In the US, where I was born and raised, we start aiming for getting into higher education in our junior year of high school.  This would be when we are about 16 or 17 years old.  We’re encouraged to research the area we want to continue on into, the schools and universities on offer and make an informed choice.  I think some people, like my friend Anne, had the maturity, drive and know-how on how to do this; she wanted to be an archaeologist, and she knew where her future was and how to get there.

Me?  I wasn’t so sure.  I loved drawing, really liked art, but I had broken my hand when I was 8 and didn’t feel that I had the passion that others in my classes had for art.  There were a lot of choices for places to go and do further study, and prices, location and class sizes ranged greatly.  Also, the focus of the providers were very different as well: some focussed on many different things (universities and polytechnics) while others were exclusively focussed on art.

I have to admit, I didn’t research things very well.  If I could compare it to an activity, it was like being blindfolded, aimed in the direction of a dartboard, and, with a dart firmly in my hand, told to throw in the direction where I thought the dartboard was after being spun around several times first.

Now, this wasn’t the fault of my parents, or my careers advisers at school, or teachers, or siblings, or any other family members; this was my sheer laid-back attitude about the whole thing.  See, everything had landed in my lap in school and high school.  I got good grades, didn’t really have to study and didn’t find things extremely challenging.  How hard could university be?  Or why would choosing one university over another matter?

At 18, wide-eyed and full of optimism, I went to university, one not very well-known for art.  It was a public university, so the fees were low, and there were tens of thousands of people who attended classes there.  It would have been easy to get lost in the crowd, or join into a multitude of organisations and participate my heart out.  It was the only campus I visited out of the dozen or so places I whittled my final list down to. The reason I chose it was because it was close enough to home that I could easily commute if I wanted to spend the weekends with my family, and because I was paying my own tuition and didn’t want to get into the student loan debt trap, it was inexpensive.

I got what I paid for.

You see, while I made some great friends and met my first true love there, I didn’t find the atmosphere conducive to learning.  There were some great teachers there, but many more also-rand teachers there who were just going through the motions to get paid a wage so they and their families could survive.  The class sizes were huge — ranging from 40 at smallest to over 1,000 in the largest — and yes, you were just a number there.  I wasn’t Scott; I was student 123-456-7890.

I was telling Noel the other day how I changed my major from a Bachelor of the Fine Arts in art to a Bachelor of the Arts in English.  My hand couldn’t keep up with all the drawing I was expected to do (if you recall, I broke it when I was 8), and the teachers were more interested in who was cool and who wasn’t than in teaching us art.  So, I went to the main office to talk about how to transfer my degree to a different subject.

I was thinking maybe Art History or something related to art, but the people in the BFA Arts office were totally uninterested.  They didn’t care whether I dropped dead in front of them, quit university, lit myself on fire and did the hula, decided to do a triple-major… they just didn’t care.

So, after a lot of soul searching, I changed my major to a BA in English because, that’s what my friends were doing, and I was good at reading and analysing things.  And, to be honest, I enjoyed it and could use it for a wide range of different career paths.  I’d finally researched what subject would give me the flexibility to gain a job in a variety of industries.

But the transfer to a new major still didn’t help.  The public university was soulless, lacked that personal touch or even interest in my welfare or my career or even my major.

In the end, a lot of Fate’s forces conspired to make me change universities.  And, to be honest, I think subconsciously I got sick of being treated like a number, or like I was walking around with dollar signs, invisible to me and my friends but seen by the university higher-ups, floating above my head somewhere.  So I decided to transfer universities.

This time I did my research.  I asked friends, family, high school teachers, any one I could find about the different options available to me.  Universities from the East Coast of the US to the West Coast were offered.  In the end, I narrowed it down to private universities because, from what my friends at private universities told me, there was a major difference between the public and private.  Sure the fees were more, but you got a lot more bang for your buck.

In the end, I picked the university my uncle went to gain his Master’s degree from because he, like so many others I talked to, highly recommended it.  They were known for their English programme, so much so they had an exchange programme going on with Cambridge and Oxford in the UK.
Even in the first week when I arrived, the dean personally contacted me and asked me about options for my career.  Did I want to spend a semester over at Oxford?  He felt I had the talent and the drive and the know-how to do it: something he felt some other students there didn’t have.

My classes were smaller.  Instead of 40 to 1,000 students per class, we had, at most, 20 in each class.  This helped form better debates, talk more in-depth about the topics we were studying, helped us all form critical views and participate more so we got good value for our money, and a great education that would prepare us for the world out there after graduation.

My teachers had a lot of interest in me and my well-being.  They knew me by my first name, knew the classes I was taking, always had the time to sit down and talk to me about any issues I was having or even just to talk, scholar to scholar, about anything.  I felt I could be open and honest with them, could mine the knowledge in their heads to help improve mine, and I finally felt challenged to think and analyse, like I belonged, and like I wasn’t just another student walking around with dollar signs above my head and like an individual.

I was Scott Fack, not student number 123-456-7890.

That’s the kind of atmosphere we try to build at our school.  We want to deal with you as a person, not as a number or “just another bum on another seat”.  We try to help you achieve your goals, especially to train you the best we can to prepare you for the beauty, nail and spa therapies industries.
We have small classes and remain dedicated to small classes so you have more one-on-one time with your tutor.  You aren’t lumped in with 16, 22, 40 other students at the same time, or seen with dollar signs floating above your head.

We’ll challenge you.  You’ll have to work hard to achieve and succeed.  You’ll have to use your brain, your knowledge, your know-how and get in there, work hard, but that’s what you are paying us for.  And, after all that hard work and perseverance, you’ll hopefully graduate and get out there into the world, using your knowledge to help others.

And that’s a big difference.  Yes, you may pay more for your education.  Yes, you may have to move from another city or town to study with us.  But that’s a small sacrifice for a much better education you’ll receive that will prepare you that much better for the wide world out there and the industry you are passionate about.

Research your chosen career.  Talk with those knowledgeable and passionate about the industry.  Speak with your family, friends and/or loved ones about your career, about your goals, about your dreams and aspirations and get feedback.  Most importantly, ask questions from the providers you are comparing against one another.  Find out facts and figures, and what’s involved, and what’s expected of you, and see how that matches up to your dreams and aspirations.  Most importantly, look at who is out there in the industry you want to get into, those people who are really successful, and find out from them what you should look for in training.
As our Code of Ethics says, “Be the best you can be.”  That’s a challenge I wish I had when I started my tertiary education career.  And, taking my story on-board, this is the challenge I issue to you.

Scott Fack is the Director of Operations for The National School of Aesthetics, the South Island’s leading beauty therapy, nail technology and spa therapies training provider.