I’m not sure what prompted this, but lately I’ve been thinking about the past ten or so years of my life, and I’ve realized things along the way that I think could be useful for the younger generation. Things I wish someone would have told me ten years ago.
1) It’s perfectly normal to not have your life figured out by the time you graduate.
I remember entering high school and being given a career aptitude test; even before this, I remember being constantly asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I changed my mind dozens of times before graduation, and even more after. Some people do know what they want to do, and that’s really awesome. Some people know by the time junior year rolls around that they’re going to college to become a teacher, or a nurse, or a lawyer, or going to trade school. That’s great! For many others, it’s just not that easy. You can’t predict the future and you can’t know where you’re going to be at in life a year from now… five years from now… ten years from now.
In 8th grade, I boldly stated that I would go to school to be a meteorologist after graduation. By graduation, I had changed my mind and switched my path toward elementary education. By the two-year mark in college, I had switched my major to psychology, then sociology, then social work. Midway through junior year, I had a mental breakdown and dropped out of social work school. I transferred to a different school hours away to study biology with the goal of working for a zoo. Didn’t last long – I ended up back in sociology, and then once I finally got my head on straight, I realized that I was meant for nonprofit work and went to graduate school for public administration.
I’m not the only one – 50-70% of college students change their majors at least once during college, and most change majors multiple times. So if high school graduation is quickly approaching, or maybe it’s already passed, and you’re still not sure what you want to “be” or “do”… you’re not alone, and it’s ok. Take this time to explore options, get gen eds out of the way, job shadow family members or other people in professions that interest you, find a part-time job to save money, find somewhere to volunteer… this is the most impressionable time of your life, so make it count.
2) Community college is a great thing.
I hear a lot of people speak negatively about community college – that it’s glorified high school, that only the real losers from high school go there, the people who couldn’t get into “real” colleges or universities. I remember junior and senior year when we all started receiving info from colleges, filling out applications, getting accepted, and proudly announcing where we would be attending after graduation. Our local community college was known as “ICC,” and it was thrown around as an insult. “He couldn’t get accepted anywhere else so it’s off to ICC…” Even though a lot of people from my high school ended up going to ICC, it wasn’t like they were boldly declaring their school pride.
I was accepted to several colleges and offered scholarships, but I didn’t feel ready to leave home quite yet and I was very concerned about the cost of college. Even with scholarships and grants, we would need to pay some tuition, all of the books, and room/board if I went away anywhere.
College…is expensive. If you stay in-state and go to a public university, it’s less expensive, but by no means cheap. Private colleges… cost even more. Out-of-state school? Expensive. What’s that, you have to live on-campus? Not cheap. In 2013, the average annual cost for tuition and room/board at a public, in-state university was around $15,000; private schools cost more than twice that on average. For some people, this is not a problem. I was jealous of those people. It felt like they had more options because their parents were helping them pay for school – not an option for me. Not an option for you either? You’re not alone – at least half of college students receive no financial help from their parents.
Bottom line – the first two years of college are almost always just getting gen eds out of the way (math, English, history, etc.) and there’s nothing wrong with doing that at a community college. Especially if it’s less than half of the cost of a “real” college.
3) STUDENT LOANS ARE THE DEVIL. DEBT IS NOT COOL.
Please, please, please… consider all other options before signing your life away and taking out student loans during college. Other options include finding a less expensive school, working out a payment plan and paying your tuition during college, or cutting down to part-time if you can. Not always an option and it’s nearly impossible in this country to graduate without at least some debt. But consider these things before you go taking out loans:
– Are there any grants or scholarships available, even if it means going to a different school?
– Are you certain of your major at this point (this applies more to sophomores/juniors)? (If you’re not, why take out loans to pay for a wasted semester of school?)
– Have you researched thoroughly and realistically considered the job market you will be entering with the degree you are choosing? I don’t mean reading the list of possible jobs you can have with your major… I mean checking into how many graduates are getting hired, what type of jobs they are being hired for, how much money they make on average after graduation, etc. This is so important because… you will have to pay these loans back. (Six months after graduation, typically).
– Have you done the math and figured out about how much your loan payments will be? Do you know who your lender is and what type of loan you’re taking? Personally, I feel that colleges leave a little too much responsibility on the college student as far as fully understanding student loans goes. It can get very confusing, especially if you don’t have much experience with financial matters. Ask questions, read the paperwork, do your research first.
