By Sumiko Martinez on January 21, 2016

If you missed the first two weeks of the Education & Success series, you can check out Part I here and Part II here! Read on to hear two fresh perspectives.

Heather Flash
Lives in: Seattle, Washington (formerly Salt Lake City, UT)
Attended: University of Utah
Degree: B.S., Marketing (1997)

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Entrepreneur. Music aficionado. Lifelong learner. Parent to a wonderful child. Heather is currently living in Seattle, working as a senior product marketing manager and soaking in the local scene. She considers two definitions of success: internal and external. For a successful life for yourself, Heather believes in finding a match between what you love to do and what the world needs. She also notes that external markers of success are financial independence and excellence in one’s career, whatever that might be.

On how college education helped Heather achieve success:

 “My college education enabled me to pursue a business career, which lifted me from the depths of poverty. As the first person in my family to attend college, and a minority, it also gave me the confidence to feel on equal footing with my professional colleagues. From an intrinsic perspective, I believe interests and values change over time, and a solid undergraduate education can help you “learn to learn.” To this very day, the skills I learned while getting my college education are helping me to learn about and transition into new career directions.”

On financial aid and success: For many first generation students like Heather, financial aid is a lifeline to higher education. However, the intimidating sticker prices of many prestigious universities seemed like a barrier to attendance.

“My financial aid absolutely helped me achieve this success. I would not have been able to attend school full time without it. I believe the ability to attend school full time is a crucial factor for students to maintain interest and commitment to completing an undergraduate degree. Through a combination of employment income, scholarships, Pell grants, and financial aid, I was able to leave college with only $3,000 in student loan debt. However – I believe that I ruled out applying for more prestigious universities working under the fear that I would not be able to afford it.”

Heather’s advice for students: Take the time to research your university, beyond what the brochures and national rankings say. The important thing is finding a college that fits you, so you can get the education that YOU need.

“Take advantage of auditing courses more often and going out and soliciting internships in fields of interest, especially if you’re uncertain about declaring a major. The quality and philosophy of teaching is probably the most overlooked aspect of selecting a school or field of specialization. Ask yourself – is this a good school on paper, or is this a good school FOR ME? Don’t be led astray by well-meaning friends or adults. Look for quality teachers and ratings on teachers as part of the school or major selection process. Academia is full of very smart people who are researchers first and teachers second. Ask alumni who have been away from school for at least 10 years about the pros and cons they’ve experienced from their college educations. Do the homework. And don’t settle. Make a move if you need to, declare independent study, or graduate from a different school if the current one isn’t working for you. Overall, just be more flexible rather than regimented or dogged about finishing what you started.”

 

Paul Wyatt
Lives in: Marshfield, Massachusetts
Attended: UMass Boston, Full Sail University
Degree: B.S., Game Design (2012)

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Serious gamer. Innovator. Designer and technical whiz. Paul is working as a production engineer working on widely used financial aid software systems for colleges and universities.

His definition of success is very personal and goal driven. As he says, a lot of people consider success to having “A job that pays well and is respectable, but it’s not where I want to be. Goals that I like are more creative endeavors. I’ll feel successful when I have opportunities that combine the creative outlets, decent pay, and has some respect to it.”

On how education helped him achieve success: Paul chose his degree because it provided him with post-college options – it allowed him to pursue his primary interest in game design, but also gave him the knowledge and experience to apply those programming and design skills to other types of work. In his own words, “It gives me both a primary and a backup plan, because not everything goes according to plan.”

On how financial aid helped him to achieve success: Many students, including Paul, feel the benefits and disadvantages of student loans.

“It’s a mixed bag. I did have to go through financial aid in order to get my degree. Without that support it wouldn’t have been possible. At the same time, I’m also in [student loan] repayment now, and that is a bit of a financial hindrance to my success because I’m now repaying loans instead of investing in retirement and other things.”

Paul’s advice for having a successful educational experience: True to his background as a programmer and developer, Paul has very logical and practical advice for college students.

“Have a plan. Think about where you’re going. Don’t rush into a major, but be actively thinking, what can I do with this and if I can’t make this plan work what can I do instead? Don’t be blindsided by the prospect of not finding your dream job right after graduation. Sometimes it takes time to get to those positions. My plan was to get into the gaming industry as an entry-level game tester; however, the entry-level, Boston area game design community collapsed right after I got my degree, so there were 300+ experienced designers in the area who were willing to take any job. My backup plan allowed me to gain more competitive skills to step sideways into a better position.”

And remember… “You don’t have to have everything figured out right now. You just need to be aware of it and have a plan for when you get out.”

That’s it for this week! Stay tuned for next week’s final installment of advice and experience on how college and financial aid can affect your success later in life.

Sumiko Martinez is a Community Outreach Officer with the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA). Learn more about Sumiko at sumikomartinez.com, and connect with her on Twitter @SumikoMartinez.