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How to make decisions about life after school

By Simon Hennessy on 20 August 2019NSWblogMotivation

In the words of the wise Uncle Ben Parker, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Having the power to decide what you do after school is pretty awesome, but having that responsibility for the first time is also quite scary. While we can’t tell you exactly what you should choose to do with your life, we can give you some tips on how best to figure it out for yourself.

Put enjoyment first

Number one question you need to ask yourself – what do I want? Money is important, and so is being realistic (more on that later). But most important of all is enjoying what you do. You’re more likely to be successful by doing what you enjoy, but more importantly, you’ll be happy and motivated to continually grow and develop. 💪  

So what does this look like? Well, start by making a list of the subjects you like, the extracurriculars you always sign up for, and anything else you can think of that you love to do. Chances are a list like this will throw up some uni courses and career paths that combine some or all of your preferences.

For instance, let’s say your list has Biology down as your favourite subject, and you’re mad keen on sports. Comparing this list with uni courses could lead to Sports Science catching your eye, which might be something you never even considered before.

Whatever your personal combination of likes and interests are, anything that comes from your list is likely to be something you’d enjoy, and maybe something worth pursuing.

Talk it out

The handy thing about life after school is that every adult you know has been there before, so do not hesitate to pick their brains. Talk to your parents, talk to your teachers, talk to your guidance counsellor. Most importantly, if you have an older sibling, cousin, or friend who has recently left school, talk to them – their experience will be the most similar to yours.

Ask them about what they did after school, what uni they went to, what they liked and didn’t like about their path, and whatever else you can think of that applies. Not all of it will be relevant to you, but by gathering as much info as you can from them, you know will give you a clearer picture of what the right and wrong moves are when it comes to decision-making for the future.

Be realistic, not pessimistic

When I was seven, I was certain I wanted to be a pro footballer. Sadly, my ability on the field ended up being as far away from the required standard as possible. A touch of realism was required, to say the least.

Being realistic with what you can do is necessary, but at the same time, not being pessimistic is just as key. If you’d love to study Medicine but have never quite had the marks, don’t assume you can’t get there and stop working towards it. But if you don’t enjoy studying Chemistry and hate hospitals, maybe it’s time to consider something else.

For various reasons, certain courses and careers won’t be an option. If you find Maths and Science extremely hard, you’re better off ruling out something like engineering than aiming for it. Other ones are unlikely but by no means impossible – taking on a new language like French in uni is daunting, but it’s definitely a possibility. Figuring out which is which will go a long way towards narrowing your list down to the right options.

Uni isn’t always the only option

Leonardo DiCaprio. Prince Harry. Anna Wintour. Beyonce. What do they all have in common? They’re all super successful people who never went to uni.

Now, we’re not saying don’t go to uni or you’ll be unsuccessful. Far from it. University opens a lot of doors, and even if it didn’t, it’s an incredible place to learn, meet people, and prepare for the world. But that does not mean that going straight from high school into uni is the only choice available.

For some people, taking time out to travel or work can be just what they need after all those years spent in education. For others, learning a trade or getting a technical diploma is a better choice. Whether or not that applies to you, it’s important to at least consider the alternatives to uni and not box yourself in.

Never say forever

It’s impossible not to worry about picking the wrong uni course and realising two months in that you hate it, wishing you could go back and change your mind. But guess what? You can.

People these days are constantly changing uni courses, completing multiple degrees, and choosing (or changing into) careers that have nothing to do with what they studied or trained for. Being young means having plenty of time to try things out, learn from mistakes, and change direction.

This doesn’t mean that what you decide to do next isn’t important; it means you’re not signing away the rest of your life to one pathway. So when you’re thinking about what comes next, take a deep breath and remember that you’re not deciding what to do forever, just what to try next.

Deciding what comes next when school ends is one of the biggest decisions we all face, but it doesn’t have to be the most stressful. Take our advice, and the whole thing will start to look a little less scary and a lot more exciting. Good luck!

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