Have you ever planned for something for so long because you wanted it so badly, only to one day discover that the dream looks out of reach?  For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a teacher.  The moment I entered college, I knew my major.  I knew that to teach elementary school in California, I needed to go to graduate school and complete a teaching credential program.  But now that my graduation for my undergrad degree is only months away (December) and the deadlines for graduate school is quickly approaching (October), I’m getting scared.  The credential program is so intense that there is no time to work; most people financially support themselves through loans or a parent.  Being so close, however, makes me question whether or not I can realistically afford to go to graduate school.  Would it be better to work full time for a year or two, save up, and then go back to school or should I just jump straight into graduate school while I have the momentum behind me?

But these sorts of problems aren’t new for college students.  Whether it is deciding a career move or a major or whether to join the Greek life or just about anything.  College is that exploratory time for trial and error, and figuring out what direction you want to go in life.

So what is a college student like me to do?

Crunch the Numbers

If finances are making you nervous about accomplishing your dreams, then the first thing to do is crunch the numbers.  At first, I sat down by myself and adding up how much my own living expenses, tuition, and supplies would cost.  I overestimated a little on the living expenses – being sure to add expenses like car maintenance and health insurance into the mix.  Then I added up how much money I have from my savings, how much my parents are willing to help, loans, scholarships, grants, and other income to figure out whether I could realistically pay for grad school.  Once I had some numbers down, I extended the conversation to my parents and my financial aid advisor to make gain more guidance and insight.  This could be the time when a parent offers to pay for more expenses or help out as much as possible.  Or maybe the financial advisor tells you about a grant you qualify that you hadn’t thought about before.  Having multiple perspectives will help you get a well-rounded financial picture.

Seek Advice

The moment the insecurities about graduate school popped up, I went straight to my dad for advice.  Talking it out with someone else helped me get my fears in the open, figure out which ones were far-fetched, and bounce ideas around.  Having an outsider’s eyes and ears helped me realize that there were options I had not previously considered.  After my dad, I sat down with my school advisor (one awesome woman!) to discuss the career implications of my various options.  She was so understanding and told me about a few options to make myself more versatile and therefore, more likely to be hired in various circumstances.  I also sat down with my closest friends to get their feedback.  Having this strong support system is going to be so helpful, no matter what direction I choose.

Weigh the Options

After I had all of the information I needed in front of me, I choose to be by myself for a little while.  I grabbed my favorite caffeinated beverage and picked a quiet corner to think and reflect.  I’ve been doing this sort of soul searching for a few days now, created a couple of options in my head, and I’ve made a bit of a leap.  Now to sit and wait for the universe to respond.

Have you ever had a dream or plan that didn’t turn out the way you thought?  How did you handle the situation?  Who did you turn to for advice or guidance?

[Photo Courtesy of Flickr User The U.S. Army and used with a C.C. 2.0 Attribution License]