How To Succeed in College/Guidance, Navigation, and Control

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Guidance, Navigation, and Control[edit]

What do you do with a B.A. in English,
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.
--Princeton (from Avenue Q)

Referring to the quote above: The author's best guess is that Princeton, a central character from the Broadway play Avenue Q, never considered why he was going to college in the first place. An English degree can be incredibly useful if you want to become a writer or an English teacher; however, Princeton appears to be neither. This quote, however, could have been about nursing or engineering if you will never have anything to do with those subjects after you graduate. Many students are falling into the predicament of graduating with a degree they do not use afterwards.

While it is true that merely having any degree will open doors to some graduate programs and jobs, the realization that obtaining a certain degree will not open the doors you want can be frustrating. Some fields require you to have a Bachelor's degree in that field in order to obtain a certain job or graduate degree. Getting another Bachelor's degree may be challenging when the student loans of the first degree are not paid yet.

To possibly avoid these problems, it may be worthwhile to consider the following analogy: At NASA, there's a division called Spacecraft GNC, which stands for Guidance, Navigation, and Control. Or, as NASA insiders put it: "Where am I?" "Where do I want to go?" and "How will I get there?" These are actually quite practical questions that can be applied to going to college, as well as where spacecraft will go. Like NASA scientists need to know where their spacecraft are at all times, you need specific reasons for all three of these questions; or you may end up in a lot of student loan debt with little to show for it if you manage to graduate from college without a goal in mind.

Navigation: "Where am I?"[edit]

The reason for this question is to assess your environment, what you're doing right now, and what your needs and desires are. Answers to this question need to be specific. An example of a specific answer to this question is:

  • I'm 24, living in my parents' house, and interested in learning more about the sciences in a classroom environment. (This is specific and provides a good reason to attend a school. Note that it does not necessarily pick a specific major, but it does give direction and motivates you to do something about the situation of living with your parents.)

An example of a nonspecific answer would be:

  • I'm drifting with no drive. (Ideally you would go to college with a purpose or a mission to remind yourself about why you are going there. Perhaps you could work for a few years and explore a few new areas through research before committing to the expensive endeavour that is college.)

Guidance: "Where do I want to go?"[edit]

This question asks whether you actually want to go to college and what goal you have in mind for your future. A specific answer for this question is:

  • I want to help women and minorities get more involved with the sciences by teaching them in secondary school. (This suggests a more educational outlook on a potential major, than, say, the goal of becoming a scientist would.)

A nonspecific answer for this question is:

  • I need a place to go and something to do since my parents are kicking me out of the house. (This is another good reason to get a job and give yourself time to figure out what you want to do, instead of wasting time and money on a degree you may not feel like getting right now.)

Control: "How will I get there?"[edit]

This question establishes a major and other things you will accomplish while you are at college.