Following SCORE’s Future Ready Summit in October 2018, I have taken some time to reflect on my own journey from childhood, through college, and now transitioning into the workforce.

My educational roots have been shaped from the very beginning of my life. With an educator for a mom, there are not many days I can remember going without having someone read to me or reading on my own. Through this constant push for reading, the importance of education has always been present in my life.

As I grew older, I went on to attend the lowest-performing high school in my home county in Maryland. During my time there, while I pursued my ambitious goals to attend a noteworthy university, many of my classmates completed programs in other fields such as cosmetology, auto mechanics, carpentry, and agriculture. Despite our different interests and skills that we developed through our high school coursework, we were all pushed in the same direction for postsecondary to four-year colleges – while technical school, military, and workforce options were left unexplored.

While my high school might not have excelled academically or capitalized on the expansive technical programs it had established, there is one component of my high school experience that still influences my thinking and behavior as I reach the end of my college career. The skills I gained through participation in extracurricular activities are wide-spread and invaluable, skills that I am convinced I would not have gained inside even the most rigorous high school classrooms. Through my time on sports teams and in student government, I learned how to manage my time, how to work collaboratively, how to organize meetings and events, and, most importantly, how to ask for help. These are skills I apply daily in my life at Vanderbilt University that I would not have made it this far without.

Following high school, I took a detour on my way to Vanderbilt, enrolling at a four-year college in New Orleans. My freshman year was full of wonderful times exploring a new city, but there was one problem – my coursework was too easy. I felt over-prepared for what I experienced that year, so I made the decision to move along and challenge myself at Vanderbilt for the rest of my time as an undergraduate.

When I arrived at Vanderbilt, I got much more than what I bargained for. During my first semester, I felt like I was drowning in coursework that was way over my head, a drastic change from what I had experienced at my previous university. I went from feeling like I was far too prepared for undergraduate studies to feeling like I would never make it out of college with a degree in hand. I was left shocked and feeling defeated. I have adjusted and grown since that first semester at Vanderbilt, as I am about to enter my last, but I am still left questioning how we can define college readiness when all colleges are so different.

As my time at Vanderbilt comes to a close and my emergence into the workforce approaches, I remain concerned and stressed about my next steps. While many of my classmates are breezing by with full-time jobs awaiting them, I remain on the market. Despite the fact that I attend one of the top-ranked universities in the country right now, I am worried that I am not going to find a job. More importantly, I am worried that I am not going to find a job that I enjoy and that makes me feel fulfilled.

At the end of the day, K-12 education, in partnership with higher education and the workforce, should not just be seeking to flow each student through and into any job that is available, but it should work as a system of channels that guides students down different pathways toward careers that make them feel happy, successful, and fulfilled.

Natalie Singer was a SCORE intern in fall 2018 and is a senior at Vanderbilt University.