Play the Real Game of Life - Nine Life-Altering Facts for High School Seniors

In Milton Bradley's popular board game, Life, the very first decision you must make could determine the outcome of the entire game.

At the beginning of playing Life, players choose to start a career right away, or delay their career by attending college first. Choosing college takes a longer route on the board and results in borrowing money to obtain a degree, but ultimately has a greater opportunity for a better job in the future. The player that takes the career route, gets a job faster, has a quicker "payday," and usually takes an early lead in the game. Settling for a lesser job lowers the player's overall chance of winning.

Sound familiar? High school students today are facing the same complex questions raised by this simple game. Young adults, ages 17 to 21, must make a host of serious decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. With that in mind, here are 9 facts every high school senior should know before starting the real Game of Life!

Fact 1: High school graduates earn less than college graduates.

The choice of career or college will have a long-term effects on your salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (, the median annual earnings of a high school graduate without any college in the United States was $30,400 per year in 1999. A college graduate with a Bachelor's Degree earned $52,200. Let's see how it plays out (with no inflation for this example). The high school graduate will work 47 years, and the college graduate 43 years. We've allocated a $40,000 investment in the college graduate's education. For this example, the college graduate earned $775,800 more over his or her work lifetime, or nearly 54% more than a high school graduate. What seems like a simple choice today can have devastatingly different outcomes.

Fact 2: High school drop-outs earn even less.

Before you can choose between a career or college, you have to finish high school. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that within months of graduating, students who finish high school are twice as likely to be working or enrolled in college as those who drop out. And those who do drop out can expect to earn only $23,400 per year.

Fact 3: High school students who use their computer excel.

The personal computer is one of the most impressive tools of the past two decades. Today, everyone entering the workforce must be computer literate. The National Research Center for College & University Admissions Post-Secondary Planning Survey® identified "high computer users" and "low computer users" from over 1,200,000 graduates from the class of 2001, and 46% of the high computer users had grade point averages above B+, compared to only 23% of the non-users who had B+ or better grades. It stands to reason that high computer users are more than twice as likely to receive A's than non-users. Students need to have up-to-date computer skills to enhance their future careers.

Fact 4: Popular careers change.

What careers are blossoming and which are fading? Smart college-bound students would do well to know more about the careers their classmates are pursuing, and how certain career interests have shifted over the years. Consider how the top 5 career choices from the classes of 2001, 1996 and 1991 might influence your career: (Results are based on the Post-Secondary Planning Survey® conducted by the National Research Center for College and University Admissions)

2001 Grads
1. Medical Physician (5.02%)
2. Lawyer/Legal Services (4.43%)
3. Computer Science (3.46%
4. Teaching/Education (3.26%)
5. Nursing/Health Care (3.25%)
1996 Grads
1. Medical Physician (5.16%)
2. Lawyer/Legal Services (5.13%)
3. Nursing/Health Care (4.22%)
4. Teaching/Education (3.65%)
5. Athletics/Coaching (3.57%)
1991 Grads
1. Business Administration (5.14%)
2. Accounting/Finance (5.01%)
3. Lawyer/Legal Services (4.49%)
4. Business Owner/Entrep (4.27%)
5. Psychology/Psychiatry (4.25%)

Fact 5: Students change majors in college.

A good number of students fail to even start college because they have not come to a decision about their college majors or their careers. Over half of college students are estimated to change their majors at least once in college, and many change more than one time while attending college. It's a fact that if a student does not know what to major in, starting college will help them discover their true interests.

Fact 6: One fourth of freshmen leave their first college.

In 1996, at public colleges, 72% of freshmen returned to the same college as sophomores the following year and 76% at private colleges, as reported in the 1998 National Enrollment Management Report, Noel Levitz (a USA Group company). This means that over one-fourth of all college freshmen change colleges in the first year alone. Prospective students may want to find out the retention rate for each of their top college choices. A college with a low retention rate may be "miss-selling" itself to prospects. When these prospects become students, many eventually leave the college because it is not meeting their needs. A college with a high retention rate is attracting students that fit into their college both academically and socially. Doing this kind of homework can help you make the right choice the first time.

Fact 7: Many students drop out of college.

Marriage, starting a family, and lack of financial resources are among the major reasons students site for dropping out of college. But even good intentions to return to college can't overcome the realities of starting a family or a large car payment. Students with "some college" can expect to earn $36,800 per year, which is 30% less than those who complete college. Before dropping out of college, or even taking a year off, students should seriously consider the possible outcome.

Fact 8: Students transfer between colleges.

Another reason students fail to begin college is they have not found the "right college." Interestingly however, many college students transfer to a new college at least once, and some even transfer twice before completing their college degree. While it's important to find the best college for a students ideals, they should not fear the possibility of transferring or starting at a two-year college.

Fact 9: Involvement in extra-curricular activities is a plus.

Getting good grades in college is important, but so is getting involved in college life. Students are more likely to finish college and do better in their studies when they are involved in at least one or two extra-curricular activities. Employers will look at GPA and work experience on a resume, but will also look at outside activities for leadership traits in prospective employees. Select a college where you will have an opportunity to explore non-classroom experiences.

The real Game of Life is too important to leave to chance, by the spin of a wheel, or hasty decisions. Start the game fully prepared with as many facts as possible!

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