What are their qualifications and life experiences?" 

I am hardly your path to be-all-end-all college expertise, but my college-related experiences are ample:

  • College fortunes turned out well: 14 years in college, filled with challenges, adventures, joy, and personal growth, with three degrees for the effort. 

  • Trained and experienced as a guidance counselor. First-hand, I saw how the proud (or rebellious) "crash and burn", flunking out because their egos were too big to bridge the generation gap and they failed to listen to sound advice.

  • Taught at the college and professional levels. I've seen the college scene from both sides as a student and teacher, and in between as an admissions committee member at a professional school.  

  • Life fortunes: spiritual, mental, and financial goals are being met. A happy, fulfilled and appreciated life, now with time, energy, and a burning desire to "give back." 

  • Living a life of gratitude. I am grateful for the advice of elders, who loved and cared for me, and grateful for the opportunity to be of help to you, as I love and care about you

The Basics:

Get to know yourself first.  Start by taking the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. I first took it as an undergraduate, and the few minutes it took to take it positively influenced the rest of my life.

>> Keirsey Temperament Sorter

Take it with brutal honesty, not how you see yourself ideally, or how you think others see you.  Only then will it point you in the right direction that is compatible with who you are. Why be that square peg forever trying to fit into a round hole?  Life is far more joyful if you are living your heart's desire.

DH is an ISFJ (Protector) and I am an INFJ (Counselor).  We work in fields that are ideally suited to us. Little wonder that we are life's happy campers.  

Do your math ahead of time to get the biggest bang out of your college buck.  It's so easy, but most don't even think to do this:  

  1. Add the yearly cost of tuition, student fees, books, computer and supplies to your living (dorm and meals, clothing), travel and miscellaneous (entertainment, ISP fees, etc.) expenses.

  2. To that subtotal, add what you would be making at your going-rate if you were out working (without college, this would be close to minimum wage) for that year.  

  3. Divide that total by the number of class hours for the school year.  You'll be shocked at how much each class hour really costs you and your family.  

I'll be blunt: don't waste your money on classes that mean nothing to you and get you nowhere. It's throwing good money after bad. Make each class count toward your life goals.  This is why it is inane -- and insane -- to cut class or fall asleep in class. You may as well take bills out of your wallet and just burn them.  

Once you figure out what each hour in class is really costing you and your family, you're likelier to get the most out of each and every paid hour. Those who do otherwise are only cheating themselves, their parents, their futures.  And they do it without awareness. 

Write down your life goals and short-term goals. Write them down and keep them in view. I wrote mine on index cards and pinned them to my desk's bulletin board, as bookmarks, and in my wallet. Goals are not real until you write them down. Without written goals, you're sailing a rudderless ship going around in circles. 

>> Goal Setting: Powerful Written Goals in 7 Easy Steps

These days, it's easier to write them down and keep them in view.  Write them on your computer's opening page.  Or write them in your Palm. Written goals will help you stay your course and moment-to-moment decisions are made with greater ease and clarity.

Example: "Do I go see the latest Harry Potter movie or study for that chem midterm? Oh, yeah, I'm shooting for that A in chem. I'll study this weekend, and go see the movie next weekend." You get the picture.

Commit yourself to your written goals.  

>> The Power of Commitment

And yes, please feel free revise them as you achieve them and grow.  Life changes, and as you grow, your goals may change. Don't hang on to pointless goals that you've outgrown.   

Compete with no one but yourself.  When you compete against the best that you are capable, you'll end up far ahead of those who compete against others, often for all the wrong reasons -- ego strokes, cut-throat competition, material rewards, etc.  

>> The Four Agreements
A webpage on this very subject

Big university vs. smaller college?  

If you're coming from a small to medium community, I'd consider going to a smallish to medium-sized college. 

Compared to college, high school life is sheltered, predictable and carefree. A huge university has a totally different academic culture. Busier and complex, it can be impersonal, intimidating and demanding. A disoriented college rookie can get lost in the shuffle, even becoming invisible and alienated among the masses.  

You will be dealing with a whole new identity, that of college student with new freedoms, as well as new stresses. You will be far away from the comforts of home and all that is familiar to you for prolonged periods. Dietary habits, climate, housing, media, and local customs will all be different from what you are used to.

Excessive change all at once can overwhelm. 

My advice is not too big, but not too small, either. Too small can be stifling and limiting.


