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Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

Should you go to college if you don't know what you want to do?

Asked by Aesthetic_Mess (7858 points ) March 5th, 2014

My good friend is going through this crisis.

She is about to graduate high school, and has absolutely know idea what to do with her life. She doesn’t have anything she’s really passionate about and wants to study, and she doesn’t want to spend time in college if she doesn’t have a focus.

I don’t want to tell her to go or not to go, because I know that college can help you find interests, but I know that she does not want to get a “useless” degree in English or Liberal Arts though that is what she is interested in. She is worried about the economy, and how difficult it is to find jobs even for college grads. She doesn’t want to come out with debt if she can’t get a job to pay it off. I guess she’s really questioning the worth of college.

Should a person go to college if they don’t know what they want to do, or does not have a clear career path for themselves?

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22 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

I would vote yes. A college degree of any sort puts you in a different league out there in the job world. I had and idea I thought I wanted to go into business….flunked out of Biz college and wound up getting a BA degree in Communications. Funny part is my old boss who hired me kept commenting on how my engineering degree was coming in handy here at work even though right there are the top of my resume is BA in Communications.

The last two guys I hired had degrees from colleges I never heard of. A college degree for the most part simply shows you spent for years actually learning something and learned how to accomplish complicated homework assignments and did what it took to get that sheepskin. Anyone who goes to college will then know just how little High School prepared you for anything in the real world and a college degree makes up for that glaring educational deficiency and that is what many employers are looking at when they see that you went to college.

livelaughlove21's avatar

What 18-year-old truly knows what they want to do with the rest of their life? Very few, I assure you. Even those that have a plan probably won’t stick through it through college. I didn’t, and I was almost certain I knew what my passion was (nursing – puh!). Most college students switch majors at least once during their time in school. College is a great opportunity for someone with no direction – like you said, it’s a time to discover your interests. Having a degree, any degree, will give you a leg up in the job market. She may not graduate making $100K a year, but it’s a great starting point in any career.

Then again, not everyone is a good fit for college. My husband didn’t go to college and makes more money than I do as a college graduate. He’s very lucky, though, and worked hard to get there. Most of the non-grads I know are working in low pay dead-end jobs that they’ll probably never get out of. They don’t have $25,000 in student loan debt like I do, but I make more money than they do even after my monthly payment is snatched out of my account. And with a college degree, I have more opportunities to make even more money.

Now, there are some people that get degrees and end up in the same crap jobs as people who only graduated high school, if that. There are many reasons why this happens, but it’s hardly ever because their degree was “useless.” If you ask me, it often has more to do with their own drive and determination. It’s hard to go out and get a good job with your degree, but it’s not hard to fill out an application at a gas station and then moan and complain for the next 10 years that college was a waste of time. Then you have the minority of unlucky out-of-work college grads that found themselves laid off or living in an area where there are no jobs to be had. Most out-of-work grads think they belong to that category of people, but that’s just not the case.

She needs to decide if it’s right for her. You can’t make that decision and I don’t think you should try to sway her decision either way. She’s an adult now and her choices are her own, and only she will have to deal with the consequences.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Well, I sure did not know what the hell I wanted to do. It was a combination of working various jobs and taking classes that allowed me to find myself. High school did a great job of misaligning my perceptions and priorities. I vote both. Work and take some classes at a community college. Then go to the university.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

A college degree demonstrates to potential employers that she has the maturity and discipline to go off on her own for 4 years, take care of herself and focus enough to satisfy the requirements to earn the degree. You do a lot of growing up in those four years. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with taking a year to think things over and go to college a bit later. The college students I went to school with that did that were a lot more mature than those of us right out of high school.

dxs's avatar

I always thought it was strange to go to a 4-year college without knowing what you want to do. The idea of a liberal arts college is to give someone a vast knowledge by taking classes in many different areas. This can help in discovering what people like to do. I don’t think it’s a good idea to major in something that will get you a job you won’t enjoy. I’d rather live a life I want to live. But you’re still going to have to work one way or another, so you should keep an open mind.
Worst case scenario, you can at least take some courses at a local 2-year college and see how it goes. Or, look into other career opportunities that may not require a baccalaureate degree.

