How do you decide what to do after high school?

Maybe you’ve known since forever what career you want and which path will get you there. Or you’re not even thinking about a career – you know that will sort itself out later – but you know which school or training or experience is right for you. More likely (like most people), you don’t even know what all the options are, much less which one you might want to pursue.

Sort through your options
No matter where you fall on this future certainty spectrum, there are so many questions: College, yes or no? If yes, where and why and how much? Do I have the GPA and the test scores to get in to my top choice schools? What’s Plan B if I don’t? Does the school require a major declaration before I begin? How do I choose? Should I do a gap year? If yes, how should I spend my gap year? If I don’t choose college, what do I think I want to do and what is the right path for me? Whatever I choose, will I have my family’s support? What if I don’t have my family’s support? Do I make a decision in line with what they want or figure out how to convince them that my decision is good?

There is non-stop pressure on high school kids to have all the answers. These years can be overwhelming for anyone, and they can be really challenging if you are also managing depression.

Be kind to yourself
It is so easy to start comparing yourself to others, especially to those classmates who appear to be effortlessly perfect. Don’t fall into that trap! Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ Also, comparison is often painful and always pointless. How someone else did on a standardized test means nothing whatsoever to you or – more importantly – about you. Hey, you may even be the kid who everyone else thinks has it easy and yet you don’t know for sure what’s next for you.

Embrace the possibilities
Don’t let what anyone else is doing distract you from figuring out what you want. Keep these three things in mind as you consider your options:

  • You probably don’t yet know all the things you’re good at or interested in. You could have a list of things you’re passionate about, but that doesn’t mean the list is complete. Be open to new ideas and experiences. Assume there are good things out there just waiting for you to find them.
  • Focus on what’s right for you right now. This is the toughest one! Maybe no one else you know is taking the path that you are considering, making you question your choice. Or your closest friends are all going to the same school and want you there with them, but a different school feels like the right place for you. Maybe everyone you know is eager to move five states away, but you want to stay close to what you know. It can be hard to break from the expectations of friends and family (especially if family is funding your future path). And any decision can feel overwhelming, even if you have everyone’s support. So, it’s a relief to know that…
  • You can always change your plans. Whatever decision you make, you can always adjust and adapt as necessary to suit new interests, discoveries, directions. You can change your area of study, change schools, change jobs. (Want proof? Ask a bunch of grownups you know if they are doing today what they thought they’d be doing when they were your age. It’s a pretty safe bet that the answer will be ‘no’ more than it is ‘yes’.)

Take good care of yourself
There are some things you can do to help make it easier to cope with stress and depression. Check out the Teen Depression Toolbox for ways you can reduce the impact of depression symptoms (in addition to professional treatment).

And know this – whatever you choose, the team at Erika’s Lighthouse is cheering for you!
Check out these additional resources if you’re considering college

The Jed Foundation’s Right Fit Quiz helps students, counselors, and families think in depth about whether a particular college or university is a good “fit” for students from a academic, emotional, and personal preference.

This article, Mental Health Issues Overlooked in College Transition, by Stephanie Watson, a WebMD Health News collaboration with the Jed Foundation, reveals survey data on increasing teen mental health issues and gives guidance on how to assess a college or university’s mental health services.

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