"Go to college, go directly to college.....or not"

Thanks to google, you can find information on anything you need, immediately condensed into a “top 10 list” or a "5 question survey" to help you figure it out.  It’s great when you know what you’re looking for and why you need it. 

But, what about when you have no idea?   A handy quiz or survey may help narrow things down, but it may also provide frustration and disappointment if the answers don’t exactly fit. 

Which is especially true if you're a teen on the precipice of graduating high school, trying to  decide “the rest of your life” or “who you are” or “what you want to be, or do”.

The pathways that most students follow are that of going straight from high school to a 4 year college. Some may go to community college for two years and then transfer, or take a year off before doing so, but the eventual path is attending a 4 year college, whether it is directly or indirectly.  Even the Gap Year, which is gaining more popularity, is seen as an “alternative” path,  outside of the norm.

In tackling the big questions of "the rest of your life",  it may seem easier to have someone just tell us what to do: "go to college, go directly to college, do not pass go!".   Sometimes it feels easier to have only a few options, so that we don’t have to think about it or deal with it and we can move on to the next thing.  But what if we are trying to figure out WHAT the next thing is? And what if the available options just don’t seem to fit?  That can bring up even more questions and doubts, like "why doesn't this option fit" or worse "what's wrong with me that it doesn't?" (Answer:  NOTHING is wrong with you!)

In Jeffrey Selingo’s book,  “There is Life After College”,  he talks about how this traditional pathway from high school to college to job to house to family has been ingrained in our culture since post-World War II, over 70 years ago! That would be the technological equivalent of still using a rotary phone instead of your smart phone – which isn’t even possible anymore! 

I remember when I was first coming up with the name of my business. My ideal name would have been “pathways to life after high school” because my mission was to help teens understand that there is no “one size fits all” and that there are multiple pathways to explore and create your destination.  Because when you remove the limits, and “go big”, it takes away the stress and the pressure which helps to more easily explore and create all sorts of opportunities and possibilities!  THEN you have the foundation to build the individual pathway that works best!

What does that look like?  My favorite example is a student who finished high school and definitely was not excited about spending the next four years attending classes that he didn’t enjoy in high school.  He had no idea what he wanted to do for “the rest of his life” and didn’t want to spend the money or the time “browsing” through classes in the hopes of finding his “a ha” moment of discovery.  Even the idea of breaking it down into attending community college first did not appeal to him. He was a “doer” and learned best from having actual experiences, rather than studying about them.  Yet the idea of a Gap Year program was not only too expensive, he felt like he needed to figure out who he was and what was important to him to engage in one of the programs. "If I’m going to spend a ton of money working with the ecossystem in South America, I want to know for sure that this is close to what I want to do with my life."  Agreed!

So, in order to figure out where he wanted to go, we began with the premise that it would be more inspiring and more fun to figure out how he wanted to get there. 

We started with these questions:  

“What would the ideal program be for someone who graduated high school, had no idea what they wanted to do, but absolutely knew they didn’t want to sit in a classroom”?

“If you were designing the  program – what elements would it contain?  How would you structure it?

I’m not saying we came up with the answers overnight. It took a while, because after 12 years of classroom training, where students are mostly encouraged to follow a specific pathway and rewarded by staying within a structured curriculum, the opportunity to go beyond reality doesn’t come up very often.  But once that barrier was lifted and the limits were off, we got pretty creative.

Just as college is divided into semesters or quarters, he is dividing the year into 4 quarters.  Each quarter, he is going to pick four different job/career areas that he is interested in learning more about and he is going to devote that quarter to taking “classes” in that area.  Classes can be accomplished through conducting informational interviews with people in the profession, getting a paid job or internship working in that area, or getting an unpaid internship in that area and getting a job in a related field to finance his “quarter”.  We’re in the process of creating the structure and execution, but the most exciting part, is that this is HIS pathway, and supports HIS strengths of “learning by doing”.  It helps him to continue to explore and discover his interests, and provides forward momentum!  It’s a total win/win for his parents too – because not only is he contributing to supporting himself, he is also going to be learning valuable workplace skills and tools that will serve him now and in the future!

He may very well choose to go to college,  but the difference is that he will be choosing to do so with more clarity and focus as to what he wants to accomplish and why it is important to him, and he will have created his own unique pathway to get there!