Back when I was thinking about college there were a lot of factors that I didn’t really consider. I just knew that I was going. I mainly focused on location, amenities, and available programs. Seemed like that’s all that was important. My parents guided me through the finances and loan applications (the major factor I didn’t consider), but I focused mainly on the idea of finding a good school with a good environment and plenty of educational options. Why? Because I had no idea what I wanted to do.
Once I picked my school, I enrolled as an undecided major. That should give you a pretty good idea about where I was in life. I was 18, smart enough, full of hopes and dreams and potential, but not a clue of what I wanted to do with my life. That’s probably something I should have focused on, rather than which school had nicer dorms.
It seemed like everyone else had a plan… or at least a major in mind. I had neither. What was I even doing there?
There is something to be said for the “college experience.” And I don’t just mean the parties, underage drinking, and co-ed dorms. I do believe that I grew a lot as a person while at college, which I’m not sure I would have had I done something different. The problem is that I think many people experience this… late self-discovery. I wish I was able to sort some things out for myself before I went to college. At 18 we’re still finding ourselves, learning who we are and what we want, yet it’s time to make important decisions about the future. We’re supposed to choose a path. Maybe it’s the wrong path and we stay on it, regretting it later. Maybe we decide to change paths but then need to start over, delaying graduation and probably incurring more costs.
Let’s get to the point. We don’t all have to graduate high school and immediately go to college without direction. There’s no “blueprint” for everyone. If you know exactly what you want, that’s great. Go get it. If you don’t, there are other options that can give you more leeway and room to figure it out.
- Take a year off – This time off isn’t about “taking a break”. This is time that you should use to decide what you want out of your adult life. Do some research, try some jobs, talk to people in the industries that interest you. Figure it out on your own terms. Maybe you’ll find your passion and it won’t be offered at any college. Maybe it’s an apprenticeship or a vocational school. You might be better off taking the extra time to figure it out rather than diving into something that may not work out. This is also a good time to save up some money to put towards whatever goal you decide on.
- Community college – Start off at community college and take a variety of courses to find out what you like. This is far less expensive, and the credits will probably be transferable to another college (you can check for any given course/college). You can start here, then move to a more prestigious university for your degree. Let’s be honest, it matters which school gives you that piece of paper.
- Counseling – Use the resources available to you in high school, and even once you get to college. Guidance and career counselors are there for a reason. Talk to them and get their advice. At the very least, they are a an experienced set of ears that can listen to your concerns and help you make decisions. If you have a career in mind, these are the people who can tell you how to get there.
I’m talking about this for two reasons. Those two reasons are also the factors that should go into your decisions.
- Personal Development – Like I said, not everyone follows the same path. You need to find your own way to ensure success and happiness. Make time and take time to figure out exactly what you want out of your education. It’s alright if you don’t figure it out right away. But it’s not alright to dig yourself into debt with no goal in sight. Ultimately, you will need to make choices. Just make sure you’re honest with yourself and strive for what you want. Get to know yourself.
- Financial Well-Being – Blindly committing to years of school and student loans can prove to be more costly if you’re not getting the results you want. These decisions will have financial implications for years and years after you finish school, making it all the more important to try to make the best decisions possible in the beginning. You shouldn’t make a decision based solely on potential income (ie; how much you think you’ll make in a certain career), but finances are something that should be considered. Be aware of how much debt you are accruing, and make sure your path will provide you with the means to pay it back.