Today’s high school students are facing a unique challenge. Not only do they have the “usual” big decisions to make about college, major, and career, but they’re also doing it in an environment of unprecedented chaos and uncertainty.
Will schools stay open? What about extracurricular activities? Are part-time jobs still an option? What will happen to the economy?
The current pandemic has been a reminder to all of us that changes can come about suddenly. That’s why it’s more important than ever for students to be prepared to make good decisions. Equally as important, students can’t afford to waste their talents. The million-dollar question, of course, is how to make these important decisions about the future in a way that honors each individual and makes the best use of their talents.
There are no quick and easy answers, but there are paths and methods that work. We’ve put together a list here to help students (and their parents) find the confidence in themselves to thrive and to navigate unchartered territory. There’s no time to waste.
Good Students Don’t Necessarily Make Good Decisions
Before we dive into the list, though, there’s an important caveat to mention: good students don’t necessarily make good decisions. To clarify, by “good student” what we mean is the kind of student who always does their homework, gets good grades, takes on the challenging, extra work that other students are afraid to, and is diligent with their time. These students are the ones who win awards and scholarships and are held up as shining examples of excellence (and they deserve every bit of praise). The mistake, however, is assuming that just because they’ve done well at what they’re expected to do, they will automatically find the right college and career path that leads them to success and satisfaction. This is one of those assumptions that can land a lot of students in undesirable situations.
Good students are often compliant students. They do what they’re told. And there is no shortage of people out there (all with good intentions) who will offer advice and tell them what to do. From admissions counselors to recruiters, to parents and professors, each will give recommendations based on their own perspective. But remember, they are not you.
That’s why so many “good students” turn into 40-something adults in crisis. They have been doing the things that they’ve been told were the right thing to do, only to find at the midlife point that it’s not been the right ft for them — and continuing on the same path isn’t going to lead to happiness. (By the way, they may very well be “successful,” in terms of having a prestigious career and plenty of money, but what we’re talking about is personal fulfillment and meaningful productivity.)
So, let’s do away with the misconception that good students make good choices. Choosing the best college, major, and career have much more to do with knowing yourself and sticking to your own ideals and instincts than following someone else’s advice.
4 Ways Students Can Learn More About Themselves
It might sound cheesy, but the best thing students can do to prepare for future decisions is to focus on themselves. No, this is not an exercise in narcissism. This is investing in yourself to responsibly take inventory to fully understand who you are so as to leverage your talents (and your time) for achieving personal gratification. Here are some practical ways to help you do that.
1. Pay Attention to Your Interests
Interests provide the fuel and motivation to maintain focus in what you do. As you go about your daily life, ask yourself questions and do your best to give honest answers.
What gives you energy? What do you look forward to? Where do you find the most satisfaction? Do you enjoy what you do, or are you primarily motivated by pleasing others? Are you genuinely interested in your activities, or are they mostly meant to build up your college application?
Journaling is a good way to study yourself and note patterns of behavior. Pay attention to what brings excitement to your day!
2. Know Your Abilities and Your Personal Style
Knowing what abilities come naturally and the personal characteristics that are unique to you like how you think, feel and behave (your personal style) will help you highlight your strengths to confidently navigate critical choices for college and career selection.
Your natural abilities are not something you just know about yourself. You have to discover them on purpose. With the right tools like the Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) this is relatively easy to do. The HAB is an objective assessment that will identify where you have the greatest potential. The results of the HAB will integrate your personal style to help you gain insight into where your strengths lie and the type of environments where you will perform best.
Good students especially find that they’re able to do most things well, provided they work hard enough, but they could excel if they’re applying their talents to areas they find challenging (and at the same time reduce stress and avoid long term burnout). You can work twice as hard as others to achieve average performance, or you can leverage your natural abilities to achieve greater heights.
3. Take Time to Consider, “What if?”
We often limit our options (without realizing it) by making certain assumptions. It’s common. As an experiment, take this opportunity to give yourself some mental leeway. Take some time to imagine … what if?
What if money were no object? What if there were no expectations on your shoulders? Where would you go to college? Would you even go to college? Why or why not? What would you study? Can you picture yourself at a large research university? A small liberal arts college? A technical school? Why?
You might be surprised by the opportunities that come to mind when you take some mental “play time.”
4. Take Advantage of Every Experience
Broaden your horizons, the more you are exposed to the more you will grow from the knowledge that you will gain from every new experience. Everything you’re doing in life can provide you with valuable information about the type of career that you would like to pursue. Whether it’s an internship, a summer job, a volunteer gig or a new adventure you embark on in your free time, consider what you enjoy or dislike about it. Keep your eyes and ears open and learn from others about their college and career experiences.
Every experience has something to teach you about how you will want to invest your time and energy. There’s no magic button that will guarantee happiness and success in your life and career, but you don’t have to leave things entirely to chance — or to other people’s expectations.
Ultimately, it’s your career, it’s your life. You are responsible for your own happiness, and you get the privilege (and responsibility) of working it out. Knowing your inner strengths will empower you to build resilience in a changing world and to make good decisions. We hope these tools serve you well on your journey.