Advice for the College-Bound

It’s that time of year again. Time for parents to pack the car and drive their children off to college. As college costs continue to increase faster than the rate of inflation, many parents will spend more than a quarter of a million dollars on one student’s education. So, who can blame them for asking questions about majors and course selection, study abroad plans and visits to the career center in order to ensure they get their money’s worth!

In his book Making the Most of College, Harvard graduate School of Education Professor Richard Light explores the issue of why some students seem to adjust right away and make the most of college, while others struggle with years of missed deadlines and missed opportunities. Based on ten years of interviews with Harvard seniors, Light offers advice to students on how to maximize their four years on campus and achieve the most from their time and money. In addition to practical tips on how to choose classes and the best way to study, he also explores how students and teachers alike can learn from the increasing diversity on campus.

Light’s mission is to connect college classes to what a student is learning and cares about in the rest of his or her life. And in a recent article How to Live Wisely in the New York Times, he shares five exercises to help students –and all of us – get answer these essential questions:

What does it mean to live a good life? What about a productive life? How about a happy life?

While the exercises are designed to “help freshmen identify their goals and reflect systematically about various aspects of their personal lives, and to connect what they discover to what they actually do at college,” many also relate to our financial planning process. That is we work to ensure there’s alignment between how our clients invest their resources and their goals, and that they are free of financial worries so they can live a productive, happy life.

Light’s first exercise is relevant so I’ll share it here. He asks students to make a list of how they want to spend their time at college—studying, playing sports, volunteering. Then students make a list of how they actually spent their time, on average, each day and compare the two lists.

Many find they don’t spend their time in ways that match their goals. I suspect we all have work to do to better align how we spend our time with our goals. And September is a great time to make some changes.

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