Are College Honor Students Living The Life They’ve Always Wanted?

Does being an honor student equate to a higher salary and, ultimately, a more successful career? Or does graduating with honors mean one is more likely to stay on the same career path?

For Jemma Ponti, 29, graduating Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering and passing the board exam months later seemed like the perfect way to face the real world head on.

But five years into her engineering career gave her enough time to realize that her passion wasn’t in line with the course she excelled in.

We asked her how she managed to transition from being a Hardware Engineer to a Senior Software Developer, the difference between school and work life, and the rewards she enjoys now after pursuing her passion in IT.

What motivated you to be an honor student?

Nothing actually. I was never pressured by my parents to study hard.

Have you always been an achiever? Had you been an honor student since grade school?

Yes, since preschool!

What was your typical school day like?

I’d wake up just on time so I wouldn’t get late, at times even skipping breakfast. After school, I’d usually go straight home and watch TV, then get to my homework before and after dinner. I’d basically rest my brain after school.

What were your extra-curricular activities in school? How has your involvement affected your overall grades?

I was often sent to quiz bees in grade school and high school. I would also sometimes join Cultural Meets. Joining quiz bees allowed me to skip some classes and tests so I could focus and review for upcoming meets. Especially Math Exams–because I was usually sent to Math Quiz bees.

In college, I was active in sports, the Glee Club, and some minor clubs because I needed the points to get honors. I was the Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook staff during my fifth year.

How were you able to hit above-average grades consistently?

I’d listen intently to lectures. I’d jot down only the end formulas. I’d only copy one example and try to solve the next ones on my own. I am not good with memorizing stuff, so I’d try to absorb everything during the lecture.

Before exams, I’d read my notes and recall the lectures. I’d read books if there’s something I didn’t understand. I’d also practice solving problems in the books so I could understand the solutions better.

I’d allot a few hours every week for club meetings, but being the EIC of our yearbook in my last year took most of my after-school hours and Saturdays. Sundays were for rest. I didn’t study on Sundays except for mid-term and end-term exams.

What were your other achievements in college?

Our school system [in the Technological University of the Philippines-Visayas] was ladderized so we had to go through the Technician Program before proceeding to Engineering Program. I was a Gold Medalist when I graduated from the Technician Program.

What did you do right after college? Was it easier for you to get a job by graduating with honors?

After college, I reviewed and took the board exam. I was a scholar for an American Semiconductor company, so I had a job waiting for me. But from experience, no, graduating with honors didn’t really give much perks. Passing the board gave me nods though.

What’s the most vital life lesson that school has imparted on you?

I have completely different routines now compared to back when I was in school. Lesson: Choosing the right friends and keeping them! Keeping a life outside of work pretty much resets you so you have energy when you go back to work.

How do you think school prepared you for the real world?

I spent all my summers in college as an on-the-job trainee. That was part of our curriculum. I’d say I was being groomed to be a part of the workforce all my college life. I also had a five-month internship program where I had to go through the entire process of taking exams and technical interviews. I was that prepared to go out into the real world.

On the flipside, what did you not learn from school?

The politics. I guess. I was used to getting recognitions for my own efforts, but in the real world you have your superiors who sometimes get the praise for your accomplishments. That’s the sad reality for most companies.

What are your biggest achievements so far?

Aside from graduating Cum Laude and passing the Board Exam, I guess it’s being where I am now, slowly getting the life I want, not having to worry about my own finances or my family’s, having a job that motivates me to wake up to every day.

My first job was not the road I wanted to take. I fought for years to have the job I want, and failed to do so because my superiors asked me to stay. And when I eventually gave up, they transferred me. For a few years I liked where I was but still I succumbed to the pressure and the slow rise of my career. So I decided that I was going to follow my passion, and here I am, in my second job.

What’s your current life goal?

I am aiming for financial stability. I am preparing for my life ahead of me: having a family and retirement. I started building my portfolio of investments a few years ago, and am continuously adding more shares to it, but I don’t starve myself to get to that.

I occasionally splurge and travel. I have a file for my budget for the whole year, and set amount for savings and investment every payday and track my savings and investments with it.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I somehow regret taking up Electronics Engineering. Back in high school, I was good at drafting and software. I should have known that I was a programmer. But all my classmates were either taking up Nursing or Engineering.

My brother took up Electronics Engineering, so I followed in his footsteps. Information Technology or Computer Engineering were not good courses for me to take at the time. In fact, only a few schools offer them where I lived, ECE was the popular choice, so I went with the flow.

I exceled at it, but during my third year I came to a conclusion that software programming was my niche. It was too late to change course or transfer. I guess I would tell myself to carve your own path and know that if you really put yourself into it, you will eventually get what you want and succeed.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.