Know before you go: options for life after high school

Katie Elvin talks about different paths for students to choose from after high school. Photo Illustration by Anaika Miller of The Foothill Dragon Press.

Katie Elvin

Katie Elvin talks about different paths for students to choose from after high school. Photo Illustration by Anaika Miller of The Foothill Dragon Press.
Katie Elvin talks about different paths for students to choose from after high school. Photo Illustration by Anaika Miller of The Foothill Dragon Press.

At Foothill, college is a priority, and it shows in the high acceptance rates of our students at colleges all over the country. Starting everyone off in the mandatory EDA class, Education in the Digital Age, the school pounds in those UC A through G college requirements. In case that didn’t fully do it for the students, there are posters for the A-G requirements in every classroom and every pod.

From start to finish it’s all you hear about, all you prepare for, and all you want. You are often told it’s your only option and that you cannot succeed without it. I have news, though. College isn’t the only way to learn, and it’s definitely not your only option.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I think teaching students the requirements for college from the start of high school is a great idea. It allows everyone to be prepared and be eligible for college if they decide that’s what they want, and, perhaps most importantly, helps all students realize that the college experience is available to all. However, other equally viable options are available that we just don’t hear much about.

I do believe that going to college is an amazing experience that can be beneficial to many people. It’s not for everyone, though.

College isn’t quite the place television makes it out to be. It is challenging, it is expensive, and it becomes your life for 4+ years. Many careers now also require graduate school, or other post-graduate work, further delaying your entry into the working (and by that, I mean money-earning) world.

And for some, the adaptation from life at home to life at college can be just too much. Too much what? Too much expense, too much stress, too much work, too much change, too much homesickness, too much partying, or a combination of the above. The truth is that not everyone is ready for college as soon as they graduate from high school, and that’s okay.

It is understood these days that most students who apply to college won’t be able pay for it all at once and have to take out loans or apply for scholarships, which adds to the already stressful situation.

Many people don’t know where they are headed with their life, and most colleges these days demand that they choose a path right off the bat. This requires knowledge you may not have just yet.

Classes are head and shoulders, in difficulty and demands on the student, above high school classes. And, especially in large public schools, the responsibility for success lies solely on the new student from their first day onward (There’s no FIRE in college!)

A large number drop out or don’t return, and the reasons above rarely propel them to restart their higher education later.

It could be a better choice for some students to take a year or so off after high school rather than go and drop out or flunk out.

And, believe it or not, there are other options.

College is not the only way to learn about life, nor is it the only way to learn how to live life. Thinking the only way for someone to become well rounded is by going through years and years of school is, in simplest terms, wrong in these increasingly specialized times.

You could travel, you could volunteer, you could join the military, you could get a job to support yourself, you could learn a trade, you could get a job to figure where you want life to take you, complete a certificate program or vocational training, or start at a community college to gradually dip your feet into the world of college.

Travel: A great way to learn about the world, and yourself. It can teach you about other cultures, other lives, other people, and open your eyes to the actual world we live in, as opposed to the digital world we are immersed in. The experiences you gain from travel can be invaluable; be the person who stands out from the rest, with a cultivated knowledge and life.

Volunteering. You may be thinking that you have had enough of that at school, but there are some amazing opportunities out there once you become a little older. AmeriCorps, a program for people 17 to 24 years of age, can help you decide out what direction you’d like to head in your life, or where you wouldn’t like to go, which is just as important.

Working with other people in groups and teams can also teach you valuable skills that will always stick with you. Not to mention the fact that you are doing something valuable for people, or the environment. Why not make a difference in the world?

Another option is joining the military. It’s not the safest, or most favored, option in middle-class circles. However, it can provide a chance for you to help your country, learn a career skill, get important life experience, work skills and a way to pay for college.

Get a job. A real job, not one of those fast food places, or babysitting, or anything like that. Think through your options and really work out what you can do, preferably above minimum wage. Try out an apartment with friends, paying rent, managing bills, feeding yourself; balance family and friends and figure out how to live this life of yours.

Learn a trade. Find something you’re interested in, like construction or computer technology, and find jobs that will advance you in that field. You can get vital understanding that you could only get through experience. Doing this can help you decide if that’s what you really want to do for the rest of your life, and give you a head start at it.

There is also the option of getting an internship. If you already know of a few things you’d like to pursue, study, or work with, then an internship is a great place to start.

Or, you could start with an entry-level job at a business and work your way up, a harder and longer path, but one that provides plenty of experience and skills in that arena. It also shows that you are a dedicated worker in that particular field. Similarly, you could start your own business if you are an entrepreneurial, creative sort. Mark Zuckerberg, anyone?

There is another option, for those of you who would really like to go to college but cannot afford it or don’t feel you are quite ready. You could attend a community college for a year or two, and if you decide that’s for you, most 4-year colleges allow transfers.

Admissions to a community college are easier and classes are much cheaper, so you could have a better chance to decide if college is right for you, a better chance to discover who you are, and a chance to experiment and decide what you might like to do with your life.

Good high schools do push their students toward a college life, but the absolute truth is that it’s not for everyone. College diplomas usually do end up making people more money than just a high school diploma, but college isn’t the only path.

There are other ways to learn and other ways to become the person you strive to be. Start exploring!

What do you think?