5 Things I Wish I'd Known When I Finished High School

Things I wish I'd known after high school

Finishing high school can be an exciting but also daunting experience. Looking back on my own transition from school to university, I realise everything I could have done differently. I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned since then through my own and other students’ experiences, to give you insight and to help you realise that you aren’t alone out there if you have no idea what to do after high school!

1. Most people don’t know what they want to do when they finish school – it’s normal!

Like many students, I didn’t actually know what course I wanted to do after Year 12, despite getting good marks. At the time I thought I was the only one in the world going through this dilemma! However, the fact is that most students don’t know what they want to do when they finish school, and those that do are in the minority. If you’re not sure, that’s ok. At 17 or 18, how can you be expected to know what you want to do for the rest of your life? 

Nothing is set in stone. Career change statistics suggest that the average person will make a career change approximately five to seven times during their working life. This means there is not just one job you will do, but many. With our constantly changing work practices and technology, you might have a job in the future that doesn’t even exist now!

As your experiences broaden you will start to realise what you like and don’t like to do through trial and error, so be prepared for a journey of lifelong learning. The most important thing is to be open-minded, motivated and willing to learn! 

2. Your marks don’t define your course or career choice

Don’t let your choice of further study be solely determined by your HSC results. Consider your motivations and interests and do not let your marks sway you from what you really want to do. I constantly counsel students who have finally admitted to themselves that they chose their course because they had the marks when they really wanted to do something quite different. 

It is very rare to come across a student who is strong and individual enough not to get swayed by their marks or the prestige associated with an occupation. One of the people I admire most is a friend of mine who had the marks to get into any course she wanted – but she chose to stay true to herself and become a kindergarten teacher. She is a phenomenal teacher, full of passion, and any child who is lucky enough to have her as a teacher will remember her for life! Even if you don't get into uni, it's not the end of the world. 

The question you really need to be asking is: why do I want to do this course? Think about your reasons and try to be as honest with yourself as possible.

3. There is more than one road to the same destination

Students may be disappointed when they get their results. There is a whole range of reasons why people might not achieve their best results at high school and this does not mean they won’t be successful. Just look at Richard Branson, a high school drop-out who had dyslexia and was a lousy student. What Branson demonstrates is that hard work, drive and determination are the essential elements to success. 

Getting good grades will give you more options upfront, but in the long run no one but you will remember your marks and they will not define who you are and what you will achieve for the rest of your life. 

There are many different pathways to get to the same destination. Missing out on a course doesn’t mean the dream is over. You can look at alternative pathways, single subject enrolments, starting in another course then transferring, or completing an undergraduate degree then undertaking postgraduate study. You might choose to work and then take on further study as a mature-aged student. There are many different combinations and permutations and in Australia we are fortunate to have access to a diverse range of study and training options.

4. You need to be aware of what your influences are

When I look back on finishing Year 12, I now realise I was scared stiff of leaving the security of high school. I had had a positive experience and good friends, and didn’t want to face the big wide world on my own. My choices were influenced by who I knew and which university they were going to, and other factors such as my parents and erroneous preconceptions about courses and occupations.

When I counsel Year 12 students I find it is very common for students to go for a course or institution largely based on where their friends are going or how far it is from home. I’ve come to realise that most young people don’t know any different, so how can they imagine a world beyond their own life experience? 

Sometimes the best course for you is not the one at the most prestigious university or the one your friends are going to. It’s important to consider the learning style that suits you best and what people currently in the profession recommend as the best study program for what you want to do. Take the time to stop, reflect and discuss the factors that are influencing you.

5. If you take a year off, use it wisely

I deferred my first year of study because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. During that time I did work experience, volunteered and got a casual job. The year flew past, and at the end of it I knew a little bit more about the world of work, my skill set and what I didn’t want to do. But I hadn’t gotten any closer to the ‘answer’ I was so desperately looking for. When I think back on my gap year, I put way too much pressure on myself to find out exactly what I wanted to do. 

If you take a gap year don’t think you will suddenly have a great epiphany and necessarily know what you want to do with your life! Having time out from study can be a wonderful growth experience, but think about when is the right time to take that year off and make sure it is for the right reasons. Do something that will enrich your life. 

Your learning never ends

Your learning does not conclude at the end of high school, nor at the end of a degree or even when you get your first job. In fact, that’s only the start! The road ahead will be full of twists and turns, and sometimes the destination will be clear while at other times it might feel like you’re going in circles. There will be many opportunities for gaining new knowledge and skills, for changing direction and ultimately for personal growth. This is what a career – and life – is all about!

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