Does College Make Sense for Me?
We realize that, at times, high school can feel interminable. After all, it is four years of standardized tests, troublesome lockers, track practice, fretting about where to sit in the cafeteria, etc. However, the time will pass by much more quickly than you anticipate. And as the future stretches out before you, full of overwhelming possibility, you’ll have to determine your next steps.
Of course, figuring out where you want to go and what path to tread is not so simple. It can lead to a lot of worry and anxiety. Many students operate on the assumption that college is the “correct” next step. Higher education is touted as a predictor (and sometimes even guarantor) of success. Where you attend, what you choose to study, the activities in which you participate – we’re often told all of this will significantly impact our future. And while that’s certainly true to a degree, it’s not the full story. College isn’t the only way a person can achieve happiness or realize their professional goals. It’s not necessarily for everyone and it shouldn’t be used as a default. So, how do you know if college is right for you? Great question! Here are a few points to consider:
What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?
If you’re uncertain about college, spend some time reflecting on what kinds of jobs and/or careers potentially appeal to you. For example, if you’ve always fantasized about becoming a surgeon or a trial lawyer, attending college will be a necessity. There’s no getting around that. After all, both of those professions require a great deal of education, the first of those being an undergraduate degree. Similarly, fields like engineering and accounting are not typically trades that are learned on the job. They require a college degree as well.
However, there are a number of creative, important and fulfilling careers that don’t require a traditional bachelor’s. Are you passionate about food and dreaming of becoming a famous pastry chef? Have you always wanted to style hair? Do you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment every time you unclog a drain? If you’re considering jobs such as auto mechanic, plumber or house painter, you likely don’t need to enroll in a four-year college or university. You can acquire the necessary skill-sets through trade schools and apprenticeships. Your education will be much more focused and tailored toward your specific professional needs. More importantly, both the time and financial commitment will likely be far less than an undergraduate degree.
Higher education presents an odd dichotomy of being both a financial burden and a great investment. Certainly, it’s no surprise that tuition bills have become exorbitant. And nowadays, few families can afford to pay in full. Therefore it makes total sense to wonder if college is the right move financially.
It’s important to shake off the sticker shock. While the number listed might spark heart palpitations, you won’t necessarily have to pay that amount. Plenty of schools offer financial aid packages to undergrads who demonstrate need. There are a number of scholarships, grants and loans for which you might qualify.
Of course, while aid will definitely lessen the immediate burden, it is something you will still need to think about with your family. After all, you are likely to receive loans as part of your package. You will have to determine whether or not you want to go into debt and how much debt you are willing to take on. Also, you’ll want to consider whether the potential debt is offset sufficiently by employment prospects and earning potential after college.
Additionally, you will need money for books, incidentals, social events, etc. Do you have funds that can cover these things? Have you been working? Will you find a job while you’re in school? Can you realistically juggle work and academics? These are all questions you should ask yourself.
If your bank account is low, perhaps it makes sense to take a year off to earn some money or to enroll part-time. You also might want to consider attending a local community college for a year or two. This is often a much less costly option that will allow you to save some money while still keeping up with your peers.
Looking Past the Classroom
Beyond academics, you might not feel prepared for the social aspects of college. To begin with, you’ll discover college grants you a lot more freedom. There won’t be anyone badgering you and saying that you can’t watch television until your homework is complete. There’s no one to monitor what time you come home or to question the fact that you’ve attended a frat party every night that week. On the flip side, there’s also no one telling you to get out of your dorm room or leave the library, ensuring you take full advantage of what college has to offer. In other words, college demands motivation and discipline. It’s entirely up to you to get out of your comfort zone or to hit the books.
Indeed, to be successful in college requires a modicum (at least) of maturity. You’ll find yourself navigating parties with people binge drinking, living in close proximity to the opposite sex and simply interacting with a multitude of people with varying backgrounds and beliefs. If you are worried about handling the responsibility, you could look into attending a school with a religious affiliation or a military academy. These universities tend to impose more rigid parameters to help their students stay in line. You could also choose to attend a commuter college, perhaps living at home for the first year or so. This way you can still feel the gentle hand of parental prodding if need be.
However, we do want to caution that just because you’re nervous or wary of your ability to handle yourself, that’s not reason enough to forgo attending. It’s never a good idea to reject something because you’re fearful. College is a time for growth and exploration. It exposes you to a myriad of new ideas, experiences and people. Your time both inside and outside the classroom will prove to be educational. Don’t worry about settling in or stumbling. Trust that you have enough social savvy and determination to thrive.
If you’re unsure of whether or not you want to attend college, do your best not to succumb to the pressure. It doesn’t make sense to enroll simply because it seems like that’s what everyone else is doing. You likely won’t get much out of the experience if you don’t want to be there. Take some time to assess your goals, desires and ambitions. If they align with college or demand a degree, go for it. And if they don’t, that’s okay too. College isn’t necessarily the path for everyone. Know too that dreams and plans can alter and higher education will always be an option. Just because you don’t attend immediately following high school doesn’t mean college will forever be closed off to you.