Is College Worth It?

Sometimes a great video pops into my Facebook feed and I take time out to watch it. This is one of them. Mike Rowe, most commonly known at the guy from Dirty Jobs, did an interview with Reason TV last year and discussed his views on college, specifically the high cost of it. At 40 minutes long, it’s worth a watch, especially if you have kids.

One benefit of college--impressive books.

One benefit of college–impressive books.

Twenty years ago, my parents sat me down to discuss my future. While they said that college was on the table, they wanted me to consider another option, too. Although I had a pretty good GPA, I wasn’t in the top 10 of my class so I wouldn’t qualify for many scholarships. My parents made too much money (on paper, at least) so I wouldn’t qualify for need-based aid such as grants or even work study. To ease the financial burden, my parents suggested that I look into the military. Having both served, they knew what they were suggesting I get into. And with an older brother who had gone that route, they figured I had a good role model. As a moody teen, I ignored their suggestion and went directly to college after high school. After three majors and four years, I got my BA in the ever-useful field of anthropology. A year later, after working two jobs in unrelated fields, I went to graduate school and earned a master’s degree. Then I found myself again working in an unrelated field because I couldn’t find a job in my field. It all worked out for the best though because now I have a job I love. While I don’t regret my decisions—after all, the research and writing I did while earning both degrees are skills that I use every day—I can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy that my brother was able to retire from the military at 38 years of age with four degrees paid for by the military (and U.S. taxpayers).

In contrast, I finished grad school with nearly $50,000 in student loans. And I was lucky. When I locked into my interest rate, rates were at 2.9% and my monthly payment is still less than most people’s car payments.

I feel bad for teens and young adults these days. They were told that if they just go to college they’ll have employers beating down their doors. A college degree is the new high school diploma, they were told. Tell that to the 15.2% of millennials who are out of work. You’ll make more money over your lifetime if you get a 4-year degree, they were told. That’s cold consolation when you’re living in your parents’ home and can’t pay your bills.

There are jobs available; they’re just not the jobs that most people with college degrees want, which works out because they’re not qualified for the jobs anyway.

In the last few decades, as more teens are being pushed into the college route, blue collar jobs have gone by the wayside. My high school had a great vocational technical education center that worked with the VocTechs at two other area high schools. Students could take classes offered at all three schools in fields like business, automotive, drafting, child care, etc. It was a great avenue for students who wanted to go the work route instead of the school route after graduation. I wonder how many students are encouraged to go that direction now.

We need to eliminate the stigma of blue collar jobs. Blue collar jobs are good jobs. Sure, they can be back breaking and difficult. However, with research coming out that says that sitting all day in an office will kill you, they’re probably not much worse. For a teen just out of high school, the job provides a paycheck that affords them the ability to move out on their own and pay their bills.

There should be less emphasis on going to college right after high school. Most teens have no idea what they want to do for the rest of their lives at 18. In fact, if we’re honest with ourselves, we didn’t either at that age. How many adults do you know who are on their third or fourth careers? Spending tens of thousands of dollars (or going tens of thousands of dollars into debt) to get an education to prepare you for a career that you’re not even sure you want is a foolish use of money. Some will argue that it’s more difficult to replicate the college experience as you get older; however, shouldn’t college be less about wild parties and more about preparing for your future?

Now I’m not saying that no one should go to college after high school. There are students (like myself) who said, “College? Yes, please!” However the students who are sort of ‘meh’ about college shouldn’t be pushed by their parents, peers or whoever else to go. We shouldn’t tell teens that college is their only option if they want a good job. It’s not. Should they decide to go to college later on to pursue a degree, chances are they’ll be more focused on what they want and may even get more out of it than they would have as an 18 year old. But if they don’t go to college, then let that be their choice.

Parents need to step back. As a parent, you always want what’s best for your kids. If you could create a bubble to keep them safe from hurt, failure, rejection and all of the bad things, you would. However, that’s not realistic and you’re doing your kids a disservice. My father works at a community college and every year at this time students come to his office to register for classes. In recent years, there are fewer students coming in alone to register. Instead their parents—usually the mothers–are in tow to fill out the paperwork for them, choose their classes and probably check to make sure that they wiped their asses correctly. Who’s getting the education here? There comes a time when you have to allow your kids to figure things out on their own. If your child can’t figure out how to register for classes, then bless the heart of the sucker who hires them later on.

