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A university education, despite evidence to the contrary, is still the best bang for the buck for those wishing to engage in a little recreational socio-economic mobility. I survived five years at a public university in Florida, and I would say that it was worth every penny of the $55,000 I received over the years from the federal and state governments (and the sweat of my brow), consolation for growing up dirt-poor. Not everyone is so lucky, and many who are that lucky squander it.

Most people don't go to university to move up in the world, at least in my experience. Most people go because they have to. They see it as a sort of culturally-conditioned rite of passage, a time to get one's feet wet in the responsibilities of adult life, while holding these selfsame responsibilities at bay for as long as possible. These are the lucky ones, who don't have to question why they're in college. They're there because they have no other culturally-sanctioned option.

For people who have to work while attending school, they have entirely different experiences. You can usually tell them from a mile away: bags under their eyes, cup of coffee at their sides, last to enter class and first to leave. They often are the best students in the class (though sometimes, they're the worst, and sometimes, this is nobody's fault but their own). They ask pointed questions. They have stories to tell. They talk to the instructor as an equal, especially if said instructor is a grad student, and doubly so if they're similar in age (as is often the case). They may be a little bitchy, especially when discussing their weekends.

They're always ready to drop out of school and go back to full-time, so they can make a little more money and not have to worry so much about having bills and not having a life. Some do drop out, but most don't, and they swagger like cowboys when handed their diploma on graduation day. Socio-economic mobility sure feels goooooood.

For those of you who are attending university while tilling the dusty earth until it's as furrowed as your sunburnt brow, here's some words of advice:

  1. don't expect to graduate in four years or less, even if you're a nuclear-powered cyborg from the future and you're in some ridiculously easy degree program. It just won't happen, if you work full-time.

  2. taking a semester off is no shame. When there comes a time where you have to decide between continuing your education, or living indoors. Choose living indoors, because it's harder to get back on your feet when you have no place to live, than it is to get back in school. The school will still be there, and your credits won't go away anytime soon. Just be always determined to get back to school as soon as possible, and work your ass off towards that end.

  3. know your goals. If you are in school, and working, *and* don't know why, then why bother? Get your general education requirements out of the way, and if you haven't figured out what you want to be when you grow up by then, then take some time off and figure it out --- then get back in the game. You have about seventy years on this earth, but you only have one shot at it, and in situations where you only have one shot, aiming randomly rarely helps. Be deliberate and stick with your decisions.

  4. make friends. Lots of friends, both at work and at school. Keep your feet in both worlds, and learn to adapt to the work-a-day world and the ivory tower. You will be all the more rich for the experience, in the same way that hybrid animals are sometimes more vigorous than their pure-bred counterparts.

  5. spoil yourself to the best of your ability and resources, but don't go overboard. Delayed gratification is meaningless, unless you actually achieve gratification once in a while. Give yourself little rewards to remind you what you're working your ass off for. I smoke expensive cigarettes and drink imported beer. You find your own luxuries, and treat yourself to them regularly. But don't overspend, or else you'll have to work all that much harder to keep yourself financially solvent. Moderation, not excess.

  6. Good luck, and remember: in ten years, you'll probably be better off than your peers for all the tears and laughter you've had.

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