– Understand that the more loans you take, the longer you will be paying them back. Understand how interest on these loans works.
4) Peer pressure doesn’t end just because high school did.
I remember being warned by adults that high school would be very challenging because of “peer pressure.” Even now, I hear a lot about “peer pressure.” Sometimes, I believe we are led to believe that if we can make it through high school, the hard part is over. I wholeheartedly disagree. College is still full of immature, irresponsible kids who care more about having a “good time” than planning for their future. (Obviously does not apply to everyone). If anything, you will be challenged even more during college. You will meet people from different towns, states, even countries. You will meet people with totally different belief systems than you. You will learn quickly that college students love to stay up until all hours of the night, play really stupid drinking games, and make really poor decisions. Unless you are a hermit and completely antisocial, you will likely be invited to participate in these activities.
More than anything, many college students want to feel like adults and live like free-spirited adults. Often, this is equated to drinking alcohol, because drinking alcohol is a very grown-up thing to do. If you don’t want to drink, you may feel pressured by your friends to do it anyway. You may get made fun of or excluded from activities. You will be called weird and quite possibly boring. May I offer this advice? If you don’t want to drink, just don’t do it. Be secure enough in who you are to feel comfortable turning others down. It’s not “weird” or “boring” to choose not to drink. It’s your choice.
It’s not just about drinking. You may feel pressured to hook up with people, because that’s very, very normal on college campuses. You may feel pressured to skip class, or to cheat, or to slack off on your homework. You may feel pressured to subscribe to another person’s belief system or question your own. You may feel pressured to settle down, get married, have kids, etc. Peer pressure didn’t end at your high school graduation. It will last for the rest of your life – but you have the power to change your reaction to it.
5) There’s nothing wrong with waiting to have sex.
I remember starting high school and knowing that a few of my friends had already “done it,” and my older cousin telling me that by the time I got done with high school, most of my friends wouldn’t be virgins. Well, she was right. In fact, I was one of the only girls I knew who was still holding out on having sex. I felt like I needed to defend that because the rest of my friends thought I was weird for it. Multiple girls in my class had already had babies by graduation, or were pregnant. Being “sexually active” (ugh, loathe that term) was completely normal and expected. When you dated someone, it was generally expected that you would “do stuff” sexually with them. Guess what? That only gets worse in college.
You may feel like because you are now a legal adult, you need to date like an adult and have sex with the person you are dating. You may feel like you should hook up with someone because everyone else you know is doing that. Don’t feel like that. You’re not alone. You do what you want and don’t let anyone make you feel like less of a person for it. Anyone who would pressure you to do something that you don’t want to do is not worth your time. Don’t let a boyfriend have husband privileges (saw that on a friend’s Facebook page today and loved it – so, so true). So many relationship problems could be solved if people would stop treating their significant others like they are spouses. If you want to treat your significant other like a spouse, then marry them. If you’re not sure if they’re marriage material, then guess what? They aren’t sex material either.
And finally, 6) Realize that high school is over now and you are about to enter a completely new phase of your life.
Some people graduate and then stay in their hometown, keeping the same friends for a lifetime, settling down with their high school sweetheart and starting families. That’s awesome – if that’s you, congrats! For others, we want to explore – we want to meet new people – we want to see what else is out there. You’re young – go for it! Now is the time to explore, before you have tons of bills and responsibilities.
You don’t have to stay near your family and you don’t have to keep the same friends. If that’s not your desire, don’t let others make you feel guilty for leaving. Do not let your high school friends or your family members talk you out of leaving if it’s what you really feel like you want to do. If other people want to stay where they are in life, good on them. It’s not for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
You’re now considered an adult, and you have your own life to create and worry about now. Your own path to take. Don’t let others make you feel bad if you want to branch off on your own path and stop taking theirs. Expect some, if not many, of your high school friendships to fall away in the years after high school. Expect even a lot of your college friendships to fizzle out. You will likely move around, hang out with different groups of people, switch jobs, date different people. That’s life.
Be ready for lots of changes and transitions! Look for opportunities to learn and grow in every job, every friendship, every class, every day.