As you’re reaching the end of high school, chances are you’re asking yourself “What comes next?”
Up until this point in your life, the progression of events was likely fairly straightforward and largely mandated. You were required to obtain an education and probably made decisions under the watchful eyes of your parents or caretakers.
However, when you graduate from high school, the act of determining what steps to take may not be as simple. You will inevitably receive increased independence and may undergo a life-shaping period of transformation. Bridging the gap to college and deciding on a specific major to pursue may prove difficult and stressful. The uncertainty of narrowing your vision and honing in on a specific path to take can be undeniably challenging.
But the process of finding an answer to the formidable question of “what comes next” should never cripple you with fear. Although graduating from high school can be terrifying, it can also be rather exciting. In many regards, your high school graduation signifies your arrival into adulthood. It offers you an opportunity to inherit additional responsibilities and begin shaping the life that you desire.
When the thought of deciding what to do next feels overwhelming and intimidating, just remember that others have come before you, facing similar apprehensions and overcoming them. Many are willing to share with you a vast library of useful and inspirational advice, resources, and tips. Now’s the time to listen to how others found their passion and enjoyed success.
Although the road ahead will be treacherous at times, these hardships do not have to define your journey as a whole. In this article, we offer lots of useful advice for high school seniors.
Words of Wisdom for High School Graduates
High school graduation is an important milestone in your educational journey. Educators realize this, which is why keynote speakers are typically brought in to provide words of wisdom for high school graduates as encouragement.
As you rapidly approach high school graduation and embark on the next chapter in your life, consider these inspirational quotes:
“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” – Dr. Seuss from “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” – Oprah Winfrey
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau
“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” – Aristotle
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle
“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing, but what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.” – Alan Alda
“The fireworks begin today. Each diploma is a lighted match. Each one of you is a fuse.” – Edward Koch
“As you start your journey, the first thing you should do is throw away that store-bought map and begin to draw your own.” – Michael Dell
Best Books for Graduating High School Seniors
The best inspirational books challenge readers to really consider how their values and talents might align with potential career paths and offer great tips for high school seniors. The books below will help you figure out “what comes next.”
- 99 Motivators for College Success (2012) by Perry Binder – In this book, Perry Binder provides stories, tips, and quotes that are applicable to college success in class, career choices, and life. While some of his “motivators” are serious, others are comical and quirky. Nevertheless, his messages prove to be universally beneficial and particularly useful for someone who may be searching for a mentor or classroom cheerleader.
- Affluenza: How to Be Successful and Stay Sane (2007) by Oliver James – Psychologist Oliver James believes the world is currently suffering from “affluenza,” or an obsessive, envious, and selfish problem in which we place too much value on acquiring material satisfaction. James has found that the result is not only increased unhappiness, but also more severe anxiety and emotional distress. Through his book, James seeks to not only answer how one can increase the strength of their emotional immune system, but also how one can reconnect with what really matters, find success, and remain sane.
- How To Make Friends and Influence People (1936) by Dale Carnegie – As one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published, Carnegie’s book remains just as relevant today as it was in years past. Carnegie’s principles help readers achieve their maximum potential, boost their confidence, and make any situation manageable. Through this book, readers can expect to learn a lot of valuable information regarding how to effectively interact with those around them.
- Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) by Viktor Frankl – Although Frankl’s book does not specifically cater to a younger crowd who may be wrestling with “what comes next,” his reflections on the importance of purpose and the usefulness of following our own inner guide are quite insightful. As a psychiatrist who spent three years in Nazi concentration camps, Frankl encountered a great deal of suffering. However, through this experience, he discovered that our primary drive in life is not to find pleasure, but rather to find and pursue whatever we personally deem meaningful. When applying Frankl’s reflections to our own lives, we can find significance in the act of living and inspiration regarding how to live a meaningful life.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) by Stephen Covey – Realizing that true success is dependent on a balance of both personal and professional effectiveness, Covey wrote this book to provide readers with instructions on how to perform better in each area. However, before readers are able to adopt his seven habits, Covey insists they must first undergo a change in both their perception and interpretation of how the world works. Written for anyone who is interested in personal change, this book is an excellent source for a high school senior who is trying to find his or her place in the world.
- What Should I Do with My Life? (2005) by Po Bronson – Through humor, empathy, and insight, Bronson tells inspirational true stories of individuals who overcame their fear and confusion to discover meaning in their lives. Through Bronson’s book, a multitude of people have been led to rethink their vocations and set out on a more appropriate path towards their true place in the world. Given its honesty and the experiences that are highlighted, Bronson’s book provides great words of wisdom for high school graduates who may be wondering what vocation would suite them best.
- Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1997) by Studs Terkel – Through interviews with hotel clerks, stockbrokers, and just about every kind of employee you could think of, Terkel provides readers with insightful records that reveal how people either choose or do not choose their careers. These employees discuss some of the various concerns, fears, problems, and joys associated with their line of work, which enables Terkel’s book to come across as conversational and heartfelt. The reality and sincerity of this book will challenge high school graduates to reflect on how their passions and interests align with different vocations, making it a fantastic resource for someone searching for a specific path to pursue.
