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5 tips for ag students graduating high school


If you’re about to get your high school diploma, congratulations! Graduating high school is a big milestone. For most, it’s the point when your life becomes more independent. Whether heading to college or starting a job, it’s important to start thinking about what you enjoy doing and how you can leverage that to support yourself. I wish I had thought about my interest in agriculture and questioned how I could turn it into a career before I went to college and started as an engineering major! In order to hopefully prevent others from making the same mistake, here are my top 5 tips to help simplify the huge decisions coming your way soon.

1. Know your interests and skills

One of the biggest challenges facing high school graduates is figuring out “what you’re going to do with your life.” I put this in quotations because, realistically, very few people know exactly what they want to do when they’re in high school and immediately pursue that goal. So, don’t worry, you’re not alone! If you aren’t lucky enough to have a lifelong dream-job to work toward, then I’d suggest making a list of your interests and skills. For example, if you know you’re interested in agriculture and want to make a career out of it, then you can move on to the next tips. If you can’t think of a passion you have that is “career-worthy,” consider your skills. If you have a natural ability to understand technology then think about how that could help you in many different jobs.

2. Know what jobs are available

After figuring out what you like and what you’re good at, it’s time to think about what jobs you may excel at and enjoy. This is an important step, because too often people choose a career simply based on potential salary. In my case, I started out college as an engineering major because I thought I could earn a good wage and that I’d be naturally good at it. It wasn’t until sophomore year that I realized it wouldn’t be something I would enjoy doing every day for the rest of my life. Finally, I did some research and discovered that there were a great number of jobs in the agriculture field (which I had always been interested in) besides just farming and selling products. Those are both fine professions — I just wasn’t suited for them.

Image courtesy of USDA, Flickr

3. Don’t just think about money

As stated previously, I almost chose a job that I most likely wouldn’t have been happy with solely based on the potential earnings. After talking with people who have worked anywhere from one to 40 years, I’ve learned that it’s much more important to overall happiness to do what you like instead of what you think will get you rich. Oftentimes doing what you truly enjoy will lead to more money anyways since you put more effort and energy into your work! Another point to consider is that there are a number of perks that can come with a job besides just a salary. Many agricultural jobs come with a company truck for example. If you were planning on buying a new truck anyways, this could be worth as much as $12,000 per year when you consider the payment, gas, maintenance, and insurance. The other major factor to consider is the time commitments associated with any given job. Some of you will be better suited to run your own business, which can have the advantage of setting your own schedule.

4. Talk to people with the jobs you think you may want

This seems like an obvious one to me now, but I didn’t really take the time to do it as a high school senior. It may seem strange to ask people about their work, but most of the time they will be happy to help and tell you what they like or don’t like about their jobs. The only real way to find out about the lifestyle of different professions is to go straight to the source. If someone has a life that sounds perfect to you, ask how they got there!

5. Spend your summer wisely

I know this is a difficult one, but it’s important for the not-so-distant future. If you plan on going to college, you should make sure to apply to schools if you haven’t already, apply for lots of scholarships, and do meaningful work if possible. An internship or job in the field you’re considering can be invaluable. If this isn’t possible then just focus on earning money to reduce the amount of loans you’ll need. Financial aid is a whole other topic, but make sure to do your due diligence — you’ll be glad you did. If you don’t plan on going to college then I would focus on searching for jobs and making connections. Lastly, make sure to have fun! Just be sure not to get yourself into any trouble that could affect your future degree/jobs!


Spartan-state native Michael Swoish is a Michigan State alum who’s currently pursuing his Ph.D. in soil science at Virginia Tech. Michael has taught classes on precision agriculture and has traveled the country to get as much dirt time as possible.

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