Sophomores get taste of financial reality, career advice
CHAMPAIGN — Even though it's summer, local high school sophomores got a dose of financial reality and practical career advice Monday.
The Champaign Schools Foundation hosted its first Sophomore Experience session for members of CUScholars, which is the foundation's student achievement program that prepares Central, Centennial and Urbana High School students for life after high school.
The day focused on helping students develop practical skills about building their resumes, interviewing for and doing well in their first jobs and dealing with finances.
The event was at Parkland College and more than 100 students attended.
They got hands-on experience with the finances of adulthood as they were given their own checkbooks in a budget simulation. The checkbooks listed information about the students for the simulation: their profession and annual salaries, whether they had a spouse and whether he or she was employed and how many children they had.
Then, the students had to visit various tables in the simulation that represented childcare, insurance, taxes, housing, groceries, transportation and more. If they ran into financial trouble, they could stop by another table to take on a second job or get help from a financial adviser.
The students were instructed to calculate their monthly salary before their first stop, which was the IRS.
"Taxes really take a lot of your money," said Joey Horvat, who attends Central High School. He was childless during Monday's exercise, and working as an orthodontist. He had the money, so he bought the most expensive car possible, a GMC Denali.
"And kids are really expensive," said Will Gerard, who also attends Central and was, for the purposes of the budget simulation, a single father of three living on a postal worker's salary. He had to pick up a second job as a bus driver to make ends meet.
"I don't really think about these things," Gerard said, about the expenses he was responsible for, and dilemmas like whether to buy or rent a home.
Single parenthood was also a struggle for Centennial student Aliya Savage, and she said she didn't expect the finances of adulthood to be so difficult. She took two extra jobs on top of her retail salesperson job .
"That helped a little bit," she said.
She also learned she didn't want to bear the burden of paying for three kids' expenses without a spouse.
"Now I know what my parents go through," she said. "Now I know I really have to go to ... college. It's stressful."
Urbana student Tonia Terry also found the simulation difficult, especially just keeping up with all the required responsibilities and the expense of daycare for three kids on an electrician's salary.
"Don't grow up," was her best advice, but if you have to, she said she learned "you want to have a good career, a good job and no children. That will make life somewhat easier."
Kelly Loschen, who is an audit supervisor for Martin, Hood, Friese and Associates and a board member for the Champaign Urbana Schools Association, said the experience is intended to help students manage their finances after they get jobs.
"It's a big eye-opener," for students, she said, and in a debriefing session following the exercise, volunteers will ask students what they'd do if they'd have to deal with a flat tire or an unexpected medical expense.
Loschen used to be involved in the local Junior Achievement group, which no longer exists. Her co-workers, as well as staff members from Busey Bank and Whitsitt and Associates, volunteered to help the students with their finances.
The budget exercise is based on the Junior Achievement curriculum, which comes from the National Endowment for Financial Education, said CU Schools Foundation Executive Director Gail Rost.
Patricia Bates, who works at Centennial high school and serves as a CUScholars liaison there, said she thought such a practical topic is valuable for students, many of whom have never seen a checkbook before.
"One hundred percent of students are going to use this," she said.
The students also heard about building their resumes, applying for jobs and interviewing well from Cindy Somers, the owner of the Spherion Staffing Services franchises in Champaign and Decatur.
Somers told students that they should include volunteer work and first jobs, like babysitting or dogsitting, on their resumes. These experiences can also help them connect with positive references.
She also told them to put teamwork experiences, whether in a sport or club or even a school project, on their resumes.
Employers are looking for dependable, responsible employees, and students should think twice about making permanent changes to their appearance with tattoos or piercings.
Even if that's OK in a tech or light industrial work environment, students might someday regret those changes when changing fields or moving higher in the organizations where they work.
Somers also gave students advice on how to answer tricky interview questions, like how they work on deadlines or their weaknesses.
For example, instead of an applicant saying he procrastinates, Somers advised that saying one has experience working on tight deadlines sounds better to interviewers.
Employers expect more than one-word answers, she said, and students should remember to make a good first impression, even when just running into a business to pick up an application.
"You can never get that first impression back," she said.
Somers also told students to put their phones away while working or while out to dinner with friends or family members.
"We need to put our cell phones away when we're communicating with people right in front of us," she told the sophomores.
The CU Schools Foundation will host its Freshman Focus event at Parkland today, for members of CUScholars who just finished their freshman years. There, they'll learn about why they should take rigorous academic classes while in high school. The students will attend sessions on computer programming, Platonic solids, 3D printing and different languages, like Arabic, Russian, Swahili, Portuguese, Urdu and Farsi.