Please note: This post is intended for current or future year twelve students, or for their friends, parents or caregivers. If you have received your HSC (or other final examination equivalent) and you haven't got the ATAR (or equivalent) you were hoping for (or that you need), please click here for a more relevant post for you.
The thought of life after school can be extremely daunting. "The future" looms large and intimidating when you're in year 12. Once you leave, it just kind of rolls around in such a way that you barely notice the years going by. It seems scary and unknowable now but life has a way of working out, especially if you tackle it with equal measures of planning and flexibility.
But I know what it’s like – it can be terrifying. When you’re looking into that deep, still-mysterious chasm of the unknown it feels like every decision you make in the here and now is going to shape the rest of your life.
If I choose the wrong degree, I’ll be unhappy forever.
If I make the wrong choice about this job…
If I make the wrong decision by travelling… or not travelling… straight after school…
If I make the wrong decision about moving out…
And it will shape your life, to an extent. ALL decisions do. But we can always reevaluate and reshape our lives by making new decisions and by realising that we are not always locked into the decisions we make. Worst-case scenarios (often unrealistic) fly around like mad during this time. I’ve heard some ridiculous fears voiced before we end our in-school exam preparation - even along the lines of 'what if I choose the wrong degree and I become an unemployed, homeless graduate with no hope for my future?' I'm paraphrasing, of course, but the fact is that fear of the unknown can really mess with our heads, and when you're going through this time you need to realise that you are not the only person feeling confused or nervous or even downright afraid.
In reality, we usually learn pretty quickly that it's just not that big a deal. Even if we do make ‘mistakes,’ those mistakes don’t have to be life altering. If you choose the wrong degree, you can transfer to another one (after careful thought, of course). If you make the wrong decision by travelling and decide you hate it, or you wish you’d started study straight away, well, guess what, you can come home and work out options. If you make the wrong decision by not travelling straight away, then you can just plan to include travel in your plans for the next couple of years. The world isn’t going anywhere. You’ve got time.
Even though adults often add to your own sense of panic by pressuring you to 'make the right decision,' or even place pressure on you to go into a specific profession or line of study, you will find that the decisions you make about your future in the final year of high school are not always permanent. I am referring, of course, exclusively to decisions about study and/or career paths here). It is important to understand that people who pressure you in this way have your best interests at heart, and you should definitely listen respectfully to them and consider their advice, but ultimately you are the one who has to live your life, so make the decision that will best suit you, rather than choosing something to please others.
And if you just don’t know what you want to do forever yet, and you’re having trouble deciding what to do – don’t worry. You don’t have to map out your entire life right now. Break it down into steps. What do you like doing? What kinds of jobs and careers can you see yourself enjoying? Take some time by yourself to ponder what you might like. Look at university program books and see if anything jumps out at you. Write a list or a mind map of possibilities and whittle it down from there. Don’t stress – and don’t pressure yourself to choose something quickly. Let yourself take some time. It can help to get a professional careers aptitude test done – often they are incredibly accurate and can help you to identify potential career paths that you might not have thought of before. Make sure that you do a proper one, not an online test. The online ones are not in-depth or accurate enough to be too helpful. It may benefit you to know that most people these days voluntarily move through up to three or four careers in their lifetime - the world has changed, and that means the potential for more opportunities and flexibility for you.
If you’re still stressed, it can help to talk to someone. Maybe booking a meeting with one of our mentors can help you to work out a plan of attack. History lovers: If you’re interested in what I have to say about the value of History Degrees, please click here.
But always remember (to use the immortal words of Douglas Adams):
Don't get the reference? Click here for a review of 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' - possibly the most hilarious (yet clever) series of books in existence!
Our primary contributor is Elissa, who is a qualified high school teacher and Irlen Screener.