We need to understand the true value of college. Education is important!! More specifically, learning is important and it’s a lifelong process. A degree should be more than an expensive piece of paper. College costs have risen astronomically in the past two decades. Yes, a college education is valuable, but not when it puts you into a deep hole of debt.

Encourage more involvement in the trades. There is nothing wrong with learning a trade. In fact, knowing a trade is a handy skill to have if you ever plan to own a car or a home. Now, there are smug folks out there who will say, “Whatever, I went to college so that I can pay someone to do it for me.” Well, hopefully college taught you which lube to buy because you’re less likely to get screwed if you know how to do things yourself. The other day an indicator light came on in my car that said that the tire pressure was low in my front tire. I for sure thought I had a nail in it. When my husband, a mechanic, took the wheel off to look at it, he couldn’t find a nail or a leak. I hadn’t checked my tire pressure in a while and the air was low. Now, had I gone to the dealership, it may have been a different story and I may have left about $200 lighter.

In the end, my responsibility as a parent is to foster a love of learning, encourage critical thinking and independence and give my son the tools he needs to make good decisions. It’s not to push him in the direction I wish I had taken, inflict my goals onto him or the like. When he came out and they snipped that umbilical cord, he became his own independent little person, which he reinforces every day when he refuses to take a nap. My purpose is to explain to him the choices available, support his decision and help him brainstorm ideas to fund it. Now, we’ll see how that plan holds up in about 16 years.

3 Reasons to Keep a Garden Journal

I recently purchased a garden journal, and it’s been one of the best investments I’ve make so far. Published by Moleskine, the garden journal features plenty of space to take notes about the plants I’m growing, design new garden spaces and much more. I’m a convert. But, I hadn’t thought about keeping one until this year, perhaps because I haven’t had the space to grow as many types of plants as I’m growing now. However, anyone can benefit from keeping a gardening journal. Here are three benefits of keep one:

Keep track of what you grow with a handy journal like this one from Moleskine.

Keep track of what you grow with a handy journal like this one from Moleskine.

1. Know what works, and what doesn’t, in your garden. Garden journals allow you to take notes about your plants, including what the sprouts look like, how large they get, and anything else you wish to write about them. Although seed packets and plant tags can give you this information, there’s nothing like growing them yourself to see each plant’s quirks.

For example, I tried growing green beans this year and for some reason, they’ve had trouble sprouting. So, I wrote this down in my garden journal so that next year, I can adjust when I start them or buy plant starts at the nursery. My snap peas, on the other hand, are growing like gangbusters, so next year I plan to give them much more space.

2. Prevent overwatering. Keep track of when you water, fertilize, mulch, etc. in a garden journal so that you can avoid overdoing it. While water, fertilizer, etc. are beneficial to your plants, giving them too much of a good thing can make them more susceptible to pests and disease. Also, note any rain that you receive as well so that you don’t double up on your watering schedule. It’ll keep your plants from becoming water logged and keep the pests and disease down.

3. Reduce pests. My garden journal has a neat-o section with gridded pages where I can draw my current garden, and plan my crop rotation for next year. Crop rotation is important to keep pests in check. When you plant crops in the same place every year, pests are able to attack your plants year after year. However, if you plant crops in a different spot in the garden each year, it’ll take longer for the pests to find their favorite plants, as long you make sure that you don’t plant something from the same family in that spot. For example, I won’t plant my peas in the same spot next year; instead, I’ll probably plant sunflowers or corn or tomatoes—something that grows tall and won’t overshadow the plants in front of it. This way, the bugs that love my snap peas will say, “hey, wait a sec, where’s our dinner at?” and they won’t be tempted to hang around.

Is Your Business’s Website Driving Customers Away?

Are people running from your web copy?

Are people running from your web copy?

Recently, the website of an acquaintance caught my attention. The acquaintance and her family are venturing into the catering business and put together a well-designed website. However, looking over the website, several things stood out to me, and not in a good way. While each page offered the ideal length of content, it was full of grammatical errors, run on sentences, missing or incorrect links, borderline libelous information and it didn’t have a call to action. Avoid their mistakes by following these five tips. Continue reading

Your Goals: Set Them, Plan Them, Achieve Them

It’s been a while since I have posted a new blog. Life picked up and unfortunately blogging took a backseat. But, in exciting news, I’ve decided to sell my hand-knitted cycling scarves on Etsy–you can check them out here. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, so I figured it was time to put on my big-girl britches and do it. If all else fails, my family and friends will have wonderful scarves to wear should this venture fall flat.