City vs. town?  

Ideally, I'd choose a college town with a known low crime rate.  Personal safety is important.  What's the use of a college education if you're physically hurt and emotionally scarred for life?  

  • Fact: City people are not as friendly as non-city folk. It's a subconscious survival tactic, as being too friendly can attract the "wrong" people or attract too many people, leaving you with too little time for yourself. Growing up in a rural area, I'm still not used to this way of being, and it's been 22 years!

  • Fact: In general, city folk are not inclined to watch out and care for newcomers, as folks do in smaller towns where there is a greater sense of inclusiveness, community and down home friendliness. 

  • Fact:  Cities have more crime, including assaults, rape, murders, and robberies. 

That's city life -- the nature of the impersonal beast.  

Don't get me wrong. There are good, wholesome  folks in the city, as there are the not-so-nice in the country. All gardens grow weeds. I have learned, however, that the nasty ones tend to be nastier, believing they are anonymous and less accountable. In the city as I've never witnessed elsewhere, I have seen people stepping on, using and injuring others, physically, mentally or spiritually, believing their paths will never again cross. They don't get it:  in the afterlife, every misdeed must be accounted for, and the piper gets paid, sooner or later.

Also, every city has "a whole lot of things to do," i.e., distractions and temptations that lure you away from the real task at hand, i.e., getting the best college education which requires focus and study time.

Give me a safe, healthy environment any day over a crime-ridden, smog-choked city.

College reputation? 

I'd be careful with those so-called party schools. They may be fine for those who seeking an undergraduate degree. Not as fine, perhaps, for someone who is seeking to gain admission, based on grades, onto the next educational tier. 

Anything's surmountable, but why make it harder for yourself? Peer pressure is powerful.  A hardworking ant's discipline can be eroded by grasshoppers with the prevailing "party, party, party" mentality.

College class size? 

Strong, personalized letters of recommendations are required for admission into professional or graduate school.

Smaller classes allow you the opportunity to get to know your peers and professors, and they can get to know you. They also encourage student participation which encourages learning in a safe and supportive setting.

At a large university, as many as 300 students are packed into a lecture hall, and superficial contact with faculty is the norm. There is little or no student participation, making it difficult for your professors to get to know you.  

The first two years in college are mainly dedicated to the acquisition of  professional school course prerequisites. Keep in mind that major universities use graduate students, with limited or no formal training in teaching and often distracted by their own research pursuits, to teach these basic courses. I know, I taught a 3rd year psychology class, without having anyprevious teaching experience!

Better, I think, that these foundational courses be taught by seasoned professors, better trained and capable of laying the solid foundations necessary for the rigor of professional school. 

Opportunities for close relationships?

I have personally found that it is easier to develop deeper, lasting  friendships in a more intimate college atmosphere than a large, impersonal one. 

Many professions require the ability to be in touch and communicative with those you serve on a human level. The professional schools have wised up.  They don't welcome one-faceted nerds, who don't have a clue when it comes to human emotions. High IQs balanced with high EQs (emotional quotients) is what they're looking for, these days.  

What's EQ, you ask?  Click here.


Getting top grades will help ensure an easy transfer to a larger university, if doing so is still important to you after the second year.  

No getting around it, top grades are necessary to make the first cut into professional school, as well as for scholarship consideration. TOP grades is a TOP priority, although never a guarantee for admission.   

What's JOB #1 when you're in college?

Always remember that your job in college is to be the best student that you can be.  Best does not mean perfect.  Just the best YOU can be.  

Being the best frat dude or the most popular sorority chick is not Job #1.  Neither is being the best intramural sportsperson, best beer chugger, or best lifestyle experimenter. In the big scheme of things, these are will-o-the-wisp glories.

I've seen promising students flunk out from going overboard with extracurricular activities. Also, it takes only a few mediocre grades to permanently slam those professional school doors shut. Many are called, few are chosen.

Keep focused on the big picture, keeping it as clear as you can, always checking to be sure that it is one that nourishes and enriches your soul.  Keep your sights on your life-goals. What do you envision for yourself? 

What's the best undergraduate major if I'm thinking professional school? 

I'm glad I chose psychology as my pre-professional major.  For me, it was a practical choice, albeit a fascinating one. I am baffled by those who chose majors that have little to do with their chosen careers. Why waste the time and effort to learn volumes of minutiae that is rarely, if ever, used in one's everyday work world?   

