European and American culture still tends to nudge school graduates in the direction of University. For many, University is the logical next step after school and it is an interesting place that opens up many opportunities. Students come from all over the place, are of different ages and levels of experience and have interests from communications to construction to chemistry, universities are very diverse — and that makes them interesting places to be.
Learning from experts in the field, University study also broadens your intellectual horizons. It builds on your practical skills and provides you with research skills that will last a lifetime. At the same time, social clubs, student unions, sporting and academic teams and events, you have the opportunity to meet and work with like-minded people.
Most importantly, you increase your chances of getting the right job – unemployment for university graduates is less than half the rate for those who don’t finish high school. You also have greater earning potential once you get your degree.
However, it is well understood that University doesn’t work for everyone and there are many reasons why a student might not progress to University. Despite the stigma associated with not having a university degree, and the statistics showing huge earning gaps between school and university graduates, there are some solid alternatives which do not require a degree.
It is important to recognise that university shouldn’t be about “finding yourself”. The financial burdens of going to university without a final goal can be enormous and there are other ways you can have a successful career without going to university.
Learn a trade or a vocation:
Learning a trade or going to a vocational school can be an exciting alternative to an academic degree, particularly if you like working with your hands. There are plenty of professions where the average salary is far higher than that of other professions: plumbers, electricians, welders, masons, locksmiths, etc.
A great thing about learning a trade or vocation is that you can already start earning money as an apprentice whilst you are still at school. Apprenticeships are also a great way of building links that can lead to a career with that company once you have graduated.
Find an entry level job:
If you want to work, but learning a trade isn’t for you, you’ll be pleased to hear that many large companies have options for school graduates to join in basic positions. The retail or service industries – banking, for example – have the most opportunities. Although you won’t make much at the start, if you approach these opportunities with a good work ethic, you can progress within the company very quickly to become a manager. Large companies are very good at recognising talent and they are prepared to support you if you work hard. Many companies also recognise that going to university at 18 isn’t the right thing for everyone and so provide opportunities to study later on.
Join the Armed forces:
If you enjoy adventure, then one great opportunity is to enlist yourself in the military. By joining the armed forces you can be sure of job security, structured promotion opportunities, education, and training.
Starting salaries are low but many of your basic needs (housing, food, insurance) are taken care of, or at least heavily subsidised so your money goes a lot further.
Armies also tend to be pretty good at ensuring that you are employable after your commission is finished and you leave the army. Many ex-military personnel go on to have very highly paid and rewarding careers in the future and private companies value their expert level of training.
Volunteering Gap Year:
If you can’t decide what you want to do in the future and you don’t have a particular direction set at the moment, perhaps look at gap year volunteering opportunities whilst you make up your mind. Some charities and NGO’s have structured volunteering programs that you can sign up to in order to help deprived communities around the world.
If you volunteer to help overseas, it is the norm that your food and accommodation needs are met by the organisation. You will have to still fund little bits and bobs here and there but it is an awful lot cheaper than blazing directionless through university loans.
Become an Entrepreneur:
Many of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs don’t have a university degree: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, to name but a few. For some less well known entrepreneurs, check out these stories.
If you have a smart idea, why not try it out before going to university? Life and its financial burdens only get greater and it is therefore a lot easier to take a risk and get going than when you’re older and have a family and a mortgage. You will also “self-educate” yourself by starting your own business… it is one steep learning curve. If you have an appetite for risk and an entrepreneurial spirit, this option is a good one.
There are no 100% correct answers as to what to do when leaving school. Whether you leave and go to University or take a different path, just make sure that you always strive to be the best.