Why Some People Don’t Go to College Right After High School.

Growing up in a small-town, middle-class family, college was never an “if”. It was always a “when”.

As in, when you graduate from high school, you immediately go to college. Doing anything else was reserved exclusively for soon-to-be rockstars, all-star athletes going pro*, and people who liked to make terrible life decisions.

After all, most people who take a year off from college never end up going at all. At least, that’s what I was told. I never bothered to find the truth. I just knew I needed to go to college immediately.

So, naturally, at the age of 18, I enrolled in a four-year school and signed my name on a loan worth more money than I had made in my entire life up to that point. Because that was considered to be an infinitely better choice than taking a semester or two off, working, and sorting out who I wanted to be for the rest of my life.

After I graduated college with no job and all of the debt, I started to wonder about all those people who took that first year off after graduation.

How well were they doing? What became of them? Why did they take a year off?

Finally, I decided to find the answers.

When you don’t go to college right away.

If it feels like everyone goes to college after high school, there’s a reason. Just about 70% of US students go to college right after high school. As for the remaining 30%, most of them get there sooner or later.

According to a study by the American Gap Association, 95% of people who take a year off between high school and college end up going to college in the long run. In fact, 90% of gap-year students ended up proceeding with college within a year.

In other words, my high school fears of taking time off were wildly unfounded.

But statistics only tell you so much.

A few questions still remained. If they ended up going to college anyway, why did they bother taking a year off? And how did it affect them?

Rather than guess or look up more statistics, I decided to ask a few of the “30%”.

“I took the year off as I wasn’t positive what I wanted to do as a career,” said Darren. As an 18-year-old with a steady job, Darren figured it made more sense to take some time and think about his next step then spend a bunch of money on miscellaneous classes that might not benefit him.

This was a reoccurring answer throughout my surveys, especially for people who had to pay their way through college.

“I thought, gosh dang it, I don’t know anything about myself or the world,” said Melody. “I can’t throw myself in debt when I have no idea what I’m doing.”

If that’s not financial wisdom, I don’t know what is. For one responder, going into debt wasn’t even an option.

“’No money’ is my technical answer for taking a year off,” said Harrison. “My parents didn’t make enough to help me out and didn’t have good enough credit to cosign for loans. As a dependent of theirs, I also did not qualify for federal aid.”

For many fresh graduates, college isn’t an immediate option whether they want it to be or not. For others, they just didn’t want to go.

“Honestly, I just never wanted school,” said Kayden. “I’ve always been an artist in some medium and wanted to pursue that. At that time, it was all music. I was confident that I should just play music forever even if it meant living out of my car.”

So, do they end up going? And why?

Of the people I talked to, 71% of them ended up attending college. Even people like Kayden, who originally had no plans of attending college changed their mind during their time off.

“I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t gonna get anywhere staying in my hometown and music wasn’t evolving for me there,” said Kayden.

After a close friend of his talked up the college she was attending, Kayden decided more school was the best way to shake up his future.

For Emma, after taking time off from school, she realized college was what she had to do to be what she wanted to be. “I went to college because I knew that I needed more education to do what I felt called to do with excellence,” she said. “It was definitely a decision that involved a lot of prayer and seeking advice from mentors.”

For the ones who skipped out on college altogether, they realized they were already heading the direction they wanted to be heading in life.

“Family was a motivation,” said Darren, “And I realized I liked what I was currently doing. I had originally wanted to become a DNR or enter the powerline program, but with each, I’d have to move away from family. Family is important to me in life.”

Should I skip or should I go now?

I’m not here to tell you whether or not you should go to college right away high school. Or at all, for that matter. I think the thing to realize is that when you graduate high school, you have a lot of choices ahead of you.

Some of those choices will get you closer to where you ultimately want to be. Others will lead you further away. It’s up to you to decipher which is which.

You shouldn’t decide out of fear or because it’s what everyone else is doing or because of statistics, true or otherwise. You should make your choice because it’s what’s best for your future. Because it’s what you feel called to do.

Choose wisely. Choose boldly.

Just, for the love of God, make a decision and give it everything you have.

(*I’m pretty sure you can’t go straight from high school into pro-sports anymore, but you could when I graduated, so, yeah…)

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