Do High School’s really prepare students for University and the workforce?

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Choosing what to study at University and what career path to go down, is one of the biggest decisions a person can make during their lifetime. It is now expected that our generation will reach retirement around the age of sixty-seven, meaning that on average we will spend fifty odd years in the workforce. For that reason, it is so important to make the right decision when choosing a career. But at the tender age of eighteen, do we really know our selves well enough to make such a pivotal decision? And do our educational systems really support us in making these decisions?

During my final two years of High School there were two weeks, just two weeks, dedicated to learning about the workforce in a practical sense. My High school education did not prepare me any way, shape or form for the world of work or for University. In these career classes, we were never taught the necessary basics. I had no idea what a “bachelor’s degree” meant, or what a “major” or “minor” were. I didn’t know the meaning of a “graduate diploma”, “certificate, “thesis”, “masters”, or “PhD”. Without being taught the basic university terminology, how was I supposed to set out my degree.

Another problem with education today, is that students aren’t being told the truth. We live in a society that has a tendency to only consider one side of the coin. If the other side of the coin is a bit taboo or goes against social norms, ideals and expectations, then it is swept under the rug and kept under wraps. We can look at two examples of this:

  • being taught to “follow our passions”; to follow our dreams and we will succeed. This is a notion I find slightly problematic and misleading. We often read articles and hear motivational speeches of people who have set out to pursue their passions, how they have tried, tried and tried again. Failed and tried again. And eventually, they make it. Not only do they make it, but they make it big. Society uses these successful figures as prime examples; to reinforce to us that we should follow our passions and we will succeed. But is this realistic? Unfortunately not. Society doesn’t teach us about the other side of the coin. We don’t hear motivational speeches of people that have tried, tried and tried again, and failed. Speeches and articles about people who have lost everything, and are now spending the rest of their lives trying to rebuild a life. Schools won’t teach us this reality because it goes against the social ideal of following our passions. Yes, I do believe its important to work in a field you are interested in, but it is equally as important to be made aware of the pros and cons of following a “risky” passion.
  • Another reality school’s don’t teach pupil’s is that arts degrees will not guarantee you a job. Because schools teach us to follow our passions, they then can’t go and tell us that we should think twice about doing an arts degree, as it goes against what they teach us about following our dreams. Arts degrees are risky because they don’t necessarily lead to a specific job, and may not guarantee you with a work by the end of your studies. Arts degrees may equip you with a random set of skills in say history, or sociology, anthropology and so forth, but unfortunately, there aren’t many jobs out there that require such a skill set.

I studied psychology through a bachelor of arts for my first degree, and loved it. I had found my niche, and it was through this degree that my love for science developed. However, at the end this degree, I didn’t know what to do. My qualification hadn’t led me anywhere, and my future was uncertain. I then decided to undertake a graduate diploma in teaching, as I knew it would lead me down a route where I could actually receive work.

There are so many problems with the education system today and at all levels: preschool, primary, high school and university. I think high schools need to prepare students far more for the work force and in choosing a career. For instance, why not have five weeks a year (during the final two years of high school) dedicated to voluntary work in different fields. Students could be given a list of the different areas of work – education, banking and finance, IT, engineering, law etc. Then asked to pick five different fields of work and spend one week in each field, getting involved as ethically and legally possible. This way, students will be exposed to a whole range of different jobs and areas of work, which should ultimately provide them with more ‘real’ insight when making a decision. Rather than spending a week writing an essay on “why Sin City was filmed in black and white?”, or “why Kill a Mockingbird was a novelty of its time?”, wouldn’t it be far more useful for students to use this time and gain real life work experience?

Schools also don’t teach us about the alternatives i.e. a gap year. If you are eighteen, you don’t know yourself or what to do with your life. One of the best thing you could do in that situation is go on a gap year. Travelling alone is invaluable, it will help you to grow and discover yourself – your likes, dislikes, personality traits, interests and so forth. When I left High School, I didn’t fully understand what a gap year was and had no idea that it could even be an option. In hindsight, taking a gap year would have been beneficial to me and I wish that we had been taught more about this in school.

If you are a student reading this, about to go onto university, my advice would be to:

  • do research on the pros and cons of the career you are considering, see if it is a career that is realistic and achievable.
  • do research on the type of bachelors you are considering i.e. will doing a degree through the arts leave you with good job prospects, or would it be better to do your major through a bachelor of science or law, if possible.
  • if your school hasn’t provided you with enough practical experience in the workforce, then go out and do it yourself. Go and spend a week in a school, or a law firm and try and get as involved as you possibly can. Use these opportunities to gain as much insight as you can into the careers; what the pros and cons are, what personality traits you might need, what the salary is and so forth.
  • if you really don’t know yourself or what you want to do, consider taking a gap year, maybe even two years abroad. Take some time to travel and learn about yourself in the process.
  • do not rush. Don’t let anyone pressure you into picking up the pace. Take as much time as you need to research or travel. If you rush, you could end up going down the wrong career path and then find yourself at square one again. Major life-changing decisions should not be rushed.

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