As summer comes to an end, another group of recent high school graduates will be embarking on a journey that will affect the rest of their lives: the beginning of a college career. Some will leave home for the first time, moving as close as down the street, and as far as across the country or beyond, to their new dormitories, apartments, of houses with classmates. They will all experience the culture shock of college courses and the excitement of a new chapter in their lives.
As a recent college graduate myself, I can say with certainty that these young people have heard this sentiment dozens of times: graduate high school, get a four-year degree, and a good job with good money will be in your future. This might sound strange coming from a college graduate, but for many, going to college right after high school is not only unnecessary, it can also be counterproductive.
As good high school students, we’re pushed to attend college, even if we’re not sure what we want to do, and we’re paying a high price because of it. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2013 that about 80 percent of students change their major at least once, and college students change their major at least three times on average. At least in part because of that, over 55 percent of students take longer than four years to complete a bachelor’s degree, according to another study by the U.S. Department of Education. That year or two wasted on dead-end studies could have been time spent out in the real world, exploring various career paths, making connections and experiencing life as a working adult. Instead, the only thing that comes out of those wasted semesters is more crippling debt.
To high school students reading: wait. Try getting a job right out of school for a year or two; explore different careers. Ask for internships. Do whatever you can to break in to industries that interest you, no matter the capacity. It will most likely save you thousands, and the hassle of learning about a field of study that you’ll eventually change, anyway. And most importantly, you’ll gain knowledge and insights that can’t be taught in the classroom.
If you end up finding that college might not be the perfect option for you, there are many others out there. Many career fields don’t even require a college education, from carpentry to automotive technology. There are also trade schools out there, and unlike liberal arts colleges where students have to slog through classes upon classes of liberal arts requirements, trade school students can usually get right down to business in their chosen field and it takes much less time to finish. They might be just as expensive as traditional liberal arts colleges, but for students who want to become electricians, HVAC technicians, or the like, it makes much more sense. Better yet, if higher education still isn’t your thing, some career fields just require various licenses or time working with master tradesmen. This is the case with commercial plumbing; a plumber progresses from apprentice to journeyman, to master through training and licensing.
And if formal education really is necessary for a chosen career path but it’s just not affordable, there’s always the military. Enlisting can be one of the best ways to get into the desired job field; not only do service members get free training on the job, they also earn a salary and benefits when they get out.
Yes, a college education is necessary for many people, but for many others, the return on investment just isn’t worth it. That’s what higher education is- an investment, that students like me pray will be worth it in the end. If you’re in high school right now wondering what you’d like to do with your life after graduation, I leave you with one piece of advice. Look into all your options before you make your decision. And good luck.