Congratulations. With each passing day, you get one step closer to your high school graduation. This will be a big moment in your life. I hope you will be able to enjoy this accomplishment. I would encourage you to take some time to reflect on all that God has done over this season of your life. Take time to thank those who have played a pivotal part in it—I know I wish I would have done more of this myself.
You are about to make some big decisions that will have major implications for your life. You are probably all too aware of this every time someone asks: “What are your plans after graduation?” I remember getting that question myself. For a while, I didn’t have an answer either. And there are only so many ways you can say, “I don’t know.” I know you’ve been struggling with this because you are unsure of what is best for you. Will you go the traditional college route? Or will you pursue training to enter the workforce? On the one hand, a college degree is seen by many as the new high school diploma. Everyone assumes that you will go to college and get an undergraduate degree. Yet, there are also great careers available to those who pursue associate’s degrees, vocational training or apprenticeships. I know you have heard from a number of different people on this issue, but I wanted to share a few thoughts with you that I hope will be helpful to you.
First, I want to you to be aware of what you are deciding between. A four-year degree at a liberal arts university is focused on what kind of person you will be when you graduate. You will spend a lot of time reading and writing. But you will also enjoy community, personal development, room to explore different interests and unique career opportunities. Vocational training is focused on what kind of skills you will be able to do when you are finished. This path may involve community college, trade school or apprenticeship programs. You will spend a lot of time doing hands-on work or even on-the-job training.
Both of these paths will help form you as a person or develop your skills. You may not prefer all the reading and studying for a four-year degree, but you should not neglect the formation of your mind and character. You may not see yourself working with electronics or welding, but you should not discount the work of your hands. Honestly, you may need to be pushed to pursue a four-year degree and beyond. Or you may need to be freed up to know that it is OK to pursue a different path with vocational training. Each path comes with its own set of questions and pressures. You may have difficulty knowing whether you are making the right decision.
Another important area for you to consider is student loan debt. This is perhaps the biggest issue facing undergraduate students today. Nearly 70 percent of graduates have student loans and the average student loan debt is $30,000. Once you add interest to these loans, you could easily be making $300-400 student loan payments after you graduate. And this doesn’t take into account those who pursue graduate school, which is often a necessity for many career paths. While many repayment options use a 10-year plan, it takes many people up to 20 years to pay off their student loans. I do not want to scare you away from pursuing a college degree, but I do want to give you a dose of reality. You have to ask yourself: How much debt should you go into in seeking your degree? What will your plan be to pay off your student loans? Are you willing to work while you’re pursuing your degree? Are there companies that offer tuition reimbursement? What type of scholarships might you be eligible for? Student loan debt may be inevitable for you if you pursue a four-year degree, but don’t fail to count the cost of it or to have a plan for how to tackle it.