“So, what are you doing after graduation?” Many juniors and seniors get bored answering that question over and over. Whether your plans include college, heading straight for the workforce, or taking a year off, here are some practical tips to prepare yourself for the journey.
Going to College
Some people know from an early age exactly what they want to be and how they plan to get there. For example, Rachel’s dad is a doctor and his love for his chosen career inspired her to follow in his footsteps. Rachel, who is about to start medical school, said she chose her undergraduate program with the idea of medical school in mind.
Not all of us are so sure of our plans, though, and that’s fine too. Many people start off in a liberal arts program in college and then decide on a major after a year or two. (School counselors say that 75 percent of students change their majors after they enter college.) School is also not just about careers and getting a high-paying job after graduation — it’s a place for learning about yourself and the world.
Selecting a School
If college is in your future, you need to plan. Which schools appeal to you? How are you going to pay for your education? How do you decide on a school when there are thousands to pick from? Start by asking yourself questions about your preferences:
- What are my strengths?
- Am I interested in liberal arts, science or business?
- What kind of learning environment is best for me?
- Would I be more comfortable in a small school or would I feel confined?
- Do I want to stay close to home or live far away?
- Would I prefer to be in a city environment or a small college town?
- Should I go to a school where athletics are big or where fraternities or sororities rule?
- Do I like being with people who are mostly like me or do I want to meet a diverse group?
Ask friends and older siblings who are in college about their schools and about other schools they’re familiar with. Talk to your school counselor or one of your teachers and go to college fairs when they visit your town.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, ask the schools to send you literature. Visit their websites. When you’ve whittled your list down to a manageable number, make arrangements to visit. Try to do this when school is in session so you can get a good idea of what life is really like on campus.
And remember: You’re not the only one making a decision. Schools are picking from a large pool of applicants. They want to know how well-rounded you are and what makes you stand out from everyone else. They will look at your grade point average, standardized test scores, class rank, personal essay and your extracurricular activities — so it’s important to dedicate time and effort to all these things.
Most schools offer a range of admissions options. Investigate which of these your favorite schools offer:
- Regular admissions means that schools mail their decisions in April.
- Rolling admissions means that a school processes applications as they come in; you can apply at any time, but it’s best to be early because spots fill up.
- The early-decision option is for students who are really sure about the school they want to attend and who want to know earlier than April if they have been admitted. There’s a drawback to applying under an early-decision option, though: You are promising that school that you’ll attend if you’re admitted.
- Some schools offer an early-action option, which means that students can be admitted early but don’t have to attend.
Money, Money, Money
Don’t cross a school off your list just because the tuition is steep. Ask your school counselor about possible community scholarships. Ask the school’s financial-aid office about scholarships, grants, work-study programs and loans. See if your parents’ employers offer scholarships. Also check out organizations within your community. An amazing number of college funding sources are out there for students with specific career goals in mind. Your high school guidance counselor should be a good resource for finding these.
To apply for federal aid in the United States, you have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, although some schools use their own forms. Check with your school counselor to be sure you’ve covered all the bases when it comes to financial aid.
Talking to Your Parents
What if your post-graduation plans differ from what your parents have in mind? Talk openly with your parents about your plans — both for the short term (like what you want to do next year) and the long term (what you think you’d like to do in life). If your parents want you to go to college but you don’t feel you’re ready or that college is right for you, explain why.
“My parents were a little concerned that I wouldn’t follow through on my plans for medical school if I took a year off,” says Rachel. “But I explained how I was worried I’d burn out if I spent all that time in school — I just felt I needed a break to do something different. I think that when they saw all the planning I put into my medical school applications, they were reassured!”
Even if your parents don’t know everything. For school and career guidance, visit your school counselor and talk with adult friends (for example, godparents or friends of the family). Make an effort to talk to people in the fields that interest you. If you think you want to be an accountant, call some accountants and ask them about their work. Most people are flattered to get calls like this and they’ll usually take the time to talk to a student.
Whatever you choose to do now does not have to be what you do forever. You can always go back to school or change a career path — lots of people do.