25 Pieces of Life Advice for High School Graduates

Hello, High School Graduates,

Welcome to the post high school world!  I know that you've been working hard to get to this point; high school can be difficult, in many ways, and it's impressive that you have reached this point.  You've done quite a good job getting this far, and you are quite well accomplished in that respect.

But this is only the start of your life, and there is a lot that you need to learn as you go onto college and eventually (or instead) claim a job in the real world.  It's tradition in many schools for the speaker at graduation to share some tips on how the graduates can succeed in the real world.  Although I have not been invited to give any graduation speeches (not this year, anyway), I still want to share with any high-school or college level readers these

25 Pieces of Life Advice for High School Graduates

There are many things you'll need to learn if you hope to succeed in life.  I'm going to pass along several pieces of advice that I've learned in the more than a decade since I graduated from high school myself, in the hopes that I can save you so time, effort, and frustration in having to learn these things yourself, starting with:

Advice on Post High-School Life

1. Your High School Persona Means Nothing Now: Whether you were a geek or a jock, a cheerleader or a goth, a preppie or stoner, none of that matters now.  With high school behind you, you will have the chance to completely remake your persona however you wish, becoming the person you wish to become.

Once you toss up that mortarboard, your high school persona is gone
Once you toss up that mortarboard, your high school persona is gone

2. Much of What You Learned is Useless: Sad, but true.  Much, perhaps even most, of what you learned in high school will never need to be used again.  Some skills are useful (computer programming, mathematics, how to study, and any foreign languages, especially), but much of what you studied is useless to you in the real world, as you might well have guessed.

3. Within Five Years, Your Grades Will Be Meaningless: In the not too distant future, the only issue that will matter is whether you graduated or not, not the grades you got.  This is not to say that your grades weren't important, particularly if you wanted to go on to college, but they will rapidly decline in importance over time.

4. Keep Your Friends Close as Possible Connections: It's useful to keep your friends close as time passes, to help expand your possible network.  When you can, help your friends to get jobs and meet similar goals, and they will hopefully return the favor should you need their help in the future.

5. Your Responsibilities are Only Going to Increase: If I haven't already disappointed you about adult life already, here's the real downer: things will only get tougher as you get older.  You will need to work harder, study harder, potentially care for children and family members, and otherwise put in far more effort than you ever did during high school.  As an adult, much more will be expected of you, starting today (if it hasn't already)

Advice for College

6. College is Nowhere Near as Easy as You Might Think: You might be convinced that college is easy, from the movies you've seen and the fact that you are scheduled for 12-18 hours of classes.  Just remember, they give you such a light course load because they expect you to be studying, not drinking, your rump off, and if you don't crack those books regularly, you're not going to do well at all.

7. Make Sure You Choose a Good Major: There are a lot of majors you can choose, but only some will enable you to get a good, high paying job after you graduate.  Stick with those in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or pre-professional fields, if you hope to acquire good jobs upon graduation. Also, if you want to study something technical, then seek out schools with that specialty.

8. Put In the Time and Effort Needed to Do Well: Most college classes, particularly in STEM fields, aren't that easy.  If you hope to acquire a decent grade (which is significantly more important when graduating from college than from high school), you'll need to put in at least 2 to 3 hours of studying for each hour of class in order to do really well.

9. Learn What You Can While You Have the Chance: Take advantage of your college environment to pick up the extra skills and knowledge you hope to acquire, since you will be able to take side courses without too much trouble.  Since you're learning anyway, it's a great time to add to your knowledge base.

10. Build Up Your Network As Best You Can: Being in college provides you an excellent opportunity to add to your possible network.  There will be plenty of students from a broad area, along with professors with numerous connections of their own.  This is the best chance you'll have to develop a great collection of people to help you gain a future job.

Advice For Finding a Job

11. Search Widely, Search Broadly: It's increasingly possible for people to apply for jobs throughout the country, which means that you are facing competition from anywhere and from anyone.  As a result, you need to expand your searches, both in terms of the location, and the type of employment you seek.

12. Don't Get Discouraged by Initial Trouble: You are likely to have trouble getting a job at first.  This is to be expected; right out of college (or high school, for those of you going right into the job market), it can be hard to appeal to would-be employers with your lack of real-world experience, so you need to be patient and ready to face some trouble as you search for your first job.

