Should I Go To College If I Don’t Know What I Want To Do With My Life?

by Judge Josh on August 28, 2014

After taking a two year hiatus from high school and working like a dog, I am pleased to announce that I’m set to graduate in June and have been accepted to college.

Congratulations, Katlyn.  Although these days it seems like everyone is expected to go to college, a) not everyone should and b) just being accepted is an accomplishment in and of itself, so congrats on that.

That’s all well and great, and I’m excited that I’ll be the first of my siblings to attend college (I’m the youngest of five) but the problem is that I have little to no idea what I want to do for a career in the future. So what if I finish up my first few years in college still don’t know what I’ll be doing or want to do something completely different and have to start all over again?


One of the most common worries I get is from incoming college freshmen (freshwomen?  is that a thing yet?) who have no idea what they want to do yet.  And of those who are damn sure of what they want to do, probably half of them will change their mind in the end as well.  So although that probably doesn’t make you feel any less uneasy, at least you should know that you are in the vast majority of young adults who have recently graduated from high school.

Basically, I’m worried that I’ll go and borrow fifteen or so thousand dollars to go to school right now and have nothing beneficial to show for it. Should I be going to college, and spending this money that I don’t have, before I even know what I want to do in life? – Katlyn

That’s a legit worry, Katlyn, and props to you for thinking ahead about possibly spending money recklessly (or at the very least, negligently).

Although you don’t yet know what you want to do, you should sit down and really think about what you’d like to do – because there is a difference.  Sometimes people “want” to enter a certain career field because of many reasons other than it being their passion.  Maybe they want to appease their parents, or make a lot of money, or even just go that route because they read that a certain career has a lot of job openings.

These are all legitimate things to consider, but you should really think about what you are passionate about.  Because not only will that make you the happiest as a career, but you’ll also do much better at that sort of a job than any other.  I know that’s cliche, but trust me when I say, from experience, that doing what you love to do makes life infinitely more enjoyable.

Once you’ve figured that out, ask yourself if there’s a path to that career that doesn’t involve borrowing $15,000 just to see if it’s really what you want to do.  Even if your dream career will require a college degree, is there any way to work in the mail room, so too speak, while you get your feet wet, just to see if you will really enjoy that career?  If so – give that a shot. If you love it, you can always work your way up the ladder as you attend school.  It may be a little tougher, but if you really love it, you’ll find a way to make it work.

Also remember that the first couple of years of college can be a lot of general “stuff” that has nothing to do with anyone’s final career path.  If you are sure you want a college degree, then don’t worry about not having a career picked out when you enter.  Go ahead and get signed up and get some hours under your belt.  I don’t know the exact statistics off hand, but MANY college students enter college having no idea what they want to do – other than knowing that they definitely want a college degree – and in the end they figure it out.

Anyone else want to chime in?  Surely someone out there has been in a similar situation to Katlyn’s and can offer their first hand experiences!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachel August 28, 2014 at 9:03 am

The first thing I would do would be to encourage Katlyn to look at the most cost effective way to do what she is passionate about. When I have 17 (I’m 26 now) I was sure I wanted to be a pastry chef and was so convinced I would be successful that I was prepared to take out nearly $60,000 in loans from a for-profit college. Luckily my parents put the kibosh on that and it was years later that I realized I could have gotten the exact same education at a community college in my state for $3,000.

I ended up getting a 4-year B.A. degree in Gender Studies. I realized when I was about 20 that I definitely wanted to go on to do graduate work so having a more general undergraduate degree was a great way for me to focus on a topic I was (and still am) passionate about without necessarily worrying about getting a job with my degree. And what I’ve wanted to do graduate level work in has changed since I first started my B.A.

I graduated with my B.A. 2 years ago and now I work at my alma mater. I love it and it’s helping me to gain experience for what I eventually want to go back for (higher education administration).

Ultimately, I would encourage you to think really hard about what you want to do and how much education you want (and need) to get there.

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Judge Josh August 28, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Rachel, my ex was in the same spot at one point. We lived in Phoenix and she wanted to go to Scottsdale Culinary Institute (I think that’s the one) and we found an extremely similar program at the Maricopa County Community Colleges that was just a few grand. She ended up doing neither, but still — your example is illustrative, in that, for most things, there are often cheaper options. Thanks for chimin’ in!

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MM August 28, 2014 at 9:24 am

Josh,

I don’t comment often on the advice you give prospective college students, but I wanted to echo your sentiment of “try before you buy” with regards to a college education.

I graduated 2 years ago with a BBA in Finance and with a dry job market and the competition always increasing with each passing day, the job market is astoundingly difficult to break into without prior experience.

Katlyn really should dive into the job market or volunteer at the business/industry she’s interested in and go from there.

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Judge Josh August 28, 2014 at 2:18 pm

MM — thank you! Come around more often! I miss the sound of your voice! :)

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Tia August 28, 2014 at 10:08 am

I’m currently in the same position. The difference is that I am currently in a PhD program in biochemistry/cancer biology and I know I’m able to do what I do well but my heart isn’t completely in it. At this point, I feel like I’m stuck because I still don’t know what I would want to do long term. I know I would eventually like to teach but I would like to do something else before settling down with a teaching career. One thing that I have learned though is that it is vitally important to assess YOUR passion. I continued the scientific route because it was something everyone else wanted for me, not what my heart desired. So my advice is to just please, take time to go out and try different things. Volunteer at a place that you feel you would enjoy, do something out of your comfort zone, and take the time to just reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. I’m sure doing those things will help you in your decision making process. The other thing that has helped me is taking the time to make a vision board. Basically you document all of the things you enjoy and correlate those things to what you see yourself being or doing in the next 5 years. Hope this helps!

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Judge Josh August 28, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Tia is a wise lady — good advice. As for you Tia, take heart in the fact that, if you complete that Ph.D, you’ll have ample opportunity to do all kinds of other stuff besides teach. Research, consult…lots of stuff. Good luck! Keep me posted on what’s going on with you as time goes on!

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