A lot of people seem to be setting themselves up badly for life. The amount of stories I have heard about (usually art history, womens studies, philosophy, etc) grad students having to work in jobs such as flipping burgers, working as gallery assistants, or as janitors, has partially prompted me to write this article.

A disclaimer, of sorts, first. I fully appreciate (firsthand) that it’s never too late to turn things around. A casual search online will show you many people who decide to become a doctor in their late 30s and early 40s. With drive and ambition, these things are possible. But this article is not for those people. This article is for the young people out there who havent really dedicated themselves to any career path yet, and want to make the best decision they can.

1. Don’t rush, and get some experience first

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Its easy to feel the pressure to go as soon as you’re out of high school. Pressure from your parents, pressure from your friends, pressure from society. But you need to be brighter than that—you need to realize the time to go is when YOU are ready, not when its expected for you to go.

At ages 18-21 you pretty much know jack shit. Some of you will have a bit more life experience, some of you will be more well read, some of you will be a bit wiser. But you all know very little about yourselves. You might have a roundabout idea of your interests and passions, but you simply will not know yet by that stage in life what you want to be doing as a career.

Get a job. Go and work in the Police. Be an EMT. Do a bit of construction work. Try working your way up to becoming a manager at a retail store. Start looking for work in a field that you are curious about, and which will complement your long term ambitions. This has several purposes

a) You prepare yourself for working in this field in the long run

b) You get to find out if you like that line of work at all to begin with

Case in point, I worked as a beat cop for a while when I was 19-20. It was amazing, and helped me develop my character and personality. But it also helped me learn: it doesn’t suit me. I don’t even like interacting with people all that much. It helped me realize I needed to look for a different line of work. Without that experience, I wouldnt have learned about my weaknesses.

2. Treat college seriously

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Dont waste more time watching nonsense on youtube than you absolutely have to

So, you’ve finally decided to make the decision. You have a good idea of what you want to do in life. Good for you. But you need to now completely dedicate yourself to that path if you want to have a good start, and become the top of your field.

College is a several-year-long job training course. If you pass it well enough, you’ll get into your field of choice. Be lazy, procrastinate, lose sight of your goal—and you’re not going to make it. All you’re doing is wasting time and money that you could have been spending on your first investments or developing yourself in different ways.

People—Americans especially—need to lose this idea that college is a place you go to have fun. If you want entertainment, you go to a circus or a comedy club. College is a place you are accumulating the knowledge and experience to work in your chosen field. So dedicate yourself completely and utterly; anything less than the top grades is unacceptable. Limit your dicking around to one day a week, or save it altogether until you’re done.

3. Don’t specialize in the wrong thing

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When you start thinking about which specialization you want to take in life, don’t just look at what draws you. Thats only half the equation. You need to research and fully understand the job opportunities that are out there.

Case in point, physiotherapy. Many people go down this route due to their interest in health science and exercise (hey, both are interesting, what could go wrong?), but end up disappointed by the job prospects. They end up frustrated by the limitations placed upon their practice. If they did their research, they would have realized nursing is in more demand than ever, has a lot of overlap, and has greater long-term career potential.

Its absolutely crucial that you check whether the career path you are studying towards is in demand. Colleges wont care; they get your cash and then you’re out the door. They have no interest either way in ensuring you pick a good major, only that you pick SOMETHING. You need to be careful with an institution like this.

Use websites like: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/ To check what the prospects are for any field you choose to go down. Choose wisely, or you might be making a mistake that at best will set you back for years.

4. Don’t needlessly pay for your degree

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Whilst it may seem as if the choice is strictly either going to work or going to college, there are some opportunities out there that are a lot more attractive than either of these. There are training opportunities out there that will pay you a wage whilst you study, pay the cost of your certification, and guarantee you a job at the end of it. Some even pay for your accommodation whilst you study.

My personal experience has been with the Merchant Navy, an interesting and unusual line of work. Shipping companies are so starved for deck—and ESPECIALLY engineering—officers aboard their ships, they will bend over backwards to help you enter the industry. As long as you can pass an interview and display some cursory knowledge of maritime life, these companies will pay you a wage to study at a Nautical College to obtain a degree in the field.

These opportunities normally obligate you to work a minimum number of years in the field (three being a common number that I have seen) for the company to see a return, so just bear that in mind.

There are similar opportunities in many fields, from accountancy to paramedic science. I shouldn’t have to emphasize how attractive they are compared with the average rudderless teenager’s chosen college path.

Read More: 10 Things Every College Student Needs To Know