13. Your First Job May Not Be What Your Expect: Speaking of first jobs, you should be aware that right out of school, your job might not be what you expect.  You may get a job in a different field than you expect, doing something different than what you initially trained for, and you should be ready to adapt accordingly.

14. Keep Your Eyes Open For New Jobs Constantly: The days of getting jobs that would last for an entire lifetime have sadly gone (if they ever existed in the first place), so you need to be ready to find a new position if you find yourself downsized or otherwise out of a position.  Keep your network close, and be ready to take a new position with short notice if the need arises.

15. Consider Starting a Business of Your Own: While I've talked about getting a job so far, that's not the only possibility that exists.  You can start a business of you own if you wish.  Doing so is a complicated issue, one that requires far more information than I can express in one bullet point (or one article, for that matter); still, it is something you should keep in mind, particularly if the thought of working for someone else holds little appeal to you.

Advice on Money

16. Spend Less Than You Earn: There's a lot of information about money you can learn (I've written an entire blog on the subject, and still haven't covered everything), but the most important thing you can do is this: spend less money than you take in.  If you can do that (and it's tougher than it sounds at times), you'll do fine.

17. Keep Those Credit Cards to a Minimum: It's tempting to get as many credit cards as you can, I know; the more you have, the more you can charge, and the more stuff you can get.  It seems like a good thing, but trust me, more credit cards lead to more problems, particularly if you charge them to the max.  You need to make sure you:

18. Watch The Amount of Debt You Take On: Particularly for those of you going to college, it's all to easy to find yourself in tens of thousands of student loan debt, even without using credit cards.  We could talk about ‘good' debt and ‘bad' debt, and the limits you should take on of student loans, but the shortest way to put things is this: the less debt you have, the better things will be.

19. Watch For Scams: There are, unfortunately, many people out there who would rather cheat you out of your money than earn their own.  You need to be on the watch for scams.  I could try to list all the types out there, but by the time I finish, more will arise.  Simply watch for anything that sounds too good to be true and do your homework before giving your money or personal information to anyone, and you should be alright.

20.  Start Investing as Soon as You Are Able: You have an advantage over us older folks when it comes to earning money: time.  If you start to put your money into investments as soon as you have any available, it will grow to sizable amounts come retirement time.  I could go on for the rest of this article and then several others on just what to invest in, but if you find a good, non-scam investment and start now, you'll be well off in a few decades.

Final Advice on Life

21. Keep Expanding Your Skills: Even though you might not use what you studied within this high school in the real world, that is not an indication that you should not learn anything more.  In fact, now that you are more free to study what you wish, you can focus on skills that will help you (I am fond of recommending foreign languages), whether professional or personally.

22. Don't Give Up: It's tempting to conclude that there's nothing you can do to improve your life, and that you should simply settle for what you have and not bother to try.  This is simply not true; with enough effort, anyone can make a better life for themselves.  It's not easy, but spending your twenties and thirties working hard can lead to having a great life in your forties and beyond (and yes, as difficult as it may be to believe now, you will eventually be older than forty).

23. You'll Never Be Younger Than You Are Right Now: Speaking of older, it's worth remembering that each day that passes is a day when you get a little bit older, and a day you will never get back.  The sooner you get started on just about anything, from learning a foreign language to investing, the more time you will have to improve your skills and increase your potential.

24. Give Back As Much As You Can: I realize that right now, you probably don't have much, if anything, to your name; don't worry, that's the normal state of affairs for high school grads from even decently well-off families.  Just remember as you go through life that there are always going to be people who are worse off than you, no matter how rough you might seem to have it, so do what you can to help, from giving money to putting in time at the local food kitchen.

25. Your Life Is In Your Hands: If you remember nothing else from all these tips I'm trying to pass on, remember this: the days when your parents both controlled your life and gave you everything are gone.  You have the ability to shape how your life turns out, and only you can make sure it turns out well.  Use that ability wisely.

There you have it, 25 pieces of advice for high school graduates.  For any recent (or soon-to-be) graduates who happen to be reading, did you find any of these useful as you plot your post-high school life?  For any long ago grads, would you add any advice to pass along to the high school graduates?  Here's hoping all you recent graduates have good luck, regardless of whether you stick to my suggestions or not!

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