3 Things You Should Learn Before College That High School Doesn’t Teach
High school teaches a wide range of skills and knowledge: the use of the Pythagorean theorem, how to read and analyze Shakespeare, that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, and much more.
But high schools are sometimes lacking in vital real-world information. Let’s look at three things every student should know that high school doesn’t teach: budgeting, the dangers of social media, and how to explore career options.
Finances are one topic that every adult will have to tackle in the real world. Unfortunately, it’s a topic that very few students learn in school.
What is budgeting?
One important aspect of finances is budgeting — the act of balancing your income with your expenses. A budget is your plan for how you will spend (and save) your money. When you know where your money is going, your finances are much easier to manage and you’re less likely to find yourself in a financial mess.
How do you make a budget?
You can create a weekly budget or a monthly budget. Either way, you’ll need to know your income (how much money you’ll be making) for that time period.
Let’s say your part-time job and/or allowance earns you $500 in income each month. Once you know your income, it’s time to think about expenses. You’ll make a list of each expense you have for that month, starting with the most important (such as credit card or car payment) and ending with the least important (like entertainment). As you get older and expenses expand to include things like rent, utility bills, and groceries, you’ll have practice at tracking these kind of things, and be ready to take on a more complex budget.
Some budget categories, like your bills, will stay the same every month. Others may be one-time expenses, like birthday gifts or attending a special event. That’s why you customize your budget each month (or even each week, if you prefer).
It’s also a good idea to allot some money to go toward savings. If your savings plan is “any money that’s left over,” it’s easy not to leave any money for savings. But if you plan to save $100 each month, you’re much more likely to see your savings account grow.
You must make your budget before each month begins. After that, the key is to stick to the plan you’ve created for yourself.
Budget Tips and Tricks
Of course, sticking to the budget isn’t always easy. One thing to keep in mind is that a budget is not preventing you from buying things that you want. It’s simply preventing you from making those impulse buys that you’ll probably regret later.
For example, if you know that you really want the latest pair of Jordans, you probably also know when that pair of shoes will be released. Simply write the shoes into your budget for that month. Depending on your income, this may mean making sacrifices in other non-essential categories. A budget allows you to prioritize and plan for the purchases that are truly important to you.
If you’re still struggling with your budget, you may want to try the envelope trick. Here’s how:
- Continue paying your monthly bills online or using your usual method.
- Label an envelope for each additional expense category, however small: Groceries, Entertainment, Clothing, Snacks, etc.
- Inside each envelope, put the amount of money (in cash) that you’ve planned to spend on that category for that month. If you’ve budgeted $100 for entertainment, for example, you’ll put $100 cash inside the Entertainment envelope.
- The money in each envelope is the only money you can spend on that category until the end of the month.
Physically seeing and touching the money assigned to each category is helpful for some people who struggle to stick to their budget.
Whatever strategies you use, following a budget will help you manage your finances wisely and plan for a financially secure future.
2. The Pitfalls of Social Media
In many ways, social media can be a helpful tool and a useful means of connecting with people around the world. However, today’s social media culture presents some dangers as well.
Your school may mention the dangers of online predators or the harmful effects of cyberbullying, but it’s unlikely that you’ve learned about all the ways social media can have a negative impact.
Social media addiction
Drugs and alcohol are addictive because they stimulate the brain’s reward circuit, which is wired to encourage humans to repeat activities that are necessary for survival (like eating and reproducing).
When the reward circuit is stimulated, it releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine signals to the brain, “This activity is enjoyable. We should do it again.” Over time, it causes changes in neural connectivity that make it easy to repeat the behavior without even thinking about it. While this is fine when the behavior is eating, it’s a different story when the behavior is substance abuse.
What else stimulates the reward circuit and releases dopamine? Positive recognition from peers, which is now most easily and abundantly found on social media. Each notification, complimentary comment, or “like” on your latest photo causes a burst of dopamine. Our brains are gradually trained to repeat the activity, and social media becomes addictive.
There are many reasons social media addiction is bad for us, but one of the biggest, and simplest, is wasted time. The average person spends two hours and 22 minutes per day on social media. This number is likely higher for teenagers.
This translates to nearly 20 hours a week — almost a whole day — lost to social media. What else could you do with an extra day?
Effects on mental health
All this time on social media also has a negative impact on mental health. It’s linked to less moment-to-moment happiness, less life satisfaction, higher levels of depression and anxiety, and lower self-esteem. It can also mess up your sleep cycle, which isn’t good for your mental health either.
One reason social media is unhealthy is that it practically forces us to compare ourselves to others. And just like you don’t post pictures of the moments when your life is less than awesome, neither does anyone else.
So, you’re scrolling past everyone’s carefully curated highlight reel and wondering why your life isn’t as cool. You’re also comparing yourself to Facetune and filters and asking, “Why don’t I look like that?” when the truth is that the person in the photo doesn’t look like that either.
Future college/job prospects
In the modern hiring process — and sometimes even when you’re applying to college — it’s fairly standard for employers/admissions officials to look for the candidate on social media.
If your social media is filled with inappropriate pictures or references to illicit/illegal activities, it can have a direct negative impact on your future.
