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Career Path Freedom Is Essential for Youth

What should I do with the rest of my life? This is a question that high school students at Berkeley High School (BHS) and across the world wrestle with. At an age punctuated by growth and uncertainty, planning for the future can feel like an insurmountable task. Interests are developing, priorities are changing, and students are continuing to mature. To decide one’s future when nothing is constant, except for change, is unrealistic.

At BHS, students are given the opportunity to explore career ideas free of expectation. Through job fairs, informational talks, and workshops, numerous doors are open for students to gain guidance. However, the societal pressure to know one’s future upon the moment of graduation is still real and present. 

High school is an opportunity to explore one’s passions without the pressure of adulthood. Many find that they discover their sense of self after graduating and leaving home. The experience of entering adulthood challenges deep-rooted ideas regarding oneself, which is critical when looking towards the future.

Scientifically, the human brain doesn’t stop developing until the age of 25. While adults approach situations using the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain, teens think using the amygdala, the brain’s emotional part. To force students to choose a life path when their brains aren’t yet fully developed will only add pressure to important decisions. Young adults themselves often change career paths, so attempting to determine that path while still in high school is unnecessary.

In many European schools, students are forced to decide between academic or vocational tracks by age 15. This grants further resources and preparation for students and allows them to become extremely informed about whichever career path they might be taking. This extra support can be beneficial to students and help them feel more secure in their potential. 

However, when dedicating so much formative time to a single focus, students lose the capacity for deeply appreciating a variety of topics. Instead of being able to explore and build on a well-balanced background, students are specialized in a single subject from a young age. This limits a student’s awareness of interconnectedness, as well as their freedom, making it much more difficult to reevaluate or adjust their career path.

To give students true freedom, the educational system must be reevaluated. The career-focused classes at BHS should be marketed to all students, regardless of their future plans. For students seeking college and career counseling, they should be made aware of all possible opportunities for the future, even if it isn’t what they’re initially seeking. For students attending college, entering undeclared should become the expectation, not the fallback. 

Curiosity is part of human nature, and to limit that natural process in favor of decisiveness is to limit growth.