What to Do If You’re Still in School

If your Asian parents are like most, they will probably pay for your college education and maybe even graduate school.  And there will be limitations on what you can and can’t major in plus other strings attached to the money you receive for college.  I won’t be able to cover everyone’s individual situations in a single post but I’ll spell out the end goal I prescribe: your objective is to graduate from college after 4 years and start a satisfying, financially lucrative, and sustainable career.  4 Years. NOT 6 years after getting a masters! NOT 8-15 years after getting a PhD or MD! Exception: if you get a very lucrative free-ride scholarship to professional school, you can consider taking that.  If you don’t have that, then more years of graduate or professional school equals more years of having to depend on mom and dad and having to listen to their rules about how to live your adult life.


What to Study?


If postgraduate study is out of the question, then that limits the choices of majors you can pursue.  I’m not in the position to give you all of the answers but I’ll tell you that Medicine and Law are definitely off the table.  Also, I can’t emphasize enough but you’d need to work closely and proactively set up meetings with your Advisor and the school’s Career Center.  Find the highest paying field that you’re at least somewhat interested in, has a decent job market, and only requires 4 years of college.  Then coordinate with your Advisor and Career Center to find the right major and classes to take as well as relevant industry internships.


What if you’re only allowed to study a field that requires postgraduate study in order to find an entry level job (i.e. Law, Medicine, etc.)?  That’s a tough one.  Your parents might end up forcing your hand and in the worst case, you may have to apply for scholarships and/or work your way through school to study a field that you can hit the ground working in right after graduation.  Unless you have a genuine interest in Law, Medicine, or whatever field they’re forcing you to study, I’ll strongly lean towards picking a major you’re interested in and paying your way through college.  You don’t want to be stuck working in a field that you have no interest in for the rest of your life even if your parents paid all of your tuition.  Besides, who would want to hire a lawyer who has no genuine respect for the Law or to be operated by a doctor who was forced by his/her parents to go to med school?  But this will not be an easy road, so you gotta remind yourself whether you want to suffer a few more years paying for college on your own or suffer the rest of your life in a career that’s not a good fit.


(My theory about why Medicine and Law are such popular careers forced upon Asian children: it’s not just for the financial rewards but also to keep the children financially dependent on their parents for years after they’ve graduated from college.)


Who Pays for College?


Your parents paying for your college education should always be your last resort, even if you’re allowed to choose your major.  Even if they verbally deny that there are no strings attached with that money or they never say anything about it, there are no guarantees that that is what they meant and/or they’ll continue to keep their word in the future.  You still need to AGGRESSIVELY apply for scholarships to pay for your education.  Being able to foot part of the tuition bill using scholarships and the rest with your parents’ money is a step in the right direction.


How to Work Hard AND Smart in College


By now, you should realize that hard work is a fundamental prerequisite but no guarantee of success in college.  Contrary to what your parents may have dictated, you don’t need a 4.0 GPA (unless your school is known for grade inflation) but your grades need to be as high as possible without sacrificing a ridiculous amount of time and effort at the expense at everything else in your life.  A few guidelines to determine if you’re working too hard:


  • If you’re even asking yourself if you’re working too hard at your academics, there’s a good chance you are NOT working hard enough.
  • You need to recognize the diminishing returns from your efforts.  If you need to work twice as hard to get a 3.9 vs a 4.0, for example, then that last 0.1 might not be worth the effort.
  • Think in terms of opportunity costs: what opportunities are you sacrificing if you’re not spending a particular time slot on your studies?


Some basic tactics for getting everything done:





This guy, Ramit Sethi, managed to win over $100,000 in scholarships back in the early 2000s in order to pay for his college education.  Adjusting for inflation today, it should definitely be able to pay for a huge chunk of you college tuition if not all of it.  If you’re still in school, I challenge you to apply to as many scholarships as possible so that you won’t need to depend on your parents’ money which almost always comes with strings attached.  If you think this is impossible or come up with excuses, then I can guarantee that you don’t want your freedom badly enough.


Also, read the following chapter from the 4 Hour Work Week: Chapter 7 – Interrupting Interruption and the Art of Refusal.  Pay attention to the following sections:


  • If Tim got anything less than an A on a paper or test in any class, what does he do?  Try using the same approach yourself.
  • Reflect on Tim’s analogy of the kid who would do anything to oppose the playground bully.  Use the same mindset to cling onto the freedom to live your adult life without any interference from your Asian parents.


Reading Assignment:


In addition to all of the articles I’ve referenced here, please read the following books:


Getting Things Done by David Allen

  • Since your parents aren’t there to remind you constantly, you need a system for staying organized with all of your goals and due dates.
  • This is a robust framework for organizing and keeping track of all of your obligations in school and life.
  • Check it out at your local library HERE.


The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

  • Are you feeling overwhelmed with so much that is being expected of you?
  • Learn to simplify your life and single-mindedly focus on a few essential projects at a time rather than spreading your attention thin.
  • If you have the bad habit of starting a ton of different projects but rarely finishing them, you definitely need to read this book.
  • Check it out at your local library HERE.





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