You graduate. You go to college. The end. At least, as far as the general population seems to be concerned. No one considers the fact that college may not be for everyone.
Guess what. College may not be for everyone.
You know what else? It doesn’t mean you – or your child – are an uneducated failure if you choose a path other than college. It may just mean that college isn’t the best way to reach your career goals. If your child wants to be a doctor or a lawyer, clearly she needs to plan on attending college.
However, for many occupations, a college education – and the accompanying expense – may not be necessary.
Is College Necessary?
Before sending off all those college applications, play the role of high school guidance counselor and determine if college is the next logical step for your student.
Talk to your teen about his career aspirations. If he has no idea what he’d like to do after graduation, discuss his skills, interests, and strengths. Consider having your teen take a personality or career aptitude assessment and see if the results spark an interest.
Probably the single best way to determine the best next step for your teen’s chosen career path is to talk to people who are in that field. Ask them:
- What skills and qualifications are needed
- How they acquired those skills
- What they wish they’d done differently
- Did they earn a college degree – If so, has it been helpful? If not, do they wish they had?
- What type of education, experience, or degree they would recommend
- Where they would recommend acquiring the skills or degree needed (Note: The most expensive school or the one with all the bells and whistles isn’t always the best choice.)
If you and your teen decide that college is the best route for his or her situation, be aware that there are college scholarships for homeschoolers. In most cases, homeschooled students are eligible for the same scholarships as their traditionally-schooled peers, but there are scholarships specifically for homeschoolers.
Four College Alternatives
My oldest attended a private cosmetology school that taught only cosmetology. She didn’t want or need to take all the other required classes a college – even a vocational college – usually require.
Trade, technical, or vocational schools may be public or private. Their programs are usually two years or less and provide classroom and hands-on experience in their degree field. Students may earn an associate’s degree, diploma, or certificate. Or, they may apply to be licensed or go directly into the field as an apprentice or journeyman after completing the program.
Trades may include jobs such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters, or cement masons. Wikipedia has a great list of work a tradesman might do and the site Explore the Trades offers some insight into how to acquire the skills needed to do some of them.
Skilled trade workers are not second-class citizens. They are not people who weren’t smart enough to go to college to get a “real” job. Skilled tradesmen are a vital part of our economy.
Apprenticeship is something we don’t hear much about anymore. However, many people still learn their trade in a hands-on environment under the instruction of a master of that trade.
When my husband was in his late teens and early twenties, he worked alongside an appliance repairman. That is not what he wound up doing for a living, but I can’t tell you how much money we’ve saved because he can repair most of our appliances himself.
There are still people out there who work as farriers, sheep shearers, cheese makers, and blacksmiths.
Those jobs may seem antiquated, but in the right market, they are still in demand. And, they don’t require a college degree.
I mean, I’m sure some colleges may offer degrees in some more obscure professions but are you really going to ask your sheep shearer to see her degree or are you going to look at her experience and the quality of her work? (Yes, I know someone who finds herself in need of a sheep shearer a couple of times a year.)
Experience and Networking
Some skills are acquired through work and life experience. In some cases, this is much like an apprenticeship. Other times, it’s more a matter of putting yourself in the right situations and networking.
When I was college age, I went to a local technical school, studying to be a sign language interpreter. I never did get my degree, which also required all those core college classes. (Why did I get cocky and think that the challenge of advanced chemistry was a smart idea for a sign language interpreter? Why?)
I probably would have been better off spending time with a friend’s deaf sister who enjoyed the fact that I knew enough sign language to communicate with her. She would have been happy to help me practice and gain fluency. And, my aunt had a contact with a local school for the deaf who wanted me to contact her once I had mastered a certain number of signs.
You know that expression it’s not what you know, but who you know? There is still a great deal of truth to that and often the who you know can move the what you know in the right direction.
The Workforce or Entrepreneurial Opportunities
Finally, some teens will graduate and go directly into the workforce. There are internships and on-the-job training with opportunities for advancement.
Other students may have aspirations of running their own business. While a college degree in business management will likely be helpful, young adults with the right acumen may be ready to jump in and start their own venture or invent something amazing.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not encouraging kids to arbitrarily blow off college. It will likely play a vital role in the future of many teens, and a degree is sometimes crucial for moving up within a company, even when it has little to do with a person’s actual job responsibilities. It’s not uncommon for a person with a college degree to be chosen over someone without a degree who is equally qualified based on work experience.
However, college is not necessarily the right choice for every high school graduate. It’s worth exploring the options with your student to see if a different route might result in acquiring the same skills quicker and more economically.
Do you have children who have graduated and successfully followed a path other than college?