The anxiety surrounding choices in high school and how to escape it

The anxiety surrounding choices in high school and how to escape it

One’s time at high school can often feel like a waiting room. Most of the decisions you make in high school do not directly affect your present life, but rather add up towards your future, which is often the university life you are working towards. Since university is also at the end of the day, a steppingstone towards the career and lifestyle you hope to gain, it can often feel like the decisions you make in high school are extremely crucial and can change the course of your entire life. This sort of thinking is natural but can cause a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety, especially as it isn’t true. The choices you make in high school aren’t permanent or binding. They can be altered. They can be remade. It’s easier to make the choices once you realize that everything doesn’t rest on them. Here are some tips about avoiding anxiety about making choices I thought would be helpful.

Facts reduce stress.

Often, when it comes to deciding subjects for 11th and 12th or career paths you are applying to college for, it helps to be armed with hard facts about the fields of study and its potential careers. Researching on all your areas of interest helps as without detailed knowledge of the subjects and the job opportunities related to them, we are all susceptible to harboring prejudices or misunderstandings about the possibilities available.

For instance, you might think you will need certain subjects for certain careers in high school, but actually several colleges (especially those in the US) are very understanding about prerequisites for fields. Say you didn’t have all the information initially or you changed career paths midway through the application process and realised that you don’t have all the subjects needed for your new chosen field. Well, instead of panicking, see if there are any extra courses you can take outside of school to make up for the requirement and especially check with the colleges you are applying to see if they are too strict about requirements (you’d be surprised to hear that quite a few are not). And even if they are, why panic before you have all the facts?

Even to make decisions about other details, like the salary range for potential careers, it might help to do research, instead of relying on generalities and platitudes that others preach. Most of these are based on preconceived notions or prejudices about certain professions that are far from accurate. Information and knowledge is the greatest deterrent against making unwise decisions.

That being said, don’t let the facts overwhelm you

When you are making decisions about college or anything else in your high school journey, lots of people will have advice for you, opinions on your choices. While it’s important to listen to their suggestions and keep in mind any information that might be helpful for you, don’t let them bombard you with their viewpoints and assertions.

Part of the ethos of high school is to discover yourself, step into your own shoes on your path to adulthood where the choices are yours. It means you have to be confident in your own outlook and not let anxiety about others’ disapproval be the deciding factor. Ultimately, it’s you who’s going to college, you who’s doing all the work in high school. Why do something you don’t believe in? Why waste time on half-hearted attempts, when you can direct your zeal and energy for life into projects you are truly passionate about?

I think sometimes grownups — teachers, parents, etc– can overlook your self-understanding about what motivates you, although of course they do have more experience and knowledge. They still don’t know you the best all the time. Sometimes, even adolescents can be right or even if we aren’t, we could still have important experiences from mistakes that contribute to our understanding of a field, an activity, a skill, etc.

For example, suppose I wanted to add roller skating to my list of extracurriculars at high school, even though I have no prior experience and am really bad at it. Still, I give it a try and really enjoy it. I may never win any medals to add on my resume, but who knows? Maybe I could write a college essay about how much I loved trying a new thing or what drew me to the beauty of skating. What you have to remember is that any choice you make you can learn from in some way, so stressing about making the wrong choice is unnecessary. And that brings me to my next point.

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Don’t be intimidated by others

As you navigate adolescence, you’ll often hear college spoken of in absolute terms. Maybe it’ll be from hyper-competitive peers who are constantly rattling off statistics on the acceptance rates of selective colleges they hope to get in. Come on, let’s face it, everyone has that one friend who’s laser focused on the college race and knows exactly what he/she wants to do. But you can’t let their reality become yours. I have friends who not only knew which colleges were their dream choices from the beginning of high school, but also had their entire major and career completely planned. It intimidated me at first, because I wasn’t anything like that. I liked a lot of subjects, was very confused about my career path (and still am to be honest!)  and hadn’t seriously thought about colleges until it was time to in  the 11th grade.

Anxiety was scary to hear people talk with such surety about the future they wanted or to hear them stress about college statistics that I hadn’t researched on as I worried that I should be more worried (a paradox, but it was a never ending cycle). I think the only thing that helped me through it was an epiphany — I wasn’t like some of my friends and many people simply aren’t like that. College anxiety is a very 21st century concept after all.

If you think about history, not every one of the greats had their life figured out at 16 or 17. JK Rowling did a series of odd jobs, lived in poverty and unemployment for quite a while before she published Harry Potter in her early thirties. I thought of such examples and they helped me remember that every story is different. Yours will be different from your friends. In fact, it’s often better, I find to not think about college in a rigid way.

College is not the end, it’s merely the means to an end.

Many people around you — your friends, your parents and teachers might stress the importance of getting into a good college. And certainly, it’s a good aim to work towards and aspire for. But remember that that aim is just a steppingstone to the larger goal of doing something worthwhile in your life through a career you are good at and enjoy. College is just meant to help you reach that place, but nowadays it’s easy to get the wrong impression because people talk about colleges as if they are status symbols that one must achieve, rather than an education intended to equip one with the knowledge to face the world. So let’s clear the myth one and for all. Your goal is not to get into the Harvard’s and Oxfords of the world, but to use the Harvard’s and Oxfords of the world as a launch pad for your future explorations, prospects and adventures.

And it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get into your dream, hyper-selective colleges. It just means that you might find your launching pad elsewhere. So don’t let the anxiety about which college will make your parents the happiest blind you from the one real thing you should consider: which college is the best suited for your academic or personal journey to success?

That might help you choose and also not place too much importance on your choice; if you think of college more as the Hogwarts Express to a magical world, then Hogwarts itself, then you have gained the confidence to say proudly that you were always destined for magic no matter how you gained it. So even if you miss the train and take a flying car like Harry and Ron did, be happy in the knowledge that it’s still a path to growth (and of course be grateful because not everyone gets to ride a flying car!).

And these are all my tips about avoiding or at least reducing your anxiety over choices during high school. High school is supposed to be a fun journey about discovering oneself, trying new things, asserting one’s independence through shouting matches against parents (ok maybe that’s just me). Don’t let the anxiety overwhelm you so that you don’t get to feel all the other emotions of excitement, wonder and curiosity about the many things you can do with your life. None of the choices you make in high school are permanent, but they will shape you and you will learn from them. So why fear the risk, the change? Either way, you stand to gain. Be brave. Remember these tips. And good luck! Whatever choices you make, may they be yours.

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