In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert Meaghan shares tips for how students can take steps to plan for a future after college. For more guidance on planning for the future and the college application process in general, sign up to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.
Life After College
As a high school student, you might feel like everything has been leading up to the college process. And, in a way, it has. However, as you enter the college process, don’t view college as the finish line. It’s a new beginning.
The college application process is actually a great time to start thinking about your life after college. As you develop your college essays and build your candidate profile, you’ll consider your broader story. In other words, who you are and what has influenced you. You’ll reflect on your values and decide who you want to be as an individual and as a community member. All of these things are just as important—if not more so—than the school you attend.
There are many ways to explore your interests and define your values. Identifying what you enjoy doing and learning about will help you determine your goals and how you can achieve them.
As you grow and try new things, you may pivot, and that’s okay! You don’t need to know everything about your future right now. However, exploring, planning, and goal-setting can help clarify your vision.
Explore Your Interests
We’ve all been asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Usually, the answer is something that you’re good at or something that you enjoy, and ideally, it’s both. Sometimes the answer is not so easy. Thankfully, there are many different ways to explore your interests and passions that can help shape your plan.
Think about the classes that you’ve taken throughout high school. Did you gravitate more to STEM or social sciences? Did you love your music and art electives, or were you more excited about your computer programming elective?
The classes that you enjoyed most can be an eye-opener to what you might want to pursue in the future. Use your junior and senior years of high school to take higher-level courses in your favorite subjects (AP, IB, Honors). Take advantage of exciting electives that your school might offer. In addition, check with your guidance counselor to see if you can pursue dual-degree classes at your local college or community college.
Your academic interests can also help you better understand how you view your role in the world beyond the classroom. For example, if you love history, ask yourself why that is. Do you have a passion for helping people’s stories be told? Do you want to learn from the past such that we can bring those lessons to the future?
Most students won’t ultimately spend their lives in classrooms. Classes—in both college and high school—teach us practical skills. They also teach us how to exist in a community with one another. As you develop your interests, keep an eye on how these interests inform your relationship to the world around you.
The workplace is changing, and many of today’s jobs—particularly in science and technology—did not exist twenty years ago. As a high school student, you don’t need to know exactly what you want to do as an adult. Instead, use this time to pay attention to the ideas, relationships, and spaces that engage you. Find your passions, and follow them—they might surprise you!
Once you’ve narrowed down your general interests, you can further explore them through extracurricular activities. For example, if sports are your thing, you might want to join an athletic team or volunteer as a team manager. Maybe you love STEM classes but want to explore engineering. Join an engineering club or pursue research. It is a great way to learn more about what a future in that field would look like. Perhaps education is your passion and you love working with kids—there are many volunteer and part-time job opportunities out there when it comes to tutoring, camp counseling, and babysitting.
Extracurricular activities also allow you to function as an individual in a less structured setting. While leadership roles might look good on college applications, these roles are made more valuable for the interpersonal skills that they help you develop. Don’t view your extracurriculars as a means to an end; instead, use them to greater understand the kind of person you want to be.
Get Experience for After College
The best way to solidify your interests is through experience. By undertaking internships and work positions, you’ll get a taste of adult life. These opportunities will also help you learn about the roles you might want to pursue after college.
An externship is a short-term experience that provides you the opportunity to shadow a professional in their day-to-day work and ask them questions about their job. This is a great way to get a better understanding of different career paths in an informal setting with a low time commitment.
An internship consists of meaningful and practical work experience that gives you a taste of a career in a particular field. In high school, internships typically occur during the summer. However, you can check with your guidance counselor to see if your school offers credit for internships during the school year. Hands-on experience in a field that interests you can help you determine whether you want to seek additional opportunities in that area.
When having these experiences, be sure to ask questions that will help you determine if you can see yourself working in that field. Think about what level of education is needed for the job, what major people in that particular field typically study in college, what excites them most about the job, and what they like least about the job.
If you choose to intern, keep in mind that every workplace is different. Use these opportunities to develop your career skills as well as your interpersonal skills.
Whether you are interested in STEM, the social sciences, or anything in between, research is a great experience to have before heading off to college. Check out your local college to see if there are research opportunities available for high school students. By performing research, you will gain deep expertise in a topic while also learning research skills and methodology. This will be very valuable when you write papers in college or pursue research in the future. If there are no local opportunities, don’t be afraid to reach out to professors who are conducting research on a topic you are interested in and see if you can connect virtually.
Volunteering is a great way to support your local community while also gaining experience. For example, if you are interested in the environment and sustainability, you can help out with beach cleanups and food recovery. Not only will this help you obtain a deeper understanding of the different facets of environmental sciences, but you will also be providing an important service that has widespread benefits. You can find many different volunteer opportunities for a range of fields both through your high school and by searching externally.
Above all, if you choose to volunteer, do so because you genuinely want to. Don’t use volunteer opportunities to pad your college applications, and be wary of entering into other people’s communities.
Align Interests to Potential Careers
Once you have a better understanding of what subjects and activities you enjoy, it’s time to identify different careers that align with your interests. Remember that there are many possibilities available, so consider various options before narrowing them down further.
Though colleges ask applicants to present a cohesive application narrative, this does not mean that you need to decide your career at age 18. As stated, college should be a beginning rather than an ending. Think about who you are, what interests you, and what you value. Use this to inform your career and life goals.
Life After College: Final Thoughts
Finally, as you plan your future, remember to keep an open mind. For example, you may find yourself being excited about a new field of study once you’ve started college, and that’s totally fine! It’s never too late to try something new, and you can always change your major or modify your plan.
This informational essay was written by Meaghan Gee, Cornell ‘19. If you want to get help with planning your future from Meaghan or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.