High school prepares you for a lot. It gives you broad knowledge on the core subjects of reading and arithmetic and even gives you some insight into societal functions such as government and culture. However, one thing high school does not do is tell you what to do after you graduate. And I think there are several common mistakes new graduates make when they receive their newly minted diploma. Usually, I’m the guy telling you what to do and how to do it. Now, I’m telling you what not to do. Consider this list the sagely advice of someone who has either lived through or witnessed all of these mistakes.
Mistake # 1: Travelling on Debt
Ah, the siren’s call of every new graduate: Travel. Before graduating, you may have only had the chance to travel with your family, but now you are eighteen and ready to set out to see the world on your own… and, oh, does the world await. Unfortunately, too many people blithely give the advice to “see the world” before settling on a career path; however, I could hardly disagree with them more… if you decide to travel by accumulating debt. Honestly, you are setting yourself up for failure.
You see, debt is a scary thing. It’s like a ghost; it follows you around everywhere you go, yet you cannot see it. It haunts your dreams and you cannot banish it without sacrificing something dear. What is more, debt sucks your soul… with interest! Oooooh! Similes aside, having existing debt immediately out of high school is actually taking a step back in your life. What is more, living with a deficit makes it harder to get credit in the future; so essentially, you are putting your chances of successful student loan applications at risk. And, if you fail to pay off the debt, the interest payments can quickly spiral out of control.
“What’s the solution, then, Phil?” you ask. It’s simple and, yet, not altogether unpleasant: Work hard. Journey before destination. What I mean by that is that you have to earn the destination. Put in the hard work by finding a job. Get some life experience. Save the money you need. And then enjoy the fruits of your labour. You may even have a little left over to pay for your first year’s tuition, if that is the path you so choose.
Mistake # 2: Selecting the Wrong Major
Common mistake. It’s the one I made. And it may be something you are tempted to do as well. Basically, when you get out of high school, you have hundreds of career paths in front of you, and with all of these choices comes indecision. It’s inevitable; and I don’t blame anyone for being so. Just remember this: don’t choose a career path for the sake of doing something. You, like I did, might not know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life.
There is an easy solution for you, here. It’s called a “gap” year. Basically, you take a year off. Many people do so and the benefits to gap years are pretty substantial. First, you get to gain life experience by working. It may not be the most rewarding job, but hey, you are just starting out. Next, you can save money. This is a huge deal, especially considering the costs of university nowadays. And finally, you have more life experience. You have dealt with people at your job, you have learned to see the differences in people, that individuals are all fallible, and maybe you have travelled using your hard-earned money. You are now able to better assess your strengths and weaknesses… and your interests. You are better equipped to make the right decision. There’s no guarantee you’ll make the right one, but at least you’ll have some money saved and some experience gained.
Mistake # 3: Sticking with It
Let’s say that you have selected a major and are now in your second year of study. The classes aren’t interesting to you and your grades are starting to reflect that disinterest. Skipped classes are becoming more and more common. You get a letter in the mail saying you are on academic probation. You fail a class for the first time in your life—not because you couldn’t do it, but because you didn’t want to. Stress is beginning to creep into your life more and more and you don’t know what to do about it.
The worst thing you can do is stick with it. You have to admit that you made a mistake and correct your career path before you waste too much of your life walking down a road you don’t want to be on. I don’t think that dropping out straight away is the best idea, however. Reflect very carefully on the decision to drop out and plan accordingly. I suggest you finish your current semester and try to pass the classes you are enrolled in. You’ve paid for them, so you might as well get the credits for them, no? And, as a bonus, you can use those credits as electives when you select your new area of study (something I did when I moved from Business Administration to English). At the very least, you are making the most out of your mistake, if that makes any sense.
You will make mistakes. Maybe you take my advice, maybe you don’t. Just remember, experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. I don’t remember who said that, but it’s good advice. So, if you do wind up making a mistake, make sure you learn and benefit from it if you can. My list of mistakes is a good one, however, so take heed, at the least! Don’t travel on debt, don’t select the wrong major, and don’t stick with it when you know you’ve made a mistake.