For most high school students, senior year is filled with the uncertainty of what to do after school. The applications, the endless essays, the entrance exams - it can all get rather daunting when you reach Spring semester and feel like you don’t know what you want to do with your life!
College admissions have become noticeably more competitive over recent years, with pressure building on students to take on higher level classes, extracurricular requirements, and other resume-building activities. Research from New York University shows that a growing number of high school students are beginning to buckle under the pressure. Chronic stress, substance abuse, and serious mental health problems are all symptoms of a system that tends to put students into overdrive towards the end of their high school careers.
On top of the pressure to get into college, we cannot ignore the doubt with which many students approach this decision in the first place. Should you apply to college if you’re not feeling ready? While schools and future employers put pressure on students to have concrete plans right now, the reality is that things are never that straightforward.
Students who question whether college is the right option for them have every reason to do so:
1. Choosing the right major. This fear is top among students in both high school and college. The accelerating rate of change in the modern workplace means that no one really knows what skills will guarantee employment in the next twenty years, never mind whether these skills are suited to individual personalities or not. A report by the U.S. Department of Education showed that nearly a third of college students change their major within three years, and one-tenth change their major twice. These changes can be costly and time consuming. change their major twice. These changes can be costly and time-consuming.
2. Student debt is real. According to a recent report, student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category behind mortgage debt. According to Make Lemonade, there are more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. alone. If you’re unsure about going to college, it may be worth re-considering due to the financial burden alone. It may even end up being cheaper for you to defer a year, instead of going to college and then changing your path halfway through.
3. College is no longer enough. It’s no secret that increasing numbers of college graduates are struggling to find employment. Competition for jobs is at an all-time high. The issue beyond just unemployment and economic indicators, however, is that too many people with college degrees are left in the same position they started in - namely, asking, “what next?” Critics of traditional college education argue that the entire structure of our education system is outdated for the twenty-first century. It’s why dropouts can go on to be successful entrepreneurs, and even people with PhDs behind their name will struggle to find work. The truth is that college may not be for everyone, and that’s something we have to learn to be comfortable with.
It’s no wonder that more and more students are turning to gap years as an option. Gap years take off the pressure of having to make such an important life decision so early on. They also present a whole host of opportunities for growth that traditional paths simply don’t offer. If you’re worried about the potential ‘setback’ of taking a gap year, most of the evidence proves otherwise. A recent study carried out by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) found that students who choose to work or travel after high school are in fact more likely to show a greater interest in returning to school after their time off than be opposed to it. Furthermore, studies conducted in the UK and Australia revealed that students who had taken a gap year were more likely to graduate with higher grade point averages than identical individuals who went straight to college, and the effect was seen even for gap year students who had had lower academic achievement in high school.