Congratulations. With each passing day, you get one step closer to your high school graduation. This will be a big moment in your life. I hope you will be able to enjoy this accomplishment. I would encourage you to take some time to reflect on all that God has done over this season of your life. Take time to thank those who have played a pivotal part of it—I know I wish I would have done more of this myself.
You are about to make some big decisions that will have major implications for your life. You are probably all too aware of this every time someone asks: “What are your plans after graduation?” I remember getting that question myself. For a while I didn’t have an answer. And there are only so many ways you can say, “I don’t know.” I know you’ve been struggling with this because you are unsure of what is best for you. Will you go the traditional college route? Or will you pursue training to enter the workforce? On the one hand, a college degree is seen by many as the new high school diploma. Everyone assumes that you will go to college and get an undergraduate degree. Yet, there are also great careers available to those who pursue associates degrees, vocational training or apprenticeships. I know you have heard from a number of different people on this issue, but I wanted to share a few thoughts with you that I hope will be helpful to you.
First, I want to you to be aware of what you are deciding between. A four-year degree at a liberal arts university is focused on what kind of person you will be when you graduate. You will spend a lot of time reading and writing. But you will also enjoy community, personal development, room to explore different interests and unique career opportunities. Vocational training is focused on what kind of skills you will be able to do when you are finished. This path may involve community college, trade school or apprenticeship programs. You will spend a lot of time doing hands-on work or even on-the-job training.
Both of these paths will help form you as a person or develop your skills. You may not prefer all the reading and studying of a four-year degree, but you should not neglect the formation of your mind and character. You may not see yourself working with electronics or welding, but you should not discount the work of your hands. Honestly, you may need to be pushed to pursue a four-year degree and beyond. Or you may need to be freed up to know that it is okay to pursue a different path with vocational training. Each path comes with its own set of questions and pressures. You may have difficulty knowing whether you are making the right decision.
Another important area for you to consider is student loan debt. This is perhaps biggest issue facing undergraduate students today. Nearly 70% of graduates have student loans and the average student loan debt is $30,000. Once you add interest to these loans, you could easily be making $300-400 student loan payments after you graduate. And this doesn’t take into account those who pursue graduate school, which is often a necessity for many career paths. While many repayment options use a 10-year plan, it takes many people up to 20 years to pay off their student loans. I do not want to scare you away from pursuing a college degree, but I do want to give you a dose of reality. You have to ask yourself: How much debt should you go into in seeking your degree? What will your plan be to pay off your student loans? Are you willing to work while your pursuing your degree? Are there companies that offer tuition reimbursement? What type of scholarships might you be eligible for? Student loan debt may be inevitable for you if you pursue a four-year degree, but don’t fail to count the cost of it or to have a plan for how to tackle it.
So how do you go about making this decision and all the little decisions along the way to discovering God’s direction for your life? It might sound over-simplistic, but commit this decision to God. Spend time in prayer. Spend time in God’s Word. Far too often we fail to allow God’s Word to inform our thinking about our gifts and desires. One author said it this way,
The vocation for you is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need – something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done.
I like that: your deep gladness + the world’s deep need = your calling. To be fair this is not an exact formula, and it will take some time to develop what this looks like in your life. But you must begin where you are right now and seek God’s wisdom for the next step. Take some time to think and pray through:
- What desires has God given you?
- What gifts do you have that are a blessing to others?
- What brings you deep gladness?
- What needs around you are you compelled towards helping meet?
Sorry for the all the questions. But my point is that you cannot figure these things out on your own. To further complicate the matter, your answers to these questions may change in a year or two from now. If you trust the God with the details of your life now, you will be ready to do so in the future when your finances are short, a family emergency dictates a different plan or you change majors or career paths. In short, you need God’s wisdom. The good news is that He delights to give wisdom to those who ask for it.
I would also encourage you to seek wise, godly counsel from a parent, teacher, school counselor or a pastor. God has put these people in your life for a reason. Don’t miss out on the benefit of godly counsel. I especially encourage you to talk with your pastors and leaders in your local church. When God saved you, He brought you into His family—the church. It is in the church that God is making you into who He desires you to be and sending you into the world to accomplish His purposes. You need community to hold you accountable, to affirm the direction you may be sensing and to give wisdom and counsel.
Perhaps college is the best the choice for you, but where do you and what degree do you pursue? Your church may be able to point in you in the direction of a college near a church plant that could use your help. Your leaders may also be able to affirm certain gifting and skills they’ve seen in your life over the years. Perhaps vocational training is the route for you, your church can provide counsel for which direction to pursue and even help make connections with those in the field of your interest. Seek wise counsel from whoever God has put in your life—parents, teachers, friends—but make sure you do not to cut out your church family, especially those whom God has called to watch over and shepherd you towards godliness and fulfilling God’s mission.
Finally, remember God’s perspective on vocation. Vocation simply means calling, or better yet, the callings that God gives us as a means to glorify Him through loving Him and loving others. Our first calling is to know and love God. Flowing out of this first calling comes all our other callings—family, church, work/career, community, etc… You may be tempted to think that your decision about college is what defines you. But in those moments, remember your first calling. Let Christ define you.
Yet your decision about college or the workforce does matter to God. In many ways, it will determine how you spend the majority of your time over the course of your life. By it you will have the opportunity to glorify God, tangibly serve others and participate in God’s mission. These things remain the same whether you get a college degree in business administration or pursue vocational training to become a computer programmer, HVAC technician or medical assistant.
Your education and work matter to God regardless of the route He leads you down. Seek God’s wisdom, seek wise counsel and pursue the desires God has given you. Be patient and prayerful as God gives greater clarity and direction along the way. Whatever route you take and whatever God calls you do, do it faithfully as a means of loving Him and loving others.
One last thing: Enjoy the freedom of knowing your identity is found in Christ, not in your education or work. When you understand that truth, you will be most free to pursue your education and work as means of loving God and loving others.
I hope we can sit down soon and talk through everything. Until then, know that I am praying with you as you think through these things and make decisions about your future.
Your brother in Christ,