I'm in my last year of high school and about to move on to the next stage, undergraduate programs. The problem is that I don't care about any of my subjects enough to continue them at a higher level. I don't have any of that love for my potential subjects that good students seem to have, which gives them so much motivation.

On the other hand, there's no better time than after secondary education to get a degree. Should I suck it up, continue, and get a degree and better job prospects sooner? Or wait a year and spend more time to try to find something I would really like to study?

Quick note: The universities of the country I'm in don't do a liberal arts style (US style) education. We pick our subject before we go, then study solely that subject for 3 or so years.

  • Are you in a country where you study a limited number of subjects (ex. UK) or where you can take a lot of different courses (ex. USA)? – mkennedy Mar 3 '19 at 19:42
  • UK. I'm in sixth form right now. – user94479 Mar 3 '19 at 19:43
  • You should check out some Uni's that have modular programs... – Solar Mike Mar 3 '19 at 20:07
  • I don't think they exist in the UK. Also, why the downvote? – user94479 Mar 3 '19 at 21:18
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    No matter what you do, after a few years it's just a job. Pick something that uses subjects you're good at and at least you'll have an advantage. Or take a break from school, get a really crappy low-paying job with no dignity, and roommates who steal your stuff because you can't afford your own place. Find your inspiration for college. – A Simple Algorithm Mar 4 '19 at 19:42

Decision-making is a science, so I'll try my best to stick to the science instead of trying to push you into academia because, well, judging by the name of this place, I'm probably a bit biased. The extent of my expertise in the science of decision making is that I once read a book about the subject. Disclaimers out of the way, this is a short procedure for making a decision:

  1. Make sure you know what problem you are trying to solve. Why do you want to go to university? A good job, living the uni student life, etc.

  2. Specify what exactly you want to achieve. Do you want a better salary, a job in an office, a job outdoors, learning to be independent, living with young adults your age, etc.

  3. Think of alternative ways you can achieve your objectives. Have an open mind here.

  4. Think of the consequences for each of your options. What happens to you 5 and 10 years down the road? how certain are you of those consequences and how can you reduce that uncertainty?

  5. Make a table listing your options alongside all the pros and cons you can come up with during a week or so. Consider the respective weights of each pro. Do the pros and cons of option 1 cancel out, or do the pros outweigh the cons? Also try to put things into perspective. "Is 30k of student debt worth the pros of getting a degree?" becomes "are the pros of getting a degree worth X amount of dollars per month for X ammount of years?" or "are the pros of getting a degree worth living in a smaller house?". Be creative, but also be realistic.

  6. Sixth and perhaps the most important step for your question, make sure you identify the uncertainties affecting your decision. For example, how sure are you that you won't eventually grow to like your subject of study? Try to assign percentages to this. Can you bear the consequences of not liking the subject? How much debt, and what will that mean in your day-to-day life? Try finding new data to fill these uncertainties.

Other general advice:

  • Don't avoid the decision because it's complex. Avoidance often gives you the worse possible outcome.
  • Don't be afraid to change your mind in the face of new evidence. If after your first few months you learn or you get a gut feeling this isn't the subject for you, go through this process again.
  • Keep in mind the heuristics that may be at play, such as the anchoring trap, the status quo trap, the cherry-picking trap, the overconfidence trap, etc.
  • Take your time. You would not buy a house after only a few hours of thought. Making choices when you are young is like steering a ship when you've just left the harbor. The older you get and the farther that boat has gone off-course, the harder it is to correct it, but not impossible! But it pays to spend a few weeks, months or even a year charting your route and getting your heading right. And if you are completely lost, then you need data, and to get data you often need to try new stuff, like joining the military to see if you like it.

There are many books about decision making. My comment is based on Smart Choices, by Hammond, Keeney, and Raiffa (2002) and Benjamin Franklin's letter on decision-making sent to J. Priestley in 1772. I also recommend Meg Jay's The Defining Decade. This is a much lighter read than the first book I mentioned, but it will make the consequences of your decisions clear, maybe even painfully so.


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  • +1. This is a very good answer for just about any decision. In this case, going to college (esp. if you pick a bad subject) is risky, but not going is also risky -- quantifying all possible paths is MUCH better than just missing the application deadline and then having only one path left. – cag51 Mar 5 '19 at 4:46

Don't take this as advice about what you should do. But here are three things to think about in forming decisions about your future.

First, whatever you do in a state of indecision, do something that keeps your future options open. Don't overcommit to any one thing if it makes it hard to implement a change of heart/mind.

Second, make a list of all your options, both in education and otherwise, work, travel, writing, etc. It can be a long list depending on your resources.

Finally, if you do go to university, still in a state of indecision, choose a field that is generalist and foundational rather than more specific. The two that first come to mind for me are Philosophy and Mathematics. Both are good for teaching you how to think. A Writing focused program might be another possibility, depending on your larger interests. You can do a lot of things if you can think and you can write and you have patience.

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Go into the military. You'll either hate it and be glad to go back to school, two years later. Or you'll like it. In any case, you can learn a trade there. Plus it gives you something to talk about, later in life.

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  • The UK military's term of enlistment is 4 years, according to a quick Google search I just made. – nick012000 Mar 5 '19 at 4:28

You might also want to consider getting a trade qualification rather than a university degree, if you're less of an academic type of person. A good plumber or electrician can often make more money than a university graduate, without needing to go into debt to get their piece of paper.

If you're a high school student, you should have guidance counselors at your school that can assist you with this decision-making process, and help provide you with relevant information; you might want to consider making an appointment with them to discuss things with them.

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  • This answer feels very US centric while the OP says they are British, the reality of education, finance and careers varies greatly. And ive never seen a "guidance counselor" in a UK school – Vality Aug 20 '19 at 20:42
  • I’m an Australian, actually. The fact he said he was British was why I said “getting a trade qualification” rather than “going to TAFE”, since I don’t know what the British equivalent of TAFE is; I think the American version of it is community college, but I’m not sure. – nick012000 Aug 20 '19 at 23:24
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    sorry about that. I assumed based on your calling of it high school (its called FE College, or 6th form in the UK). I didnt know Australia called it highschool too. Apologies from assuming wrong. If it helps the rough UK equivalant is a "higher certificate" (a 2 year course that teaches a trade or technology) though it often also requires fees or loans. Though admittedly the UK loans are a bit of a steal given the income contingent repayment plans and usually very low interest rates. You do make a compelling case. Hopefully some of that helps. And again apologies for the mistake. – Vality Aug 21 '19 at 0:18

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