Ah, senior year of high school. I remember it like it was yesterday. If you’re currently reading this right now, I just want to give you a little shout out here- OH EM GEE, YOU’RE ALMOST DONE! Your last year of high school likely brings so many crazy emotions associated with it, but you’re soooo close to that finish line. Sweet graduation. Finally, a little independence! Some freedom! It’s so close, you can just taste it. You can just see yourself now living the dream- hanging out with all of your college friends in your dorm, away from mom, dad, and annoying brother. Seems to good to be true, right?!

Suddenly, the anticipation falters and you find yourself frozen with panic. Indeed, adulthood is looming just around the corner.

HOW am I supposed to make all of these decisions?!

When I think back to my senior year of high school, I recall how it was one of the most exciting, yet scary and stressful times of my life. It was a time when I felt extreme pressure by everyone to know exactly what I wanted to do out of high school. I spent hours upon hours gearing up for college. If I wasn’t applying to colleges, I was busy studying for college credit classes or applying for scholarships. I grew up very fortunate to be raised by amazing parents who were always extremely supportive of my future. I never questioned my decision to attend a 4-year university; it was just a given. I definitely felt like I couldn’t afford it by any means, but there are loans, right??

Once I got to UW-La Crosse, I was in for a rude awakening. It was TOUGH. Being the 4.0 student I was in high school, I never thought I would have difficulty succeeding in college, but I did. Classes were extremely difficult for me, and I struggled finding what I wanted to do with my life. I changed my major 6 times before finally declaring my major (my senior year of college, mind you) to psychology, with intentions of applying to grad school to be a counselor. After nearly 7 years of college after high school, here I am, 2 semesters away from a Master’s degree. And I have LOTS to share with you about what I have learned throughout my journey as a training school counselor.

But IS college for everyone?!

Within my MSE program, I’ve had the privilege to work with so many wonderful students. One of the aspects of my future job that I struggle with is that there is such immense pressure we put on our students to attend a 4-year university. In theory, this is a great idea, but the truth is that not all students will succeed at a university, and quite frankly, not all students could benefit from a 4-year degree. Some, but not all. (Parents, bear with me!)

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2012 the graduation rate for full-time students enrolled in a 4-year university was 59%. That means that a whopping 41% dropped out! This tells me that not everyone is destined for a 4-year university. Sure, many students are and attain a great education in the process. However, the military, tech school, and working straight out of high school may be a better option for some students- (not everyone, but some!!)

As educators, sometimes we are careless with our guidance; we forget about our students who are interested in blue collar trades work, such as welding and manufacturing. We need our students to attend technical colleges just as much as universities so we HAVE those professions that require specific skill, manual labor, and expertise. Just like our society needs doctors, accountants, and lawyers, we also need EMTs, welders, and auto mechanics. Think about how you would survive without these people.
We look over the students who are interested in the arts, such as hair dressers, makeup artists, and those who wish to start their own photography business. We stifle creativity. There is no stability in interior design, right? You better get that 4-year degree to have some job security!

How do I know if a 4-year is right for me?

Please note that I am not bashing 4 year universities at all; the point of this post is to express my belief that I believe students deserve the option to consider ALL options before right away hopping on the 4 year train. So what are some things you, as a high school senior, can be thinking about before deciding if a 4-year college is for you? Consider the following factors:

Am I self motivated?

Not going to lie, you will not be able to slide through college like you did in high school. You will have to TRY, and spend a lot of time studying, learning, and dedicating time to your program. Do you enjoy learning? Can you handle the thought of being in school for another 4 years? How passionate are you about this degree? Seriously, these are questions to consider.

-Do I have a clear vision of what I want to do? Does the job I’m considering require a 4 year degree?

Does the job you are considering require a 4 year degree, such as accounting, or pre-med? Perhaps if you are thinking of being a police officer or a nurse, be mindful that some technical schools offer classes to help you possibly finish that degree in less than 4 years.

-Am I willing to rack up a bunch of debt?

I do believe that education is definitely an investment, and it’s proven that the higher degree you have, the more money you will make down the road. It’s worth it if you absolutely know that you will be making enough money down the road to pay back those loans. However, if you aren’t certain with what you want to go to college for and feel uneasy wasting a year or two as an undecided major, it may be a safer option for you to start at a technical college to work on your gen-eds. You can always transfer to a 4 -year university down the road.

College is unbelievable expensive. I have over $40K in debt, and I get extremely depressed just thinking about it. That is the reality of living in this generation. Will your future career be able to pay off those loans? Again, education is a smart investment, but it’s also smart to be thinking realistically. If you’re planning on getting a Bachelor’s degree is philosophy and end up waiting tables after you graduate, you’re going to struggle.

-What do I love doing?

I love asking my students this. Seriously though- when you have free time, what do you love doing? Do you love fixing cars? Do you love writing? Are you passionate about doing hair? Are you reading books on entrepreneurship? Sometimes, we find immense passion and joy in our everyday hobbies that can even lead to a stellar career. Listen to what your heart tells you. “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

The bottom line? Think of the bigger picture. Explore. Have a plan. And know that if the plan goes off course, it’s not the end of the world. Even if you are unsure of what direction you want your life to go in, know that it’s all going to be okay. You’ll figure it out. It’s all about the journey, rather than the destination, after all.

Now try to enjoy the last year of high school while you can, because once it’s gone, you’ll never get it back! Take your life seriously, but don’t take it TOO seriously. 😉


Note: I previously wrote an article for Huffington Post, Are Universities for Everyone? A Millennial’s Perspective. Some bits of this article have been used in this blog post and modified to fit this senior class audience better.

Chelsea Hetzel

Chelsea Hetzel

Chelsea is a 2010 graduate from Oconto Falls High and a 2014 psychology graduate from UW-La Crosse. She is currently working towards her Master’s degree in school counseling at UW-Oshkosh and blogs at InspirationIndulgence.com. When she isn’t blogging or writing, she enjoys traveling, the outdoors, and Grey’s Anatomy binge marathons while consuming semi-large portions of pasta and/or chocolate.