But enough about me, let’s talk goals. Continue reading

3 Not-So-Boring Books about Writing

Books about writing offer helpful information for those of us who didn’t spend four years of college reading Joyce and analyzing British literature. However, like many other instructional manuals, writing how-tos can often be a dismal and boring lot, only really succeeding in turning people off from writing. Here are three that have done right by me:

The Elements of Style: William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
This book is still required in many intro writing classes in college and for good reason: It breaks down all of the grammar, comp and style essentials that you’ll need to write well in less than 100 pages. It’s a quick read and a great little quick reference for any burning questions that come up in your writing.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: Lynne Truss
My mother-in-law gave me this book to read as soon as she found out that I was a copywriter. I managed to devour it on the 11 hour flight home. Truss offers a humorous and highly readable defense of proper punctuation and offers memorable tips to help readers use it properly.

Writing Down the Bones: Natalie Goldberg
Part writing how-to, part memoir, Goldberg offers helpful writing advice and exercises. She focuses less on rules and more on writing. The professor of my freshman composition class assigned this book as our textbook and I’ve read it several times over the years. For anyone who fancies themselves a writer, this book will fuel your fire.

An added bonus:
The Icarus Deception: Seth Godin
This isn’t a book about writing, per se. However, it is a book about creating art in everything that you do. It’ll inspire you to be different, not settle and stop playing it safe.

What are some books that have inspired you in your writing?

How to Write Well (Even if You’re Not a Natural)

Writing is an intimidating process for most people. There’s a popular illusion that good writing is reserved for those people who have dedicated their educations to it. Many potentially great writers are turned off by writing because they hated English class in high school or they haven’t had the opportunity to hone their writing skills. Continue reading

The Best Place to Write

Writers can write anywhere, right? Some writers create their best work in front of a computer keyboard positioned on a desk in their home or office; other writers need paper, pen and the buzz of a coffee shop; still others are comfortable with their laptop or tablet on the couch or in a cozy nook of their homes. I always had a vision of creative types writing in their Moleskine books at the local coffee shop or elsewhere in public. This stereotype is accurate here on the North Coast—the coffee shops I’ve been to are full of people scribbling away in their notebooks. If you’re a creative writer, these are great places to craft character sketches; there are certainly characters poking around Eureka and Arcata any day of the week. However, if you’re a marketing writer, you have no real need to get out to the coffee shops to write, unless you really want to.

Working from home has allowed me to explore where I do my best work. The house we’re renting has this great, comfy seating nook that overlooks our backyard. However, I just couldn’t get comfortable enough to write there. I moved to the kitchen table, where bright light streams in during the afternoon. While this was a great place to write when the house is empty, it left me in the sight of my 1-year old, which made him think that it was okay to distract me with his cute little face.

So, now I’m in the office/guest room, typing on a laptop that sits on a desk we were given by friends of ours. It’s not a shabby place to write—I have two windows; one overlooks the backyard, the other overlooks the street. It’s quiet with a door that closes to keep me out of sight of curious toddlers. And I get some of my best work done here, sitting upright and typing ergonomically at my desk. Sometimes tradition isn’t always bad.

Where’s your favorite place to write? Do you notice a difference writing in different places?

Does Grammar Matter?

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”
—Elmore Leonard
Like most people who deal in words, my skin crawls when I see typos or poor usage. My biggest pet peeve is when I see status updates on Facebook or other social media that are full of errors from people who are smart enough to know better (at least on paper. These people are supposed to have college degrees!).
However, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if it really matters. Sure, it matters on resumes and in business in general. However, in writing marketing copy, I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to sacrifice a few of the grammar rules in order to make the copy more relatable to the target audience. It’s also necessary to do so sometimes for design purpose. There have been a few occasions where I’ve started sentences with the actual numbers instead of spelling them out—on the page, it tends to look better. Anytime a reader has to pause and think, there’s a chance we could lose them. More often than not, less thinking equals better retention, especially if we’re trying to get them to act, whether it’s buying our latest widget or getting them to eat better.
What do you think? Does proper grammar always matter?