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Take it from us

Some of your friends are going off to university and you don’t know if you fit in? Same. I understand.

I finished my university degree last week and I’ve no idea what to do with my life. The last three years have been a wonderful break from the whole ‘terrified of the future’ thing but now, I’m at a loss.

I think when we’re in school, we always see adulthood as this ‘mystical land’ where everyone knows what they’re doing. When you actually leave high school and head out into the ‘real world’, you learn that that’s not the case. Humans are all stumbling around trying to survive, it’s just that when you’re an adult, you’re able to do that with the help of (legally purchased) alcohol.

I had a chat to some of my friends about finishing high school. They range in age from their early twenties to their mid-30s, and all of them took different paths when they left high school. If you’re worried about what your life is going to be like now you’ve escaped the shackles of schooling, this might give you an idea of all the places you could go.

Me? I left high school and went straight to Victoria University to do a theatre and film degree. My high school career advisers are probably not super happy with that decision, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Moving away from Gisborne has given me the opportunities and drive to find something I wanted to do, rather than being constantly influenced by my peers around me. Next year, I intend to start a Masters of Fine Arts, and I hope that will lead me somewhere fulfilling. Studying in the entertainment field is always a risk, but I don’t think I could have done anything else. High school became such a downer in the end and I needed to go somewhere else to escape that routine.

F (31), lives and works in Wellington. She went straight into university from high school.

“I didn’t have any specific goals. I didn’t even know what degree I wanted or what papers to take. When I came back to do my Masters after a few years of working it was so much better. I wanted to be there for the right reasons.”

F thinks that she wanted to be independent and found that moving to Wellington was what gave her that chance. She suggests, “Think about what you want to do. If you don’t know what to do then don’t rush into a student loan!”

B (21), lives and studies in Christchurch. She also went straight into university from high school.

“I went into university wanting to do something very specific, but I ended up changing my degree to something broader so I’ll have more options after finishing uni.”

She suggests talking to people doing the degree you have in mind, and thinking about which city you want to live in when you’re studying. A lot of New Zealand cities have very different vibes (contrast the scale of Auckland University as opposed to a smaller university in a more intimate city) and you want to live in a place that’ll fit you.

H (20) took on a full-time job after she left high school. She currently works as a short haul flight attendant between Australia and New Zealand.

“Not going into tertiary study gave me time to think about what I wanted to do with my future and my career. I didn’t want to study something I wasn’t 100 percent sure about. I knew I wanted to leave Gisborne, but I had no idea how to take the first step.”

She enjoys how her current job always keeps her on her toes, and how there’s a lot of opportunities for growth. “Don’t be afraid to take a gap year after school. It’s fine to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, because chances are most of your friends feel like that too. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone once in a while.”

P (21) studies in Wellington. He came to university after taking a gap year upon finishing high school.

“I travelled through Europe. This was, naturally, a lot of fun, and taught me to be independent.”

He suggests reading a lot of books and spending time with dogs.

In all, the decision to go to uni when you finish high school, or into a trade, or straight to work, or even going overseas should be your decision, and yours alone. If you’re just going to uni because your friends are, there’s no guarantee that you’ll take anything from that experience.

This article has the opinions of five different people in it, but there are a multitude of other paths I didn’t even touch on. I’m not saying university is bad, but it’s just not for some people. Work, gap years or travelling are perfectly valid options as well. Do what suits and inspires you the most.

Be selfish for once. Do something for your future.

Otherwise, what’s the point?