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When College Isn't the Right Choice

Jun 09, 2011

We've all heard it: a college degree is the key to a successful career. Many students spend a great deal of time, effort and money navigating the college application process, but there are a number of students who simply don't want to continue with school after high school. If you know you don't want to go to college right after high school, read on for some insight on what to do when college isn't for you.

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By Sarah Wright

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More School: Yes or No?

For some students, it's not a question of whether or when you will go to college, but rather a question of where you will be going to college a few months after graduating from high school. If this sort of expectation is in line with your own plans and desires, it probably isn't a source of stress. But for some students, the question isn't where they will go to college, but if they will go at all. And dealing with that in the face of other people's expectations for you can be difficult.

Some people end up entering a bachelor's degree program because they can't think of anything else they want to do, or because they were never encouraged to consider any alternatives. For many people, this ends up being a fine decision. But just having a college diploma doesn't mean you'll be guaranteed success, happiness or even a modicum of personal satisfaction. There are plenty of college graduates out there who don't feel that they've earned much from their time in school but a mountain of debt. This may sometimes be attributed to a misplaced sense of bitterness, but for some, college truly isn't the right choice. How do you know if this is you, and if it is, what should you do about it?

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Is College Right for You?

One important thing to consider before enrolling in college is whether you're ready to make the most of it. That doesn't mean that you should think of all the parties you'll go to; that means that you should take honest stock of whether you're ready to make choices that will have a huge impact on the rest of your life. Many new college students simply aren't ready for the level of responsibility it takes to succeed at that level. Whether they're too immature, too unsure of what they really want or just plain not willing to spend more time in school, some new high school graduates aren't ready for the experience of college.

Another thing to consider is whether going to college is going to get you where you want to go. Do you feel pressured to go into business, when what you really want to do is fix antique cars? Are you more satisfied putting in a hard day's physical labor than you've ever been after a day at school? You don't necessarily need a degree from a 4-year college if you want to go into a trade profession. Some jobs don't require any schooling beyond a high school diploma, but instead rely on worker experience for advancement. If what you really want to do with your life isn't something that requires a degree, you might just want to jump right into that as soon as you can, without having to pay for school with both money and time.

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What to Do About It

If you decide that college isn't for you, and you're worried about telling family and friends about it, take comfort in the fact that college truly isn't for everyone. And even if you decide that it isn't right for you now, that doesn't mean that you can't go back to school later. Plenty of working adults manage to earn degrees while living normal, stable lives as parents and professionals.

But not going to college doesn't mean that you can sit around and expect things to happen for you. College is a great way to gain entry into a profession. Without this, you might have to do a little extra work or research. Some jobs require people to start out doing a low-level job and work their way up. Others require an internship or apprenticeship period. Not everyone likes school, and you should be honest with yourself - and everyone else - about whether you want to do four more years of schoolwork after high school. It's OK if you decide that college isn't for you. But whether you decide to go or not, the best thing to do after graduating from high school is to think carefully about your goals, and work diligently to attain them.

If college is something you want to do eventually, but not immediately after high school, consider taking a gap year.

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