Most students have realized by now that the mantra “you can be whatever you want when you grow up” is a bit misleading. However, sometimes cynical high schoolers skew too far in the other direction; we pigeonhole ourselves into a certain college, a certain trade or a certain career before we’ve fully thought through what our life after graduation will look like. It’s important to broaden our horizons every once in a while and consider the pros and cons of every possible option for our future.
Perhaps the single most important factor to think about when considering your future is money. Generally, pursuing higher education at more selective colleges is pricier than going somewhere closer to home. Even college may not offer you the most value: attending trade school allows you to potentially jump into a high-paying field, and the military offers up to $50,000 in scholarship grants for enlistees. Think about two things financially when choosing your next step: what you can afford now, and how much you want to make in the future.
If you decide college is for you, don’t place weight solely on college rankings or prestige; focus on choosing the best college for you. Getting into the best university or the best field isn’t as important as it may seem; in his book David and Goliath, sociologist Malcolm Gladwell found that students at the most selective universities are typically less happy than their less-competitive counterparts. Don’t stress too much over being rejected or waitlisted; make the most of whichever university you end up attending.
Less conventional routes like trade school, joining the military or immediately entering the workforce are also viable options. Make sure you have a plan for whatever you pursue. If considering trade school, start looking into jobs in your trade; if joining the military, decide if you want to stay in the armed forces for life or if you want to use the military as a springboard for your later life; if entering the workforce, figure out where your employer will treat you well and where you can move up the company ranks.
The end of high school is a stressful time for everybody. Instead of worrying about boosting your test scores another point or cramming in more extracurriculars for your résumé, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Make sure you think about every option before deciding what your next step in life will be.