You’ll learn more in college than by taking year(s) off

Friday, April 2, 2021, Vol. 45, No. 14

Should high school seniors go straight to college or enter the workforce first? This can feel like a difficult question as young people face such big decisions.

Those who argue they should work a few years say 18-year-olds are too young to make such life-altering decisions. They will take college for granted, select the wrong major and incur high student debt before they know what they really want to do.

While I respect this perspective, I don’t agree with it. I believe high school students, if they can, should go straight to college following high school.

One of the biggest things working against us when we are young is a lack of information. At this age, part of this lack of information is due to a small circle. In other words, you get most of your information about careers from your parents.

Your parents might have very specific careers and done those same jobs for their entire adult lives. And, their knowledge about other careers is limited.

Those same parents are the ones who typically advise their children on career choices, such as what major to select. The problem is, parents also don’t have enough information to give a solid recommendation.

Sending these students out into the workforce (or on a backpacking trip) is not the answer. At this age, you’re qualified to do very few jobs. It can be hard to even secure an unpaid internship.

A high school graduate might end up working in fast food, as a nanny or in some other entry-level job. These jobs won’t give more information about what major to select.

Two things happen when a high school student goes straight to college. First, they aren’t taken off their normal path. They don’t end up never going back to school. They don’t end up in some unfortunate life situation that derails them.

Second, they are exposed to other students. Those students come from different families with different parents and different information about careers. They also have the opportunity to be exposed to professors from various backgrounds and other career advisers.

And they will likely have the option to complete an internship or two that will give them real-life career experience.

All of these things expand the amount of information to which they have access. It gives them a better chance of making the right decision about their ultimate career.

This brings us to the worry about picking the right college major. It is very common to graduate with a degree in one thing and end up doing something different in your career.

A college major is often less important than we assume. Ask your friends what they studied and you might be surprised.

The most important is finishing college. There is no substitute.

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at