Not sure if you're ready to go straight off to college? Itching to get some life experience before committing yourself to four more years of institutionalized education? I'm right there with you. In a way, I wish I'd gained more experience before jetting off to university. There are so many programs out there that allow high school graduates to travel, volunteer, or learn specific trades. If I had known that I could take a year before college and be fully-funded to volunteer in a developing country, I would have mustered up the courage to do it.
High school guidance counselors mean well, but they often have tunnel vision when it comes to their 12th-grade charges. It's all about getting into college, baby. "Maintain your GPA, apply to this scholarship, make sure you have enough extracurriculars to be successful." What they don't mention are the other options that are available to you. If you are tantalized by adventure, want to take a break from schoolwork, would like to develop a skill you've always dreamed about, or simply feel in your heart that the four-year degree can wait, here are four options for you to consider.
All it takes is a simple Google search to find these opportunities. If I hadn't been so trained in high school to focus solely on college, I would have chosen one of these alternatives in a heartbeat.
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Of course I was going to mention this one first. As a newly minted adult, you can now travel on your own! To save Mom and Dad and Great Aunt Suzette some anxiety, you can also go with a group. Companies like Greenheart Travel, Travel for Teens, and Real Gap specialize in taking young adults like you overseas (or even just a few states over, if that's more your jam). Also, if you're still in high school, these companies--and many others--offer study abroad programs and short-term trips for those afflicted with wanderlust. How awesome is that?! I never learned about such opportunities, but I'm glad I can tell you about them now.
If you want to travel, why should you wait? Sure, you can study abroad in college. But if you're fantasizing about it now, you should seriously consider doing it. Be brave. Life's for the living, and the best way to live is to go out and do things.
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You may have considered this option, but because there are so many volunteer opportunities, you may be stuck on which one to do (or if you should do one at all). My best advice here would be to research, research, research. Find out which companies organize programs for teens, or figure out how to create your own volunteering experience. You can go abroad with a group of people your age (through programs from companies such as Cross-Cultural Solutions), join a large-scale nonprofit that focuses on the U.S. (such as AmeriCorps), or commit to volunteering full-time in your own community for a cause you love.
Keep in mind that you can volunteer for a long period of time (think the Peace Corps), or a short period of time. Your experience is what you make of it. Also, aside from the personal growth, compassion, and knowledge you will gain from volunteering, many nonprofits (the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, among others) will grant you a repatriation allowance or education award (read: money) upon completion of their programs. While this shouldn't be the sole reason you volunteer, it's nice to know that if you decide to go to college when you finish volunteering, you will have some help in paying for it.
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3.) LEARN A NEW SKILL
Do you secretly wonder what it would be like to be a cake decorator? Is your hobby repairing bicycles in your free time? Or maybe you always wanted to learn jewelry making (or welding, or rock climbing, or how to run a doggy day care)? Well, why not use the time after graduation to explore the these things? You wouldn't have an interest in them if they didn't mean something to you--so you owe it to yourself to at least try them!
If you are attending college in the fall, you have a summer ahead of you, anyway. Take this time to go to the local bakery and ask the cake decorators if you can shadow them. Join the jewelry-making club in your town. Bust out your inner entrepreneur and make flyers for your very own doggy day care and spa. Pursuing your passions can at the very least keep you from being bored, and at best, help you learn more about yourself, potentially make you some extra income, and even lead you into an alternative career route (rock climbing instructor, anyone?).
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4.) IMMERSE YOURSELF IN A NEW LANGUAGE
Another great alternative to college right after high school is to fully immerse yourself in another language. You can do this by traveling to another country, for sure, but you can also stay home, too. Local community colleges hold language courses and all sorts of culturally diverse activities, such as dances, cooking classes, and literature readings. You can fully immerse yourself in a different culture without ever having to leave your home town. If there's a particular language/culture that interests you, look around for opportunities--you're sure to find some.
The benefits of learning a new language are many. Your world suddenly broadens, as you can talk to thousands of people you couldn't before. You become more open-minded, as you can think and see things in a new way. And your college/job prospects greatly expand, as recruiters and employers highly value bilingual people in our increasingly globalized world. And if you go to another country to educate yourself, you'll have the added benefit of truly living like a local. Nothing like living "la dolce vita" like a true Italian, sipping espresso and eating all your pasta "al dente!"
So let me know what you think. Will you decide to pursue one of these alternates to going straight to college after graduation? Follow your arrow, wherever it lands. Whether that's a volunteer trip abroad, traveling with like-minded teens, starting your own bakeshop, or yes, even that four-year university, you will end up where you are supposed to be.
Kayla Maneen received her BFA in Creative Writing and minored in adventure and fun. After graduation, she worked on an organic farm in Ireland and taught English in Italy, and learned all there is to know about chasing sheep and eating long, leisurely meals with family. She is adamant about people living out their passions and reaching their highest potentials. Always follow that fire in your heart!