Here are some tips when planning your future

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By Ken Begley

We all make choices in life that determine where we will be in the future. Some are minor choices, some are major choices, but each one guides our life forward like the rudder of a ship. I’m not going to lie. There are many things I would have done differently as I look back on my life.

I was thinking about that the other day when I visited St. Dominic for its science fair. I saw all the bright young kids that are in the beginning of their lives with so many decisions ahead of them.

Half the science projects were very professional in nature using the formal “scientific method.” That’s a systematic approach scientists use to prove or disprove theories.

Got wonderful presentations from Gracie Graves, Noah Hutchins, and Elyssa Hodgens among others on their projects. They used the method to solve practical problems such as whether name brand paper towels were a better deal than store brands based on price and durability. The results were really quite interesting.

The fourth- and fifth-graders made “Rube Goldberg” machines that would pop a balloon. Webster’s Dictionary defines a Rube Goldberg machine as “a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation.” Rube Goldberg machines encourage critical thinking, problem solving and team building in a non-traditional, fun learning environment. There is actually an annual Rube Goldberg contest for high school seniors sponsored by industry and educational institutions. The 2014 contest is a “zip a zipper” machine.

It was so funny walking into the gym and watching all the different ways these balloons were being popped. They were all great, but the Elly Carrico and Anne Claire Smith team and the Joey Libby and Joshua Curtsinger team did projects that were a real hoot.  

Anyway, I wondered what advice I could give these kids and their parents for their future when they hit high school and beyond. Here’s a list of suggestions that I came up with.

1. Get involved when you go to high school. Washington County High School has some really great organizations such as Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), Future Farmers of America (FFA), and so on. It pays off in several ways. You meet new friends, do charity work for the community, and even learn leadership skills in many cases. College scholarship committees look for resumes of students who are heavily involved with the community. You know what else involvement does? It gives you the best years of your life, so when you graduate from WCHS as a senior, you will truly hate to leave.

2. Take every advanced placement (AP) and dual college credit course you can if you plan on going to college. College is extremely expensive, but college credits earned in high school are extremely cheap in comparison.   Any college credits earned in high school will shorten your stay in college later or allow you to take less credit hours each semester if you are focusing on a hard course of study like engineering.  

3. Take the ACT early and often. The ACT is the national exam given several times a year over reading, English, math and science. Colleges use it to determine if you meet the minimum educational standards for being admitted. Colleges also use it to determine awards for merit-based scholarships. The higher the score, the higher your chances to go to the college you want to attend and get financial aid to pay for it. I always had my kids start taking the exam at the end of their freshman year of high school. Each took it at least seven times. Taking the exam several times gets you comfortable with the test. You know what will get you a higher score? Look above at suggestion number 2. Yep, the only thing that will raise ACT scores is taking hard classes many times over.

4. If you are going to college or a trade school, then be very careful as to what your major will be. Do some research on job prospects. The government and colleges will allow you to study and borrow for anything, whether or not there will be a job available. Even if there are jobs available, those jobs may not be obtainable in your hometown. You will need to decide if you are willing to relocate after college if that is the case.

5. Technical and trade schools are a great alternative to college if that isn’t your cup of tea. I’ve read research that says two years at a technical school will frequently give you a higher income and greater job opportunities than four years in college these days. That is a verifiable fact. But you do need some training after high school if you want to earn a decent living in most cases.  

6. You should pretty well know what school you want to attend by the beginning of your senior year and focus all your attention on it for scholarships and admission. Most like to see you commit to it by Jan. 15 of your senior year if you expect to get any scholarships.  You’ll need to be talking to teachers in September and October so they will have time to write well-thought-out letters of recommendations for submission.

I guess that’s my two cents worth. The final thing I have to say is that an ounce of sweat in high school in preparing for college or a technical school is worth a gallon of blood later if you show up unprepared.

Take care, my friends.