Congratulations, you are graduating from high school…and I am sure you are experiencing a wide array of emotions. Happiness for all you have accomplished, excitement about ending your school career, and the thrill of FINALLY being done! But you also have other emotions: fear, anxiety, and worry about what the future holds. It doesn’t matter if you have your whole future mapped out or you are still trying to figure out what to do next, every one processes these emotions when it comes to graduation.
Commencement (or graduation) means beginning. While graduation signals the end of so many things in your life…good and bad…it is technically the BEGINNING of your new adult life. This time of our lives comes with so much freedom and responsibility, excitement and worry. It might help to know that all of those around you feel the same way you do, no matter what type of student they were.
The biggest worry around graduation is wondering what you are going to do next. Now what? Maybe you have thought about it in great detail. Maybe you just assumed it would all fall into place (like I did) or you are hoping that your parents or someone (an actual adult) will help guide you. And most of the time this will happen. Maybe you are expected to go to college, join the military, or continue with the family business. Your parents probably have a plan for you, whether it is what you want to do or not, and you will more than likely just go along with that plan because they are the adults and you are used to doing what they say.
I am not saying that this is wrong! Your parents typically have your best interest at heart and know you the best and what you are capable of and how to help you accomplish your goals. Your parents or other adults in your life will probably be your biggest source of support until you are able to fully support yourself, so you should probably take their advice as you see fit. If you are still wondering what to do after graduation and you don’t have a plan in place for you, let’s look at what options you have and see what you think fits you.
TYPICAL OPTIONS AFTER GRADUATING HIGH SCHOOL
- JOB: If you haven’t already started working during high school, your best option after graduation might be to get a job. Remember, though, that you will more than likely be starting out at a less than desirable job working for minimum wage. DON’T LET THAT DISCOURAGE YOU! We all have to start out somewhere and while this may not be the job that gets you into your new adult life right away, it is a good place to start practicing a good work ethic. Even if you absolutely hate your first job, try not to quit until you have another job in place, but give your job a chance. All work sucks in a way, that is why it is work! But that doesn’t mean you can’t take pride in being a dishwasher, delivery driver, or whatever else you may feel like is beneath you. Whatever the job, remember what your goals are (see SETTING REALISTIC GOALS PART ONE AND PART TWO) and keep a positive attitude. Maybe your first goal is just to get a raise, get a better job, or save enough to go to school. Keep your goals in mind every time working gets hard and keep at it until you reach your goals. You may find that working your job is what you want to be doing for awhile! That is awesome! There is no shame in working ANY type of job, and you should feel proud of yourself for being the best worker you can be and sticking with it even when it gets tough.
- TRADE SCHOOL: Some people come out of high school knowing exactly what they want to do and how to accomplish it. If you need a certificate to work, certain jobs require you to go to a trade or tech school. Computer jobs, welding, graphic design, hair and nail design…these can all be careers you can have after only a few short years (or months) at a trade school. The advantage to trade schools are 1.) Less student loan debt; 2.)job placement (they will help you find employment) and 3.)learning only what you need to know, unlike a university where you need to learn many different topics. Trade schools often allow you to immediately start out working at a higher than minimum wage and will show you how to work your own business, as well.
- COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY: Many people have it in their heads that going to college is the next logical step after graduation. This may be true for many people, especially if you know exactly what you want to do the rest of your life and you know that you need a 4-year degree to accomplish that. There are many advantages to going to college including learning a lot about many different subjects, being in a community of like minded people and sharing ideas, living the college lifestyle of fraternities, sororities, and parties. There are drawbacks, though, and these need to be really thought out before committing to a university, because your choice will affect your life for many years to come. The expense usually means that you will need student loans (SEE DEBTS: STUDENT LOANS) and these can follow you for the rest of your life if you aren’t able to pay them off in 10 years. There is no job guarantee. Unlike trade schools, where they will help you find a job after graduation, universities may offer such programs, but do not guarantee anything. Also, if you go for 4 years to become a teacher and end up make $40,000, you have the same amount of student loans as a computer engineer with a 4 year degree making $100,000. So, keep in mind your earning potential in your field before committing to student loans! Do you NEED a degree for the job you want to do? Will it help you earn more money if you have a degree or legitimize your career? Sometimes it will, but you need to do research and not just go to college and hope to figure it out later. (Trust me, I did this, and I still regret it. Not the college experience OR the education itself, but I am going to probably have student loans until I die! Not fun!).
- MILITARY: Joining the military can be quite controversial for some, but for many Americans this is a good option depending on what your goals are. Maybe you are patriotic and want to do good for your country. Maybe you see it as a steady full time career choice that will give you many, many opportunities. Maybe you see it as a means to an end, like joining for a short period of time just to get the college benefits later on. Whatever your reason, joining the military can be a great way to provide for your future. I mentioned it was controversial because some of your family members may not agree with your choice depending on their own views about the military. As with anything else, though, take your family’s concerns to heart while making your choice, but remember it is ultimately YOUR choice!
As you can see, there are many choices and you need to decide which one is right for you. You may do a combination of these. It can be very overwhelming and you may make the wrong choice and need to change or go a different route later on and THAT IS OK! Remember, our lives are OUR journey, and there will always be detours and bumps along the way. But there are never dead ends…you just have to find another path to try. You are only 18!! You aren’t expected to have all the answers! Hell, I am 46 and I still wonder what I am going to be “when I grow up!”
HOW DO I CHOOSE?
If none of these options have already been ingrained in you, or you are still unsure which path to choose, keep in mind the opinions of those who love you. Your family has been with you since day one and they know your strengths and your weaknesses, your loves and your hates, your desires and your will power. They have an opinion about what you should do and some will make their opinion the only option for you, while others will allow you to choose for yourself. While this is YOUR journey, remember that they are your support system and they mean well for you, so take their opinions into consideration. Weigh out what you want to do, what they want for you, and the reason why they feel as they do. Try not to make your decision out of spite (doing the opposite of what your parents want to do just to rebel). Your future is as important to them as it is to you! But, it is your future, so if you feel you are going to need to justify your choices, make sure to do your research and be able to back up why your decision is right for you. Don’t do what your friends are going to do…that may not be right for you either. If you are still having trouble deciding, get a job for a while and make the choice later when you feel more prepared. No one says you HAVE to go to college from the ages of 18-22! You can go whenever. You can make new decisions later. You may need some life experience before you know what you want (or don’t) want to do. You have your whole life to make new career choices, so don’t feel like you are stuck right now.
I hope that this advice helped you see what your options are and how to figure out what is right for you. No one else can be responsible for your happiness or for your future, so make sure you are an active participant in the decision making process. Graduation is already full of emotions and uncertainty. Don’t think you are a failure at life, just because you don’t have it all figure out yet! That doesn’t mean you don’t have to make some type of plan, though! Getting a job while you figure out the rest is the best idea to help gain your independence AND experience while you decide.
Please follow BEING GROWN UP on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Check out Anchor.fm/kim-stamler for podcasts of each post or check your favorite podcast subscriber. Leave me a comment and let me know what you are concerned about with being a grown up and I will do my best to help you through it!