The Pressure of the College Expectation

The Next Step After High School — Does It Have to Be College?

American society sees college as a necessity. Parents expect you to apply for universities as soon as you hit your senior year. You hear your friends talk about their dream schools. But what do you want?

Maybe you’re nervous about going to college but you don’t know how to bring it up to your parents for fear of them disregarding your feelings. Maybe you feel like going to college is what you need to do since everyone else is doing it.

You might want to take a gap year before college to focus on yourself but you don’t want to seem lazy. What if you have no idea what you want your major to be? These are the same things I thought of in my senior year of high school.

You are not alone.

In your senior year in high school, you’ll be bombarded with college. You’ll be told to sign up for scholarships and apply for schools without a second thought. It’s hard to see all this happening around you when you feel 100% lost.

You don’t feel like you’re ready for college but you have to get ready anyway before the next school year because you’ll be in college already. It’s nerve-wracking, to say the least. It also creates a feeling of exclusion, since you see your friends getting so excited for graduation.

It almost makes you feel like a failure when you haven’t even failed yet!

Most of my teachers in high school expressed how important it was to get a bachelor’s degree. It felt like they were saying it was the only way to ever succeed. Sure, if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer you’re going to have to go to college. But there are so many more career choices that are equally fulfilling and will make you happy.

My teachers never talked about taking a gap year and I never knew what a gap year was until the end of my junior year. So what’s the big rush?

When I talked to one of my friends about gap years, she told me if you take a gap year you never go back to college. But that’s not true at all. Around 60% of students that are in medical-related fields take a gap year. Students who take a gap year usually find that it helped them discover what they wanted to do in college.

A gap year can also do things that aren’t related to academics. It can help you grow as a person, travel, and gain work experience. This negative response to gap years puts more pressure on students to go to college when they aren’t ready.

It’s interesting how pressured we are considering how prevalent mental health is in our society. Depression and anxiety are on the rise with around 32% of students having anxiety disorders.

When I was in high school, I tried to keep my depression and anxiety on the back burner and let it resolve on its own. This led to me having a meltdown when I first went to university.

If I spent my time working on my mental health during a gap year, I could’ve been more confident to go to college. Some kids are ready for college and some aren’t, whether it be nervousness or an actual mental health problem.

I didn’t want to let my parents down. They were really excited for me to go to college. They just wanted the best for me and wanted me to succeed further than them as many parents want. I was trying to juggle what I wanted, what my parents wanted, and my current relationship which had been abusive.

I decided that my best option was to do online classes offered by the local community college. Community college is a great option for those who want to further their education but still work on themselves. Online classes were so helpful since I had terrible anxiety.

I realized it was important to weigh my options and I decided to compromise to make both me and my parents happy. But then I graduated with an associate degree and university came calling.

This is when I had a meltdown.

The pressure of everything around me finally took hold. When I moved into my dorm, I barely ever got out of bed. I would only go to use the restroom or eat crackers or drink water. I was trying to find myself amidst what my peers wanted and it was too much for me. I realized I would be missing classes if I kept this up. The abuse from the relationship I was in made things ten times worse.

I decided to suck it up and tell my parents the truth — I wanted to find my own path. I couldn’t go down a road I didn’t want to go on. I was going to go to university so I could somehow find what I wanted to be in life and make money. But I realized I could do that without torturing myself. I needed to think about my wants and needs, not anybody else’s.

Dropping out of university changed my life for the better.

Finding your own path to your future is extremely important. We tend to feed off those around us to shape our future because we think that’s what we should be doing. But in life, no matter how difficult it is, you need to shut out your peers and ask yourself what you want.

We can’t please everyone, but we can definitely please ourselves. Striving for perfection and what others want will only hurt you in the end and cause a lot of regrets. Doing things your own way will feel way more rewarding and success will be much more achievable.

After dropping out, I started to do things independently and did research on jobs that would make me money but also make me happy. I discovered the world of trades and freelance and saw how successful people became without having to go to university. I frequently heard people degrade trades, saying going into a trade is “wasting your smarts.” But trades use intelligence in different ways.

We can’t all be doctors and engineers.

There are roles to fill in society and trades are needed just as much. We can’t talk down to an electrician when at the same time we call them when an outlet short circuits.

And no one likes to talk about the fact that 60% of college graduates can’t find work in their field. I’ve read so many stories about college graduates that struggle to find a job after they graduate. Many people have a bachelor’s degree yet still work at department stores. Some people even graduate college and realize that they aren’t even passionate about their field. There are so many circumstances we need to think about before taking the big step to further our education.

For parents, I know you want the best for your kid. You want them to dream big and succeed ten times more than you. But you need to ask your child what they want. Look at what excites your kid, what their hobbies are, and what they seem to be interested in. Cultivate those wants as soon as possible.

Support your child through their journey as much as you can and try not to pressure them or give them expectations. Your child looks up to you, so if they see how much love you’re putting into their interests, they’ll appreciate it.

And for all you current students out there: go with your gut.

Notice your interests and do research on what field you could go into that involves them. Understand that going for the highest paying career won’t give you fulfillment if you aren’t happy. After high school, you have no college debt, so think about if you want to take a gap year. Or maybe you just want to work for a while and that’s okay too.

Do what makes you happy — college isn’t going anywhere!

Hi, I’m Audrey. I work as a freelance writer on my website: If I’m not writing, I’m watching movies or lounging about in Los Angeles.