College leavers used to face a binary choice – go to university or get a job!
But, for some years, every college leaver has had a much wider range of options available to them. Yet, some binary decisions need to be made as you approach the end of your time at college. These decisions might include:
- is earning money a.s.a.p. a priority or not?
- am I now making a temporary/short-term or a ‘long-term, life directing’ decision at this point?
- do I listen to/take-heed-of the advice provided by all the people who care about me or go it alone?
Decision making is hard
Decision making is hard for almost everyone. Whether you are a mature person in your 30s/40s/50s/or even older or a college leaver in your late teens or early 20s—making decisions can be difficult. For the college leaver, who has little experience of making life-defining decisions it can be positively terrifying and extremely difficult. Some of the issues, conflicts and uncertainties are:
The biggest problem facing a college student deciding on their next step is the idea of permanence. Is the decision you make going to have a long-lasting impact on your future or not? Luckily, the only thing most older people can teach about making decisions (because we all suck at it, no matter how old we are), is that almost nothing is permanent. While you might mean your decision to be a permanent choice and you might be encouraged to make a decision based on it being ‘forever’—very little is, or has to be, forever.
One decision or multiple
Are you making one decision or many? You might think that there is really only one decision to be made when in reality there are many. Some are mutually exclusive but others can combine well.
For example, many parents or grandparents will tell you that you have one decision to make and it is to decide what you are going to do next. They may tell you the choices are (a) starting work or (b) going into further education—these are the same limited options that were given to them when they were your age. But, these days, there are other choices for that decision; for example (c) a gap year (d) voluntary work (e) internship.
The ‘catch’ to (c), (d) and (e), especially if you are talking to your parents, might be that you are expected to know what happens afterwards. What will you do after your gap year or after your 18 months of volunteer work? In reality, if you know you can decide at the same time as you choose (a) to (e) but if you don’t it is a valid choice to say you don’t yet know and you will cross that bridge when you come to it, or set a date at some point during your (c), (d) or (e) time to make the decision.
Helpful advice for college leavers
Everyone who knows or cares about you will give advice if asked and some won’t wait to be asked. They all want what is best for you, they all do their utmost to make the advice helpful. But, and it is a big but, their advice is based on their life experiences and they are different from yours.
The advice they give will almost certainly conflict with the advice another such person provides. The 3 or 4, or more, pieces of advice you receive, when compared with each other and with what you think you might want to do will not often clarify things but quite possibly just add confusion to an already tough decision.
Simply don’t know
As a self-aware college student, you may recognise that you are not ready to commit to a lifelong course of action. You simply don’t know what you want to do with your life yet.
If you speak to a cross-section of honest adults and ask the right question, you will find that many (or most) of them look back and realise that they didn’t know what they wanted to do when they finished in education. They made their decision based on the advice parents or teachers gave—figuring that although it didn’t feel exactly right these people cared for them and probably knew what was going to be in their best interest.
It might be worth probing a little more too. See if you can find whether the decision they took severely limited them from achieving their dream as they now see it. A few might say yes and that is truly sad. But most are going to admit that even if they made a terrible decision about the first step after leaving school (or college – things might have been different in the education system back then) it didn’t stop them from getting to where they eventually wanted to be. It even provided ammunition to help them identify their ‘dream life’.
The good news
There is some good news for college students facing decision time.
As indicated above the decision you take is not, in the vast majority of cases, going to cut you off from all other possible futures. If you chose to delay a major life decision there are very few paths that will be closed to you within a couple of years. This gives you time to experience other things and to come to realise what you really want to do.
No matter what you decide to do when you leave college it will, with careful thought and presentation, have been useful as a learning experience when you come to talk to a future employer or admissions interviewer. Unless you opt for sleeping for 2 years before making a decision you will learn something from every course of action. You will learn:
- what you like or don’t like,
- what you are good at or suck at,
- how you get on with people in a variety of circumstances,
- what people think of you,
- what you want to try next,
- what you need to be happy etc.
Some decisions are easy. They may not necessarily be what you want to do, but they are not difficult to decide.
For example: If you don’t have the money or external support to do anything other than getting a job – get a job. Don’t fight it – remember, you can always change your path once you have a stable financial position.
Finally, the easiest decision of all as you come close to leaving college. You, and the rest of your year group, just need to select your colour, style and size of leavers hoodie to celebrate your time there and to remind you that not all decisions are hard decisions.