You graduate. You go to college. That’s the end, as far as the general population seems to be concerned. No one seems to consider 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 path for your chosen field. If your child wants to be a doctor or a lawyer, clearly she needs to plan on attending college.
If he wants to be a musician or a piano tuner, a college education – and the accompanying expense – may not be necessary. (Seriously, one of my friend’s kids is getting certified as a piano tuner.)
I want to be clear that my experience is limited, having only graduated one student so far, but I wanted to give you some things to think about.
My oldest is currently attending a private cosmetology school. Basically that means that the school only teaches cosmetology, not all the other required classes a college – even a vocational college – might teach. She ultimately wants to do hair and make-up for movies. It may be a stretch, but somebody’s got to do it, so we decided she might as well take steps to follow her dream.
Cosmetology school was the first step because it gives her the experience and license to do hair while also training her in a skill she can use wherever she winds up – and people are always going to pay to get their hair done, even in a bad economy, because it makes them feel better.
Career schools, also known as technical, vocational, or trade schools
- may be public or private, although many are for-profit businesses;
- typically offer programs that are two years or less; and
- provide students with formal classes and hands-on experience related to their future career interests, from welding to cosmetology to medical imaging.
Technical schools teach the science behind the occupation, while vocational schools focus on hands-on application of skills needed to do the job. You may earn a diploma or a certificate, prepare for a licensing exam, or study to begin work as an apprentice or journeyman in a skilled trade.” (Source)
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 the trades.
Do you think trade workers are the kids who were too unintelligent to go to school to get a “real” job? Why don’t you try wiring your home’s electricity yourself. When is the last time you called a plumber and how much did you pay him? Skilled trade workers are not second-class citizens. They are a vital part of our economy.
Apprenticeship is something we don’t hear much about anymore, but many trades are often still learned in a hands-on environment under the instruction of someone who is already 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 is able to repair most of our appliances himself.
Don’t forget my friend’s son who aspires to be a piano tuner. There are still people out there who work as farriers, sheep shearers, cheese makers, blacksmiths, and more. Those jobs may seems antiquated, but in the right market they are still in demand – and don’t require a college degree.
I mean, I’m sure there are colleges who 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 be looking 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 can be acquired through work and life experience. In some cases, this is much like apprenticeship. Other times, it’s more a matter of putting yourself in the right situations and networking. For example, when I was college age, I went to a local technical school, studying to be a sign language interpreter for the deaf. I never did complete the courses, 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 and who would have been very happy to help me practice and gain fluency. In addition to a friend who was willing to help, my aunt had a contact with a local school for the deaf who told her to have me call once I had mastered a certain number of signs.
We’ve been encouraging my daughter to apply for jobs at make-up counters where she’ll get the training and have the opportunity to practice applying make-up because I have a cousin with some contacts in the movie industry. We’ve been told that Brianna needs to get some experience first and they may be able to provide some opportunities.
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, there will be teens who graduate and choose to go directly into the workforce. They may be offered on-the-job training with opportunities for advancement or take entry-level positions with aspirations to move up within the company. I’ve known a few homeschool graduates who have chosen this option and are doing quite well.
Other students may have aspirations of running their own business of some sort. While college classes may help prepare young adults for running a business, those with the right acumen may be ready to jump in and start their own venture or invent something amazing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not encouraging kids to arbitrarily blow off college. For some kids, college will play a vital role in their future. A college degree is often important for moving up within a company, even if the degree has little to do with a person’s actual job responsibilities. And, often, a person with a degree may be chosen over a person without a degree even when the two are equally qualified based on work experience.
That being said, college is not necessarily the right choice for every high school graduate. It’s worth exploring the options with your student (or for yourself) to see if a different route might result in the same skills with less expense and, in many cases, in a shorter amount of time.
Oh, and just in case you’re curious, my musician is planning on attending college to get a degree in music.
Do you have children who have graduated and successfully followed a path other than college?