Depending on where you are in the process and how you approach making decisions, applying to university or college can be an experience fraught with fear, tension and anxiety.
Just when it seems that you have a handle on high school, you are thrown into a whole new world of requirements, forms and deadlines. Once again, you are the new kid trying to get into the group.
Are you really starting all over again? Are you really at the mercy of soulless university computers that use mystical formulas to calculate your marks and admission committees who have never met you? Is there anything you can do that can make a difference?
Your attitude and approach to the process can make the difference. Think about your adjustment to high school. In most cases, you learned not only what was taught in class, but also quite a few life skills, such as decision making. Applying to university is just another exercise in decision making. Nothing more, nothing less.
What is the process to make a decision? Let me save you some search time. An article about decision making from the Ontario Women’s Directorate and Times Change lists 10 practical decision-making steps that follow in red. I’ve expanded on each of these steps to help you with your unique decision of planning life after high school.
1. Define the decision to be made.
What do you want to study in university or college? If you have no idea, do some self-reflection. What do you enjoy doing? What gives you personal satisfaction? On what talent, skill or accomplishment have other people complimented you? What adult do you admire and why? What would you do if you could do anything you wanted? Do you want to continue immediately with postsecondary education? Is taking a year off after high school to travel or work something to consider?
2. Gather the necessary information.
Designate a drawer, shelf, binder or another place where you will keep your materials. Then, brainstorm. Make lists and do not yet rule out anything. Search the Internet. Virtually every occupation has a professional association you can join, and career information is usually a key element of those association Web sites. Talk to anyone who may have some information or who can recommend someone else to give you information. Friends, recent graduates, university students, teachers, guidance counsellors, librarians, specialists, neighbors, relatives, parents and friends of your parents can also be resources for you.
3. List all your possible choices.
Organize your research. Establish categories of information for comparison. Sample categories for career choices could be:
Things I like to do
Things I don’t like to do
Working with people, ideas or things
Working by myself or with others
Working for myself, a big company, a middle-sized company or a small company
Sample categories for universities or colleges could be:
Large, medium or small
Public or private
Coed or single sex
Local, out of town, out of province or out of Canada
Clubs and activities available
4. Consider possible outcomes for each choice.
Think about the future. What are the consequences of choosing a particular career? Do you have the grades to enter a particular program or area? Will you earn enough to live the lifestyle you would like? Do not use prime-time television entertainment programs as a reality check. Few, if any, of your colleagues will look or behave like the actors on “CSI” or “Friends.” Talk to several people who actually do what you think you want to do. Ask if you can spend some time working, volunteering or shadowing them in the job’s setting.
5. Check out how you feel about each of the choices.
Can you see yourself making the personal investment necessary to succeed? Can you put up with some aspects of a job that you may not like? For example, some jobs require sitting at a desk with little or no physical activity while others require spending most of your time outdoors regardless of the weather. In some occupations or professions, there is very little contact with other people while in others there is a great deal.
6. Relate the choices to your values and priorities.
Will this career or area of work bring you real satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment? Will you look forward to each day of work or will you only look forward to paydays, weekends and holidays? Are you setting yourself up for any personal, family, religious or moral conflicts?
7. From the possible alternatives, choose one.
Having done the preceding steps carefully, this task should be less daunting. You may want to leave yourself some room to maneuver by ranking your options in order of preference. Choose a plan B, C and maybe even D. List one or more alternative courses of action should you need to change direction. Career counsellors today predict most people will actually have several different careers in the course of their lives.
8. Commit yourself to your chosen decision and disregard the others.
Concentrate your energies in one direction. Do not second-guess yourself or hesitate. After you arrive at a set of priorities, go for it. Keep all your materials in an organized manner. You have considered your options in a thorough and logical way. This will give you the self-confidence to proceed further. You have taken charge of the process.
9. Take steps to turn your decision into positive action.
Find out what deadlines you have to meet, and write a plan to meet them. Buy a calendar that you can keep in an easily accessible place, and refer to it often. Set interim deadlines so that you leave yourself time to think, write, proofread and revise. Pay attention to your marks. Prepare your application and any supplementary application materials carefully. Once again, know the applicable deadlines and plan your time so that you can meet them and submit your best work.
10. Evaluate your progress.
Change your decision if necessary. While some things in life are beyond your control-—university fund-raising efforts, for example—how you respond to those external events is in your hands. Here is where having a carefully thought-out plan B comes in very handy. You can make major adjustments (selecting another program because you just can not deal with chemistry or your audition was not strong enough) or minor ones (deciding in which dormitory you want to live or the color of your pillowcase.)
It is very important to understand that the decision-making process never stops because we never stop making decisions. That is also what makes it so useful. Each time you use the process to make a decision, you get better at making decisions. You can adjust it to your personality, lifestyle and the particulars of the occasion. Knowing how to make a decision can help you channel your energies into productive paths.
You can spend a great deal of time and effort worrying about making any decision. You can also spend a great deal of psychological energy being mad at yourself for procrastinating. You can choose to make decisions in a systematic way that responds to your needs and those of the world around you.
It’s your decision.