How to minimize your risks
If you’re applying to college soon, there’s a good chance you grew up with social media all around you. There’s no reason to suddenly go without it, but it doesn’t hurt to ensure that your social media usage doesn’t become too constant so that you can prioritize your productivity. There are several time-tracking and website-blocking apps that will help you boost your productivity. These include:
- Moment: Once you set up how many minutes per day you want to use social media, this app will send you regular (and sometimes irritating!) alerts when you exceed your limit. If you want your parent or sibling to hold you accountable, you can also offer them control of your daily usage limit through the app.
- Forest: This app uses an interesting concept to keep you motivated to stay off social media — when you first use the app, you will plant a seed. If you exceed your daily limits, your tree will die. If you want your tree to flourish, you’ll need to put your phone down and get to work. It’s quite effective!
- Offtime: Perhaps the most restrictive app on this list, Offtime lets you block access to apps, texts, and calls. If alerts aren’t enough to dissuade you from social media usage, Offtime is the app for you.
Growing up with social media also means that means much of your life has been uploaded onto Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms already.
That’s fine, but as you grow older, it’s important to be more judicious about what you post, and take down any questionable content that you might have on your social media profiles. If you think there are controversial posts on your social media feeds, it’s time to take those down as well. College admissions officers want to avoid admitting students of questionable character onto their campuses.
Here’s how you can clean up your social media profiles:
- Set your profiles to private until you graduate and set foot on your college campus. Don’t risk letting admissions officers see anything potentially troubling.
- Google your name to see what pops up. Do this a few times a year for the rest of your professional life so that you’re on top of what is associated with your name.
- Get a trusted friend to comb through your social media profiles and flag anything troubling. Go back to these flagged posts and consider taking them down.
- Once you’re a college student, employers will check your profiles when you apply for internships and jobs. Your best bet is to avoid posting anything needlessly crass, inflammatory, or illegal on social media from then on. Or, even easier, keep your profile private.
- Create a LinkedIn profile and update it with relevant information. This should be one of the first things that pops up when colleges and employers search your name.
- Later on, create a simple WordPress website that features your portfolio and skills. The more you fill up the first page of Google when your name is searched, the less attention you’ll draw to your social media profiles.
Moving forward, you want to follow these rules as you go through your college journey:
- Don’t post pictures of drinking, parties, or alcohol until you’re 21.
- Never use sexist or racist terms, regardless of the context.
- Don’t badmouth employers.
- Stay civil when engaging with other people’s profiles. You never know who might come across your comments.
3. How to Explore Career Options
When you’re in high school, it’s likely that you don’t realize the truly expansive range of careers available to you. You may be completely clueless about what you’d like to do, or you may have had the same career goal since you were six-years-old. But unless you explore what’s out there, you risk missing out on a great career that’s the best fit for you.
Here are a few ways to learn more about your career options.
Start with Your Interests
- What do you like to do?
- What genuinely excites you or motivates you?
- What could you spend hours doing if you had the free time?
It may seem like just a hobby to you now, but it’s very likely that you can find a career related to your passion. Try searching Google for “jobs for people who love dogs,” “careers that involve science,” “jobs for people who like reading,” or whatever else interests you.
If you come across a career that sounds promising, find out more about it.
- What are the responsibilities of the job?
- What degree or other requirements does the job have?
- What’s the salary?
You can repeat this same process for your top skills.
Talk to People
Find out what your parents, relatives, and the other adults in your life do for a living. Ask questions about the daily responsibilities of their job and ask yourself if it’s something you would enjoy.
You can also ask adults around you what careers they think would be a good fit for you. Mention what you like to do or what career fields interest you. If they offer a suggestion that piques your curiosity, find out more, just like in the previous exercise.
There are also plenty of helpful resources available online, like My Next Move. On My Next Move, you can search careers by keywords, browse careers by industry (like Government, Media & Communication, or Management), or simply answer questions about what you like to do and receive some recommendations.
The last option is called an “aptitude test.” Aptitude tests ask you questions that gauge your interests (and sometimes your skills), then suggest careers that might be a good fit. Other examples of helpful aptitude tests include:
While you shouldn’t build your entire future around a free online aptitude test, they can introduce you to careers you’ve never considered before.
Job shadowing gives you the opportunity to spend a day or two at work with someone who has a career you’re interested in. You can ask questions, observe, and get an inside look at a day on the job.
Internships are a short-term work experience, paid or unpaid, in a career area of interest. You may spend some time filing paperwork or answering phones, but you’ll also get to help with more important tasks, sit in on meetings, and network with people who could offer you a real job in the future.
Both options allow you to see whether a career is really the right fit for you before you fully commit. They can also be helpful in choosing your college major.
Final Thoughts: 3 Things Every Student Should Know That High School Doesn’t Teach
You won’t find this information in the pages of your high school textbooks. Still, every student should know what a budget is and how to create one. You should also be aware of the dangers of spending too much time and energy on social media. And understanding how to explore career options is vital.
As you prepare to venture into the real world, think critically, ask questions, and pursue skills and knowledge that may not have been taught in high school.
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