After year 12: deciding on your future

By Yvette McKenzie | 21 September 2017

So, you’re in Year 12 and about to embark on some of the biggest exams of your life. Being in Year 12 is tough, there is just so much pressure and everywhere you go, people want to give you advice. School is supposed to prepare you for “the real world” but does it? How much of what you are learning now will be transferable to your future?

Why Year 12 is such a tough thing to do

teenagers smiling in uniform

There are many people out there that say getting through your final exams is one of the toughest things you’ll ever do. The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank is the primary criteria for entry into most of the country's undergraduate university programs. All states have adopted ATAR except for Queensland, which will replace its Overall Position (OP) system with ATAR in 2018.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), “Within Australia, Year 12 attainment is regarded as a key factor in the formal development of an individual's skills and knowledge. Those with Year 12 have a greater likelihood of continuing with further study, particularly in higher education, as well as entering into the workforce.”

But so many organisations admit that this is likely to be one of the most stressful times in a student’s life. The pressure is on to perform and many younger Australians are made to feel like their final exams are the “make or break” of their whole lives, which is not strictly the truth.

Why it’s so hard to decide on your future

group of teenagers hanging out on rooftop

The Conversation recently reported that we often don’t hear about the crippling anxiety and other mental health issues that many students face in completing year 12. A recent report shows that, “over one-third of young people aged between 15 and 19 are ‘highly stressed’ about school. Over half of the 19,000 surveyed felt that academic barriers would impact on their further study and work goals.”

Year 12 is often “positioned as the defining moment”, and the publication points out that many students “falsely believe” that exam failure means absolute disaster for their future. It really does not. One of the main reasons it’s so hard to decide on your future post-final exams is because of this unnecessary pressure. How can you make an informed decision when you’re motivated by fear?

To study, take a gap year or begin a career?

There are generally three well-trod paths that typical Year 12 leavers might take. Further study, whether it’s university, TAFE or college; taking a year or two as a “gap year” to travel, or do other activities; or moving straight into a career.

Further study

“Those who gain an education qualification after high school will get the chance to practise learning independently,” points out Make Your Mark, an information and resources hub for students. “For many people, their further education experience introduces them to life-long friends, shows them that they are capable of trying new things and gives them the opportunity to pursue a wider range of possibilities after they graduate,” as well as opening up more career options.

The “gap year”

“Many students use their gap year to work, travel or volunteer, which gives them a great chance to gain some life experience. Gap year companies cater for students wanting to gain a mind-expanding experience before commencing their studies, providing tailored programs to work, travel and volunteer overseas,” says The Good Universities Guide. After spending so long stressing out, taking time out to discover more about yourself can be vital. Students more often than not use this time well; they volunteer, travel, even start businesses. Some studies show that people who take a gap year are even more likely to complete additional study, when they do return to it.

Career after school

There are some advantages of moving directly into a career after high school. An article by Work Chron points out that you’ll earn more money, gain experience and employability, career exposure and responsibility. “Teens getting real-life experience and knowledge from jobs might be better prepared to handle the coursework if they decide to attend college,” the website says. “Someone who performs basic accounting functions at work might be able to fare well in basic accounting classes in further study.”

What to do if you can’t decide on a path

young woman with sunglasses sitting on step and looking at map

The good news is that the majority of school leavers don’t know exactly what path they want to take immediately after finishing their studies, so if you only have a vague notion (or no idea at all) this is totally normal, and totally fine.

Upskilled has released a guide called How to Ace High School and What to Do After which outlines many topics such as apprenticeships and trades; further study at university or vocational education and training; how to ‘earn and learn’; and other ways to explore the options open to you.

“There’s a range of financial help options for the many paths of further education if you’re eligible which makes further education a good option over travelling or taking a year off,” explains the guide. “When considering a course, think about what you’re going to get out of it and make sure it’s relevant to your dream career or goals.”

Get the right advice

blonde hair teenager in school uniform smiling

It’s important to reach out to your network to get the best advice, but take everything you learn with a grain of salt and look critically at what people are telling you. Just because your mum thinks you should go to law school doesn’t mean it’s the best option for you and just because your father thinks you should move straight into an internship doesn’t mean that’s what you have to do.

The best news is that pretty much any decision you make can ultimately be reversed if it turns out to be the wrong path – so don’t worry! If you find yourself at university, studying the wrong thing, you can usually transfer your degree. If you enter into the workforce and hate it – you can always explore other options out there. Decisions are important, but remember – you’re whole life is still ahead of you.

Download the free High School Guide

If you’d like some information on how to get through your exams, how to prepare for a future career and how to critically assess further study options open to you, download the free Upskilled guide How to Ace High School and What to Do After.

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