GROVE CITY -- Even though a high school senior may have stellar grades and test scores, he may not have a clue what a 26 percent interest rate can do to a college freshman who puts pizza on the credit card every night.
Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City High School seniors were given a lesson in practical job and money issues Wednesday.
"I learned that it's important to be prepared and manage your budget," said Ben Meyer, an ACGC senior who intends to study carpentry next fall at Ridgewater College. "And don't take out stupid loans," he added.
Emily Nelson, who will attend the University of Minnesota-Crookston next fall to study agricultural engineering, said she learned that "loans aren't as scary as they seem" and as long as a student plans ahead financially, "you'll be fine."
For two mornings this week, while the rest of the students were undergoing state-mandated testing, ACGC seniors were given some life lessons before they graduate next month.
On Wednesday morning, the seniors heard from community leaders about managing money and making career choices.
"It was not necessarily fun information, but it's what I needed," said Nelson, who has already followed the advice of the panel members to "set goals" and choose a career than matches your passions. Nelson said she wants to work with developing new biofuels so that she "can make a difference in the environment."
Paul White, a financial consultant with Thrivent in Litchfield and Atwater, assured students that college loans can be paid off, but how quickly will depend on lifestyle choices.
He urged the students to hold off buying a new car or house. By living modestly in the first three to five years after college, they can quickly pay off their loans -- providing them a solid financial footing for the next steps in their career and family.
"Stick to a budget and get your debt cleaned up," he said.
While warning about the "negative power of the credit card" that is used too much and not paid in full each month, White said credit cards can be good tools for college students if used properly.
When it comes to getting a job, the students were told their personal skills, ability to communicate and ability to fit in with the rest of the team would carry as much weight as their technical skills.
First impressions and personal appearance matter when interviewing for a job.
Pat Walsh, from Atwater Ford, strongly suggested that men leave the facial hardware -- such as earrings and nose rings -- at home and that they not wear rock band T-shirts.
A suit and tie are not required for every job interview, he said, but applicants should be "presentable."
A firm handshake, direct eye contact and answering questions honestly are important during an interview. Joel Gratz, a certified public accountant with Christianson and Associates of Willmar and an ACGC School Board member, warned students not to oversell themselves.
Venieta Leikvoll, staffing coordinator with Employment Plus in Willmar, passed along the tip to be polite and respectful to the receptionist of the potential employer. Poor behavior in the waiting room may be passed along to the person doing the hiring.
Crystal Houk, in human resources at Bobcat in Litchfield, said showing a good "work ethic" will go miles in getting a job.
Theresa Johnson, an ACGC senior who intends to go to college in Mankato to study to be a registered nurse, said the session taught her the importance of selecting a career that fits.
"Not every job is glamorous, but it can still be enjoyable," said Walsh. "You might as well enjoy what you do."