JLeslie's avatar

She should go. If she had some sort of passion that doesn’t require college and she wasn’t enthusiastic about going to college I would say she should maybe take a chance and try to pursue her passion. That is not the case you described. College will hopefully help her find something she is interested in, college is the most fun when you are just out of high school, and college will buy her time before she is out in the real world having to support herself, assuming her parents will be paying. Most, not all, but most people I know who didn’t get degrees regret it.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It’s probably unfair to offer advice, because I had the very good fortune to have entered college in an era where not knowing what you wanted to do, was not necessarily a grim portent on your future. Nor was a degree in the humanities tantamount to a vow of poverty, or a superior education accompanied by a mountain of debt. My advice to your friend: If you enjoy learning, and are interested in the liberal arts, go for it! The experience will serve you well for the rest of your days. Enroll for the first semester, and if college is not for you, you’ll know soon enough. Take the courses that interest you. If you abhor the required courses, then screw em. Enroll “part time”. Take a couple of course for which you have a passion, while you grind your young life away between the millstones of one of the meaningless Mcjobs which define current reality. You’re young, and hopefully as yet unencumbered. Do what you want. God knows, you’ll be forced soon enough to do otherwise.

muppetish's avatar

I definitely advocate high school graduates to at least enroll in community college and clear their General Education units. It’s a great place to explore different current interests, pick up a couple of new interests, and it is far cheaper than attending a four-university right out the bat. This would give her some much-needed time to explore what she might be interested in pursuing. You make so many connections in college that better equip you for networking, resume building, etc.

And please, please let her know that English is NOT a useless degree. I entered my four-year university knowing that English literature was my passion, but was ultimately uncertain as to which career I would pursue. I am now going to be paid, in full, to complete my PhD to teach dramatic literature at the university level—something I never would have known was my dream job if I had not earned that BA and certainly would not have had the opportunity to complete were it not for my dedication to my education.

keobooks's avatar

The first two years in college are the same for any major. So you can go at least two years undeclared and maybe by then you’ll figure it out.

ibstubro's avatar

I’m in the ‘enroll and take some classes while you work’ camp. If she gets out of the habit of school entirely, it’s hard to get back in the groove.

Blackberry's avatar

I know a few people that don’t even work in what their degree is in, but…the jobs they have require a degree.

This is why a degree is sometimes called a piece of paper. It’s useful and not useful depending on a lot of stuff.

Judi's avatar

I haven’t read the other answers yet but I would say that she might want to take gen ed classes but only if she can afford to pay for it as she goes. I think it’s crazy to go into debt with no direction.
Maybe she could take those gen ed classes at a community college where it costs less.
My son in law kept drifting majors and ended up in his mid 30’s with nothing to really show for it but a shit load of debt. It was so important to his parents that he get a degree but he had no idea what he wanted to do. He wishes his parents hadn’t pushed the education so hard.
He also had a family culture of hating work. The concept of enjoying your job was completely new to him.
He has finally settled into doing something he loves and the debt is paid. He doesn’t make much money but he’s happy.
Still no degree.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I think a college degree has the POTENTIAL to help you earn more at some point int he future.

Starting out life with college loans is, to me, a step backward though, and have ruined a few lives.

Why not work your way slowly through a technical college or something, that way you have real life experience along with college courses? That’s what a lot of people I know are doing now.

Personally, I don’t recommend doing the whole college experience thing on student loans fresh out of hs, unless you are ready to buckle down and put partying and all that aside.

bolwerk's avatar

Only go if you don’t know what you want to do with it if (1) you can afford the consequences, which probably means your parents are paying, and (2) you can actually do well. Maybe add (3) if you have nothing better to do.

If you can commit to doing well with a well-rounded course selection, you can leverage it into a more valuable graduate degree program later. At worst, you at least got something most employers expect and you probably gain some useful skills.

You can also decide midway through what you want to do and major in it. If it’s something high-demand, maybe you’ll even gain a big advantage. But beware: student loan debt is an inescapable form of indenture.

