There are lots of organizations in Maine and around the country that aim to get more students to go to college. Their brochures are full of success stories and testimonials about why life is better with a college education. Encouraging more Maine students to go to — and stay in — college is important and necessary work.
But what happens when life in college isn’t what was expected? What happens when the spending money runs out or life with a roommate is unbearable?
A Portland-based nonprofit group has taken on the unglamorous job of answering these and countless other questions. Navigating the Real World provides a wealth of information for students, parents and teachers as they negotiate the transition from high school to college and beyond. Through a website and printed publications, the group aims to help students take a realistic view of the challenges and opportunities that await them.
Navigating the Real World is the brainchild of Tom Tracy, a former alternative education teacher at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish. He is alternately enthusiastic about the future of Maine’s young people and frustrated about poor decisions made for a variety of reasons.
“The next generation is making monumental decisions without any understanding of the consequences,” he said recently.
He hopes to better that understanding by having students, teachers and parents hear from one another about what to do and what not to do. There is also advice from employers so students can prepare for the world after school.
The group’s website features dozens of interviews — some captured on video, some condensed into advice highlights — on diverse topics. In one, a new college student explains how she spent her $3,000 stipend in the first few weeks. “By the second week we were all broke because we had been eating $9 sandwiches for two weeks,” says Taylor Nelson. “Now, when I go back to school, I’m going to have a budget.” In another, Lura DeSorbo explains why living at home while attending the University of Southern Maine made college affordable for her.
There are sections on what students wish they had known earlier, what not to do and advice they would give to others.
By turning over the conversations to teens and young adults, Navigating the Real World aims to eliminate the middle man — the adults who are often viewed with skepticism by the younger generation.
The group is no-frills and its work isn’t highly polished. But this fits with the authenticity of its message — furthering your education is important, but there will be bumps in the road and you will make mistakes. Helping teens and young adults deal with those setbacks and mistakes (and hopefully avoid some of them in the first place) is what they need to successfully follow the advice to go to college.