College and Career Decisions for High School Students

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Senior year is finally here. Everyone is talking about SAT’s and ACT’s and why this university is better than that community college. You have always planned on going to college but the specific school and major has been something that only the real smart kids have decided on. You are not necessarily “honor roll” quality but you did all right so, what’s next. You can decide on a major university (if you can get accepted), a smaller school, a community college, a technical school or just buy some time and go into the military. Your first priority should be to do something. Take action. Develop a plan. The nice thing about plans is that they can be changed.


Forget test scores, college costs, what your friends are going to do or what others want you to do. For right now think only about what you want for yourself. Don’t be limited by what you and your parents can afford. Just concentrate on what kind of life you would like to have. First determine your minimum desires in life. Maybe it is a nice home, being respected by others, getting attention and being high profile, raising kids or doing some exciting work like being a test pilot. You should begin now to start eliminating certain possibilities. Those could be anything. Truck drivers are away from home too much. Doctors spend too many years in school. The military keeps calling about opportunities and benefits. So, what do you do? The nice part about this is that there are no right or wrong answers. The goal is to focus on what you want and do not want. Forget about what’s your grades have predetermined for your life. I know a high school dropout who got a PHD and retired as a college president. Mom and dad may not have the money for your goal but we will deal with that later. Right now, today, find your goal.

Your goal can be specific or general. You can say you want to be a geologist or you could just say you want to be your own boss and run your own company. You may be limited by not knowing what all your choices are. Scanning a university or community college web site for “majors” may introduce you to careers and jobs you never thought about before now. Scanning both types of schools will introduce you to careers that require both two years of community college associate degrees and four or more years of university work. Also colleges and universities offer different majors so look at different web sites for different schools. Regardless of your choice, you need to decide right now that you will dedicate the time and effort to that choice. That means that you may have to give up constant contact with some or most of your friends but that is part of growing up and maturing. There is nothing that says that you can’t stay in touch but part of maturing is finding your own way in life.


You have looked at all the information available and you still can’t decide. Here is what many high school seniors in your situation have decided:

Talk to the school counselor, if available, for an outsider’s view of your preparedness (don’t assume that you can’t do something).

Go to a community college and just take core subjects (English, History, Science, etc) until you decide.

Volunteer for the military (put off the decision till you’re older).

Work at a low paying job for a year (you will appreciate college after that).

Major in Business or General Studies until you have decided (this can be expensive).


Many young people in this situation get a job in construction, flipping burgers, changing tires or worse rather than working on a GED. Failing to graduate from high school is not the end of the world. Most students in this situation will tell you “I just don’t like school”. I went to college and finished as fast as possible because I did not like school either. Sometimes there comes a point in your life when you have to tell yourself that you deserve better than what life is handing you, and then you realize that for everything to get better, you are going to have to work harder and do more. Most nearby community colleges will have a specific path or program for you if you have the desire to succeed in life. In most cases you can get a fresh start. Take remedial courses until you are prepared for college courses, then finish two years of community college material before attending a university. The best part is that the university will generally determine your acceptance on your two years of community college work and neither school will ever require a SAT or ACT exam. Only your community college record will be pertinent so you will have a fresh start regardless of your high school record. If you encounter problems with remedial material, ask if the school has a “skills center” or some type assistance center where you can get help with reading and math. My theory has always been that these schools have a vested financial interest in seeing you succeed because they want your money, so take advantage of assistance if it is offered.


You should now be aware that the old adage of “I can’t even go to community college with my grades” is just bunk perpetrated by a bunch of losers. If you can put a sound system in a car or run a play off right tackle, you can probably succeed in community college. Are you mature enough and have sufficient “get up and go” to make it? Only one person can answer that question. Always keep in mind that there are future brain surgeons who have photographic memories and they will generally beat most of us mere mortals in college. I have news for you-some version of that will occur all through life. Those gifted people who don’t have to study can commit some really foolish acts just like the rest of us so don’t worry about it. This discussion is all about you, not those people with special gifts.


First of all let’s assume that you are not going to be receiving a scholarship. If mom and dad can furnish all or part of the money, you only need to furnish the enthusiasm and maturity to get the job done. It would appear that most parents generally are not able to afford the rising college costs so you may need to consider other possibilities. There remain two possibilities-working and obtaining student loans. One important aspect of college life that you need to be aware of is that you do not necessarily attend community college or university in the same manner that you attended high school. You can structure your time so that you work all summer then attend a semester or two before working another summer. Also colleges have regular summer sessions so you can skip any semester to work depending on job availability. You will find that community colleges generally cost less than universities so a summer of working can sustain you one or two semesters, especially if you live nearby and don’t have to support yourself in a dorm. The university will cost more, sometimes much more, so you may want to maximize you time in community college before applying to a university. You can get a very good education at a small state school. Big name school diplomas do not automatically determine you success in life so look to smaller state schools as a possibility. Many of them can provide an excellent education.

Whenever possible either work full time or go to school but try to avoid doing both. You can have a part-time job while going to school but working full time (40 hours a week) is a strain that generally causes grades to fall and sometimes, with some people, the job becomes more important than schoolwork. Work is good, just not too much of it while going to school.

Once you have established a good college record and have about 30 semester hours completed (end of your freshman year), you may want to begin considering a student loan. Loans should not be pursued unless you have a strong likelihood that you will complete the curriculum of your choice and you can make a successful career of it. Don’t pursue a loan when summer jobs will pay the expenses. The worst aspect of college loans is that they want you to pay the money back. There are young people out in the business world today paying $1000 a month on college loans. You will need to be very successful to support that kind of loan payback. You want to be pretty certain of your future before heavily engaging in this type of financial support.


The decision is all yours. If you have the will and desire to make it you can do it. One of the worst mistakes any 18 year old can make is to go to college because you felt you had to. My roommate my first year in college played poker every night for four months. He went home at the end of the first semester and never came back that I know of. If he ever decided to come back and make a serious effort at college he had 4-5 F’s on his record now that would have to be explained if a future employer were reviewing his transcript. Remember the old adage “it is easier to do it right the first time”.

Good luck and lots of success in any decision you make.


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