For me it made more sense to learn about people and what makes them tick. After all, I take care of people and their people needs. Understanding people, I can better serve them.

Once-you-get-in-college advice:

Consciously feed your mind with positive thoughts. Sliding into negativity is easier than staying positive.  Many college students experience varying levels of angst; and because misery loves company, they can suck you in. A negative attitude is as contagious as small pox.  It can be fatal to your college life and life in general. Be compassionate, but do not become ensnared by the emotionally needy. That's the college counselor's job. Not yours.

Positivity requires constant maintenance, even more than your wardrobe, hair, physique.  Funny, how some people spend more time and energy attending to the externals, while ignoring the internals -- one's mental and spiritual well-being.  A perfect shell with a rotten spirit is pitiable. 

Immunize yourself with mind/soul vitamins. Pray. Staying connected with Nature, reading uplifting books by Napoleon Hill and  W. Clement Stone, listening to music and tapes with positive messages works for me.  Find what works for you.

Surround yourself with positive people and thoughts.  Pick and choose your friends with care. Strive for quality, not quantity. Life is not a popularity contest.

The Japanese have a saying that every person has three hearts: one that they show in public, one that they show to close friends and family, and one that only they and their God sees. Try to see through to the heart that is reserved for themselves and their God, for that is the heart most trustworthy.

Minimize your college debt. If you don't qualify for financial aid, then go looking  for merit scholarships, based on grades.  "Seek and ye shall find."  These scholarships motivated me to keep my grades up. I ended up with partial scholarships as an undergraduate and full scholarships for graduate and professional schools. 

I "made" far more money by studying hard, getting good grades, seeking merit scholarships out, and applying and writing essays for them than if I worked part-time at a minimum wage job. Work smart. Learn grantsmanship.

Gigantic undergraduate debts make it harder to take the next expensive step. These days, professional school graduates have huge loan debts, often exceeding $100,000. 

Set yourself up ahead for summer jobs that count, either money-wise and/or life experience-wise.  The jobs that taught me the most were not necessarily the ones that paid the best monetarily. In the long run, they did pay the best in intangible ways.

And last, and most importantly:  don't forget your family, your kupuna (elders) , your kumu (source),  your roots, where you came from. Without them, you would not be in college.  No child raises him/herself alone. Your family, immediate and extended, has raised you beautifully, and soon you will fly away from them. They will miss you more than they will be willing to admit, because doing so will pain them even more.

  • Write them.  Nothing like a snail mail card for them to hold in their hands and savor.

  • E-mail them.  A short and sweet message suffices.

  • Call them.  They miss you, and the sound of your voice is music to their ears. 

  • Let them know you love them.  Remember 9-11-01.  Don't rely on telepathy. Say those words of love.

  • Listen to their wisdom.  As you make your way through the real world, you will soon realize how wise they truly are.  

  • Go home when you can.  They won't be around forever.

  • Thank them.

You stand on the threshold of unlimited opportunity. You are in a privileged position denied most of the 6 billion people on Earth. As the saying goes, "The world is your oyster."

Begin early to begin cultivating your own pearls. Start by focusing on "giving out of gratitude" instead of "getting out of greed." 

"When we ask for something to happen,  the attention is on the fact that we don't  have it now. But when we feel that it is  already occurred, then we put out an energy that actually draws that reality to us. Gratitude is a key element. It is very important to be grateful." 
~ James Twyman of the Peace Project

As I said earlier, this is my take on things, based on my life's experiences and advice given to me by elders who cared and loved me.  Just as I love and care about you. Look to your other sources. Your other aunties and uncles who love and care about you too.  

But always return to the Source with prayer. Listen to your own inner wisdom. Consider living in the wisdom of your elders, in Aloha and Mahalo. The recipe for a rewarding and successful living is a simple one, wherever you go in life.

Accept or reject this advice.  Use parts of it, use all of it, use none of it. Life is about choices. Your choices. You are a free agent with the absolute right to choose your own beliefs and actions. 

Pau (Done).

Elder Wisdom Circle

Elder Wisdom

"Life is a Gift."

With love,
Author Unknown

P.S.  If you would like to share a portion of yourself  with words, in response to this journal entry, you may do it here.  

 "The only gift is a portion of thyself..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson


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This web journal was created on a September Morn, 
September 29, 2001
September Morn 2001