"I'm not sure what I want to study, is there a good general degree I can take?" one of my students asked. She was on campus to explore her options to study and dropped in to see me for some advice on how her choice of major could impact her career. "What do you mean by a general degree?" I asked. "Well," she said, "I really don't know what I want to do so I'd like to study something broad that will give me the best chance at a job when I'm finished." Ah. Right. No. Don't do this.
Ladies and gentlemen, I used to tell students to go to college even if you were in this boat. I used to say that college is a great place to explore your options, explore your self, learn about what interests you, and what matters is the growth of your self that you'll get during the time (it still is but with a huge caveat that I'll tell you about next). I used to say it's perfectly okay to go to college if you didn't know what you wanted to do.
But I no longer give that advice, and here's why. In the US at least, college is now really, really expensive. It's still a great place to learn and explore and build connections, and I think that most people should go, but that is coming at a much heftier price than it used to. So, now when you tell me you don't know what you want to do yet, I don't think you should step right into University. Here's what you should do instead:
1. Organized Gap year. This is a great way to have a year "off" but not to have to trust yourself to make the most of it. Gap year programs can go for a few weeks to a few months or longer, and will create experiences for you that will help you meet new people, see new places, try out professional areas or hobbies of interest, and grow your skills. Find a wide variety of gap year programs here or at a gap year conference near you.
2. Travel. If organized group things aren't your thing, or you prefer a more loose and fancy-free style to self-discovery, simply go travel. It can help to set a goal, like to walk the Camino de Santiago, or visit 19 countries by your 19th birthday, or visit all 7 continents, or visit the world's best heritage sites, or whatever it is that gets you excited. Taking an extended period of travel really can help you figure out what you like or what you want to do next, and can introduce you to all kinds of people who can inspire you. My favorite travel agency for young people is STA Travel, and Lonely Planet has some fabulous inspiration and ideas as well.
3. Work or volunteer. Getting more work experience before you continue on in school is almost always a good idea. One of my good friends didn't feel ready for college so she got a job at a law firm as an admin support person instead. She got valuable experience that helped her know what kind of work environment she wanted to work in, exposure to an industry of interest that she wouldn't have known about, and by the time the application season came around for colleges the next year, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. My favorite all-around job search site is www.indeed.com, but you can find some of the best work opportunities by informational interviewing and networking with people you know. Volunteer opportunities are also a fantastic way to spend your time while getting to know yourself better, find those through a site like www.idealist.org.
4. Working Holiday. If you want to travel but need to support yourself financially, many countries have working holiday schemes for young people. These visa types will let you stay in the country for a year and work short-term while you're there. There is usually an age limit of 30 years old, and a length limit on the visa of 1 year (with limits on your employment terms around 6 months), but this is an awesome way to have a new experience while also working. Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Korea, and Singapore all permit Americans in a working holiday scheme, and other countries may too. Find out more by looking on the immigration websites of countries you're interested in, and find a list to get you started here.
5. Internship. Internships are important and very effective ways to get to know what you want to do with your life and career a little bit better. You can "test drive" a career path and learn on the job before you commit to an industry or area of study when you go on to college later. You can even do an internship overseas if you want to combine it with some travel, or you can find something super local if you want to be close to home. Find great opportunities through networking or through a site like www.internships.com.
College may be in your future and it probably should be in your future, because it will teach you how to think, how to write, how to evaluate information, and make you into an informed world citizen. It will also substantially improve your later job prospects and overall earning potential. But if you don't yet know what you want to do with the degree you'll get later, or you don't really know what to study, then take some time first to learn more about yourself and what you might be interested in before you invest in college. You'll save a few years of agony and a lot of wasted money if you go in with some additional clarity.
Still need help? Write to me so we can talk it over.