College Preparation Tips for High School Seniors
As the date of your high school graduation draws closer, you may be wondering how best to prepare for college. Without a doubt, even after you’ve made the decision to go to college, knowing where and how to start preparing can be overwhelming.
Ultimately, there is no perfect sequential process to fully prepare you for the academic journey ahead. However, these college preparation tips will give you the confidence to continue moving forward:
Take Challenging Courses – This is really only applicable if you still have at least another semester of high school left. Colleges will be evaluating your applications by looking at your high school grades as well as the weight of your academic load. If you can prove that you challenged yourself throughout high school by taking advanced courses or courses that earned you college credit, then you will be far more marketable.
However, if you did not take advanced courses while in high school, don’t feel the need to jump ship and panic. You can certainly still find ways to prove to admission boards that you are willing and able to challenge yourself as a college student.
If you haven’t taken any advanced courses or earned any college credit, consider taking a general education summer course from a community college after your high school graduation. By doing so, you will build up confidence in yourself and demonstrate to admission boards your desire to continue working towards a higher education.
Take Vocational Assessments or Research Possible Careers – It is a great idea to start college with some sort of goal. With that said, you might not know which major you would like to declare when you first enter college — and that’s perfectly fine! Many who start college as freshmen with a major declared typically end up switching to another major anyways.
Nevertheless, by taking various skills assessments before entering college, you can develop a pretty good understanding of what vocation you would be most interested in pursuing. With these results, you can then establish an excellent starting point for additional and more directed research.
Apply Early – If you are able to research specific programs and colleges early, you should start filling out applications early. Not only will colleges be impressed by your forethought, but you will also have a better chance of beating the rush and earning your acceptance.
You’ll also be more likely to get enrolled early, which can allow you to relax a bit and enjoy the last few days of your time in high school. Besides that, many colleges allow priority access to financial aid, housing, and class registration for incoming freshmen who have completed their enrollment process earliest.
Apply for All the Scholarships You Can – There are so many scholarships available to those who really take the time to search and apply for them. If you spend time seeking out them out, you can likely save a significant amount of money when you begin your first semester. When applying for different scholarships, don’t immediately pass over the “small” ones — they can often really add up to make a huge difference.
Visit Often and Seek Advice From Others – While researching colleges can give you a decent idea of what to expect, you can’t develop a more accurate picture until you have physically stepped on campus and taken the time to explore and experience colleges firsthand. If you are able to do so, consider speaking with some students from your prospective colleges to develop a more complete and precise set of expectations.
Seek Financial Advice – College could possibly signify your first encounter with financial independence, which means that you will want to learn how to budget effectively. Make sure to speak with your parents or mentors to get their advice on financial matters as you start to figure out cost-effective strategies. If college seems too expensive, look for ways to save, such as textbook renting or an occasional online course.
Do Not Be Afraid of Failure – As you have probably heard innumerable times already and will continue to hear in the upcoming weeks, graduating from high school and entering college is an enormous transition. You are not expected to have everything figured out as soon as you begin your first semester. In fact, it is quite likely that there will be several new components to your life that you won’t be good at right away.
When you inevitably encounter difficult classes, problematic roommates, financial hardships, or the overall fear of failure, don’t lose hope. This happens to everyone, and it is a vital part of growing up.
With that said, you should never allow the possibility of failure to ever hinder you from being willing to take risks. Enjoy your opportunity to pursue a higher education and keep pushing on with confidence and optimism.
What Career Path Should I Take?
For some high school seniors, the thought of pursuing college and spending additional years within the confines of education probably sounds truly miserable.
“Do I really have to pursue college? Is this the best path for me to take?”
These are important questions to ask.
If you do have serious reservations about the pursuit of a more traditional, four-year degree, you need to consider what other options are available. Regardless of what others might be telling you, the reality is that college is not for everyone. Going into college halfheartedly will probably leave you with a lot of stress and a financial burden.
Although education is critical for vocational success, college is not. If you find yourself torn by what path to take, consider the following options:
- Get a Job – If you are looking to transition into adulthood, the pursuit of a full-time job will definitely help. Try to avoid companies that typically hire teenagers for part-time work. Instead, start your search with employers who can provide a future. In addition, make sure to identify specific employers whose product or service is of interest to you.
- Volunteer – While you are searching for your place in the world, why not spend that time trying to make a difference? Not only will you find new meaning in life, but you will also have experience that will look quite admirable on a resume.
- Take Online Courses or Fast-Track Programs – If you are interested in specific subjects, then consider taking online courses through a community college to earn some credit for your efforts. Or perhaps you have a specific career path in mind, but you’d rather not spend several years and all your finances pursuing a college degree. If that is the case, consider applying for fast-track programs such as the ones offered by Vista College.
- Learn a Trade – Search for jobs within a specific trade that aligns with your interests. Make sure that the trade will not only give you valuable experience, but will also guide you towards advancement.
With graduation closing in, the best advice for high school seniors is really to reflect deeply on the question “What comes next?” Your options are vast and the opportunities should excite you!