Make no mistake: Portland State is a business, and businesses are founded on bureaucracies that are looking to do one thing—make money.
As a result, the process of navigating the labyrinthine innards of such a system is purposely designed to obfuscate as much as possible. Here’s what I wish I knew when I started at PSU roughly three years ago.
Get your financial aid in early
Honestly, the moment that clock turns to Jan. 1, you should have all your information in, neat and tidy. Even if you haven’t finalized your taxes or don’t know what your adjusted gross income is going to be, you want your name on that FAFSA list because it’s first come, first serve. You can edit it later.
Additionally, try to know as much about the process as possible. Research, research, research. PSU’s financial aid department is largely a student-run workforce, so getting straight, accurate, helpful answers is a crapshoot.
Talk to your advisers…
But do your research before you do. I won’t go so far as to say that every adviser is trying to upsell you on “just one more minor” or a class that doesn’t fulfill a major requirement, but I’ve certainly got that before. Like any good business transaction, you want to do as much research about an investment before you start negotiating. Advising shouldn’t be inherently confrontational (many advisers are happy to shuffle credits around), but you shouldn’t go in blind either.
Internships are king
Many students are still operating on the false assumption that a degree is enough to net a job. There are edge cases, of course, but this is no longer the norm. Today jobs are acquired through connections, so try to plan for at least one internship per term. Do this long enough and you might find you have a job lined up before you even graduate.
It’s tempting to get that barista or sales associate job to make a little more money on the side, but don’t take jobs like that if they’re at the expense of something that will make you look more attractive to future employers. Look for paid internships, but be reasonable in your expectations.
For every bad class, there are going to be warning signs. Usually you can pick these out pretty early on. For example, if you look at a syllabus and have no idea how you’re going to be graded, don’t assume that these points of confusion are going to magically reveal themselves down the road. If a professor seems overly doddering or technophobic, that’s not going to change. Just discovered you hate the foreign language you’re taking? Drop it in the first week so you can get a full refund and regroup. You might feel like you’re scrambling to fill credit gaps at the last second, but it’s better than the alternative sleepless nights fretting about what you’re supposed to be doing.
Be prepared for the bill
You’re spending a lot of money. Accept that right now, because in three to four years that fact is going to sink in hard, whether you’re prepared or not. The best way to steel yourself against the shock is actually easy: Just be in a good place. Have connections. Research repayment plans. Go to career fairs. Cultivate a professional appearance. If you feel confident about your future, that’s going to go a long way in terms of your demeanor in an interview.