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How to Figure Out What You Want to Do After High School

Still trying to figure out what it is you want to be "when you grow up"? Check out this guide to help you get on the right track to your dreams.

Many students get halfway through high school and realize they have no idea what they want to study in college, let alone what they want to do with the rest of their lives. And it’s understandable; it’s hard to figure out what you love enough to do as a career. Whether you’re not sure how to start the college application process or you don’t know whether college is even right for you, don’t panic! There are many resources to help you out of your confusion and ways to address what’s be for you.

What do you want to “be”?

If you’re not quite sure what you want to be when you grow up, there are several things you should do. First, go to a career fair. Your high school may host one, or a neighboring school might. You can always talk to your school counselor about local career fairs if you can’t seem to find one. Career fairs are great because you can talk to people about all types of jobs. You can also look at military options at these events if you’re interested in enlisting. If you can’t make it to a career fair (or in addition to one), take a career aptitude test. There are plenty of free ones online, but check with your school counselor to see if they already have one you can take. The one your school counselor gives you may offer more accurate or a wider range of results. Once you get some idea of a future career, look at the education requirements. You might find that you don’t need to earn a bachelor’s degree—you may need to go to technical school or community college instead. Choosing your future is a personal experience that needs to be customized to your needs. Make sure you explore all your options and do diligent research before coming to a conclusion.

Related: How to Stand Out at Career Fairs

What should you study?

If you’re planning to go to college, you have a lot of choices ahead of you, like where to attend and what to major in. Start by asking yourself, what do you like? What’s your favorite subject in school? What do you tend to do well in? What career are you hoping to go into? Answering these questions can help you decide what to study. If you like everything, consider applying undecided. Just remember that technical institutes and other focused schools don’t offer undecided majors as often as liberal arts schools do.

School and work

If you’ll need to work to put yourself through college, many four-year universities allow you to enroll as a part-time student so you have time to work a full-time job in addition to school. You can also choose to work part time and study full time if you think your stress levels can handle it. Then there are work-study jobs you can apply for through the FAFSA if you’re deemed eligible for the program. If you’d like to get right into the work force before going to college, you could take a gap year to work. For a gap year, you can either apply to college as a senior and defer enrollment or wait to apply a year later. Gap years also open opportunities for traveling, group activities, and volunteer experiences. Another option is working full time and taking community college classes, which can be more flexible for a work schedule.

Related: What Are Work-Study Programs?

Paying for college

College is expensive. So first things first, utilize online scholarship search tools to start finding scholarships to help you pay for college.  You should also look for local scholarships through your school, community, and parents’ work. Many private universities promise to cover all demonstrated need for college tuition. Just remember that these institutions typically include student loans, not just scholarships and grants, in the equation unless specifically stated otherwise. Make sure you check out the financial aid page on the college’s website to understand what financial aid is available. If you’re hoping to earn merit scholarships, these will vary by college. Some schools will enter you for merit scholarships automatically when you apply for admission, others require additional financial forms, and others do not offer any at all. Each college’s website will provide specific details about scholarships their institution offers.

Related: 5 Common Myths About Financial Aid Offers

There’s no one path for everyone to take in life—so college may not be right for you right now (or at all), and if it is, you don’t have to be a businessperson life all your friends or pick a major just because you think it will impress people. Any career path you choose should be because it’s something you love and are passionate about, because why bother forcing yourself into a job where you’ll be miserable? Use this advice to help you figure out what your passionate about and get on the right path to achieve that goal.

Start looking for the college to get you where you want to go with our College Search tool!

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About Rebecca Barer

I am an avid reader, and I devote most of my time to writing and cooking. I also enjoy spending time with friends and family and generally enjoying life. I'm so excited to start at Johns Hopkins University this fall!


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