Aster's avatar

Yes; by all means she should go to college. She can get a teaching certificate fairly easily and teach many different grades. When taking your basic courses you gradually realize what you want to do. I think getting a degree is a firm sign of maturity and determination and I admire people who have one. Year after year at a desk and studying for tests. But the social scene offers an awful lot of fun if you wish to pursue that mindset.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Aster I’m not sure teaching is a good choice for someone that isn’t passionate about it. It’s a thankless job in many ways and should only be performed by those that really want to do it. It certainly shouldn’t be a default career move.

hearkat's avatar

I went to college and dropped out after 3 semesters because I realized my first career goal wasn’t suited to me. I worked office jobs, and soon realized I couldn’t support myself on those wages. Still uncertain, I went to Community College to get the core classes out of the way. For my electives, I went through the course catalogue and picked things that sounded interesting. One of those was Voice and Diction. The Phonetic Alphabet was the easiest thing I’ve ever learned, so I finished my Associates and transferred into a Speech Therapy program. I almost immediately realized that it was not a good career path for me, but I stuck with it, figuring I could keep searching for ideas while earning credits. The following semester, we took the required Audiology 101 class, and on that first day I knew that I had found my vocation – I was almost 23. 25 years later, I still love my career.

On the other hand, my son is now almost 23, and he chose not to go to college. He feels he wouldn’t be motivated to do well, if there isn’t a specific goal he’s working toward. His first year out of school he started a business with a friend. That did not work out because the friend was not pulling his weight – his own mother had even warned us about it, but I knew that my son wouldn’t give up without trying. We agree now that he gained valuable knowledge from that experience – failure is an excellent teacher. He’s always worked and paid his own bills, and has been at his current job for over three years. He likes what he does, but doesn’t love it and doesn’t see it as a long-term career choice for him. But he’s got a car payment and other bills and is kind-of stuck. I’m not upset – he has to walk his own path – but I still wish he’d have gone to school and sought out his options as it had worked for me.

Everyone is different, but if your friend can afford it, I would suggest going to college – at least Community College – and taking a wide variety of courses.

Aster's avatar

@livelaughlove21 I didn’t at all mean she should be a teacher. What I meant was teaching positions are fairly easily obtainable, pay fairly well, you have lots of vacations and I brought it up as a suggestion amongst hundreds of professions people decide on every day just from attending a college. And people change their major all the time, too. So if she doesn’t like what she’s majoring in she can switch.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Aster Fair enough. Although…

”...teaching positions are fairly easily obtainable, pay fairly well…”

You must not live in the Southeastern US (I’m not familiar with any other place). My friend got a teaching degree from a private college (and therefore has about $50K in debt, double what I’ve got from the state university), worked her butt off looking for work for over a year before finally landing a job, and now teaches third grade making only $25K per year ($12K less than what I’m making as a legal assistant). She can’t even afford to move out of her mom’s house at the age of 24. And she’s not the only one struggling like that with a teaching degree – far from it. That’s why I think you have to love it or you shouldn’t do it. Same with many other careers – nursing being one of them. They’re paid better than teachers for sure, but it’s just something you have to really want in order to do it well and be happy.

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

Thank you all for you answers! It seems the common solution is for her to go to community college to start.

Her parents are not well-off, and she would have to rely heavily on financial aid and her own income if she were to go to college (one of the main reasons for her worrying: she doesn’t want to spend her money on a chance that a degree might help in the long run). Her parents won’t be much help paying for college, but they would allow her to live at home.

Another reason for her worrying is that she finds the Humanities most appealing. She’s a straight A student, but did exceptionally well in the humanities. She’s worried that getting a degree in one of them, though, (such as English, Psychology [social science I know, but often classed with the usefulness of the Humanities], Communications, History, etc.).
She’s also considered teaching, so she would want a degree, that if she so chose, she could become a teacher down the line.

She’s all over the place and it’s hard to offer advice.

Her parents are kind of the “go to college = good job” people, and they want her to have a stable career. She on the other hand, wants to travel, perhaps teach English in foreign lands (especially in Europe, where they require a degree as well as CELTA certification); she’s kind of a free spirit deep down, but restrains herself.

Judi's avatar

@Aesthetic_Mess , My daughter tok a break in the middle of college to get her TESOL certificate in Barcelona. She then taught English in Vietnam for a year before finishing her degree in English with a minor in Theater. Then she got her teaching credential. She’s now working on her Masters. She was lucky because grandma paid for it but it can still be done if you’re careful with your finances.

NanoNano's avatar

No college degree is useless, even a liberal arts degree. The main question your friend should ask herself is if she can go through college without acquiring debt.

If the answer to that is no, she shouldn’t go. Or if its an undue burden on her parents, don’t go.

The US has so many college graduates now that any type of degree has limited buying power in the job force, so you don’t want to acquire debt you can’t pay off, if you can avoid it.

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