As a 17-year old young woman, I faced the same question as many others: what should I do after graduating from high school? I didn’t have any marriage prospects or much direction regarding my future. I was considering areas as varied as theater, graphic design, high school English teaching, and even foreign missions!
Fast-forward almost 20 years, and I’m a stay-at home mom with 2 kids and 1 one on the way. In the intervening years, I’ve worked a number of jobs (restaurants, factory, medical offices, schools & universities), gotten college degrees (B.S. in Spanish Education and M.A. in TESOL & Applied Linguistics), and lived in several states and countries.
During these years I’ve had the privilege of working with young women as a high school teacher (5 years), and in college ministry (10 years) who’ve faced the same question: what do I do after high school? I’ve seen many of them make profitable use of this exciting time in their lives. And I’ve seen others squander it. My desire is to share some of what I’ve learned over the years to young ladies (and their parents) in hopes that it might be of some help.
I plan to do this with a few posts. This first one raises some important questions to consider. In the next post I will address some of the advantages (and particularly dangers!) of common post-high school options as well as offer practical tips for whichever path you choose. In the third post, I’ll offer some advice to young women who may have finished college but have no prospects of marriage on the horizon.
So, let’s begin with some questions to ask yourself:
1). What gifts and abilities has God given me, and how can those be used for him?
God has given “varieties of gifts” to the members of the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12). It’s helpful to consider how God has made you in particular, and how you may fit with others in the body of Christ. Don’t be discouraged if you’re a “hand” rather than a “foot.” Accept it as God’s sovereignty in your life, and then figure out what you can do as a “hand” for the body. So, ask yourself:
1. How has God made me?
Get honest assessments of your gifts and abilities from others who know you well, such as parents, teachers, pastors or elders. Listen to them if they tell you that you are not gifted enough to pursue certain areas, or if they see qualities you may not have noticed.
Also, don’t ignore the obvious: in making you female, God has already crafted you toward certain ends. There are many directions you can take which can help you to develop godly femininity, but others (say, enlisting in the army or pursuing a modeling career) that are set up to be in opposition to what a godly woman is called to do. So reject options that are not a good fit with how God made you.
2. How can I serve God with what he’s given me?
Keep the end goal in mind: bringing glory to God as a useful member of the body. If you do that, it will affect the choices you make, such as where you go, who you study under, etc. Some of the clearest examples I’ve seen of this are in music. I’ve seen young ladies pursue musical careers to bring glory and fame for themselves. And I’ve seen others study music humbly and selflessly. They’ve been able to use their skills to teach others and play for the church, and are among the sweetest, godliest women I’ve known.
3. What options do I have for honing these abilities?
Don’t be pigeonholed into a particular path just because you have certain abilities. Think creatively and research the various options available. So, say you have skill in photography. You could major in it at a traditional 4-year college (taking a lot of unrelated courses along the way). Or you could go to a specialized school/program focusing on this field. Or you could apprentice with a photographer. Consider the various advantages and disadvantages of your options carefully (more on that in my next post!)
2). What are the spiritual ramifications for the path(s) I am considering?
Just because you are interested or good at something doesn’t mean that it will be beneficial to your soul or those of others. In our Christian liberty, many things are permissible for us, but not all things are profitable (I Corinthians 10:23).
1). Consider the spiritual environment:
Will this path surround me with people or ideas that are opposed to God?
You can’t expect to completely surround yourself with toxic influences and remain spiritually healthy. If you put yourself in an environment with primarily ungodly friends, you will be led astray (there are plenty of warnings in Proverbs). Similarly, if you walk into an environment where all the teaching is contrary to the Word of God, those worldly philosophies are likely to take you captive. Certain fields of study are so thoroughly steeped in ungodliness that it’s foolish for Christians to pursue them: for example, gender studies, queer theory, or any sexuality major at a secular university. And others (say, English literature or visual arts) will need extremely careful consideration as to where they are studied (depending on the professors in the program). For example, since many of my interests were in drama, I had to turn down some options simply because the spiritual environment was dangerous. A career in theater can be dangerous not only because of the company you often have to keep (1 Cor. 15:33), but because of the compromising works you’ll be asked to perform.
Is there a good church where I’m headed?
One of my biggest regrets during college was choosing my study-abroad university based entirely on its academic reputation and with no thought to church. Indeed, when I arrived in my city, I was unable to find a church, had little Christian fellowship, and not surprisingly, struggled spiritually the entire semester. During one of my breaks I visited missionary friends in another city in Spain and was immediately refreshed! I realized then that I should have chosen that city even though the university there was not as good.
2). Consider your future family
Even if you don’t see a husband on the immediate horizon, you are likely to marry and raise children someday. It’s wise to use this time in your life to develop skills that will be useful to a future home. This doesn’t necessarily mean getting a degree in home economics! There are a variety of jobs and majors that can be beneficial in their own ways. Studying accounting could help you better budget and manage the money in your household. Working as a camp counselor could help you interact with your children someday. Graphic design (a field I seriously considered) offers flexibility to work part time, or from home.
3). Consider your own sinful tendencies.
If, for example, you struggled with drunkenness, it would be foolish to take a job as a waitress in a bar! But there are other less obvious examples I’ve seen where young women placed themselves in harm’s way because they ignored their own personal temptations. One young lady I knew struggled with depression, yet was majoring in literature. Certain writers or genres could send her into a downward tailspin of depression. In my case, I ended up not choosing graphic design largely because of my perfectionistic tendencies. I knew how much I obsessed over tiny details and sought the approval of man for my creations. I saw myself headed in a proud and lonely path that direction.
3). What is my financial situation?
The Scriptures are full of advice about money, including the fact that we cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:24), that we are to be faithful with it (Luke 16:11) and that the borrower is the slave of the lender (Proverbs 22:7).
It’s essential to take an honest look at your financial situation and set a realistic budget. And if you are anything like I was at 17, you’ll need help! Sit down with your parents or someone skilled in this area. Determine what your income will be (through work, scholarships, grants, and contributions from parents and others). Count the costs of gas, housing, food, etc. Research the costs of various educational options.
A word of warning: be extremely cautious about going into debt! It’s no accident that Proverbs calls a borrower a “slave.” If you take out loans, you are obligated to pay them back. And that can haunt you for years, even decades, if you are not careful. I’ve seen young women want to quit the program that they’ve chosen, but feel they cannot because they are tens of thousands of dollars in debt. They have to finish their program and then work in that field for a set (often long) amount of time because they have to pay back that loan. I’ve seen others that have wanted to marry or have children, but don’t because of debt. Or, they start a family anyway, but it prevents their family from being able to buy a house or prevents the woman from staying at home with her children.
These questions are not meant to be comprehensive, but they are a useful starting point. From here you’ll probably want to look at some of the specific options available to you. Hopefully my next post will give you some guidance.