Alternative paths to a college degree
Monday, 13 November 2017
You graduate high school. You go to college. Four years later, you have a degree and a good job.
Ah, the good old days, right? It's not so simple anymore, for a lot of reasons:
College is expensive.
With tuition levels for some colleges above what a lot of families earn annually, getting an undergraduate degree has become a far bigger economic obstacle to overcome than in the past.
Jobs are scarce.
You hear story after story of graduates from good schools who can't get jobs in their fields – or even outside of their fields. And yet they have huge loans to be repaid.
Employers want very specific skills that may not be taught by most colleges.
Companies often are looking for workers who aren't just smart and broadly educated, but have deep understanding of a technical area. It's not surprising that high school students are pausing before heading to a four-year institution. If you're one of them – or a parent of such a student – here are some ideas to consider as you figure out what to do next.
What's next? Don't throw in the towel.
Yes, it's discouraging. And yes, there are stories of famous people who did quite well without a college degree. But just having a high school diploma doesn't qualify you for much of anything these days. So you'll probably want to get some form of advanced education or training.
But don't just automatically go to college if you're not ready.
One of the negatives of the “good old days" was that students went straight to college without really figuring out if they were ready for it, emotionally or academically. If they struggled, their academic records could end up looking pretty bad, even if they were smart kids. That could lead to a lifetime of underachievement. Instead, you might take a year off and explore different career options. Spend some time volunteering at a hospital to see how you like medicine. Take a clerical job at a technical firm to see what their work is like.
Research the payoffs of different courses of study.
There's been an assumption for years that college graduates will earn significantly more than high school graduates, based on various studies. But as the world of work has changed, some of those assumptions are being questioned. Take a detailed look at the types of fields likely to pay well if you have a degree in them. (Hint: Computer science degrees likely are more valuable than Latin studies degrees.)
Go to a community college, then transfer.
As a way of saving money, a lot of people attend community colleges for a couple of years and then transfer to a four-year college or university. Their degree is from the four-year school, which can be useful for getting a job or going to graduate school.
There are some downsides to transferring that you might want to consider: a) As a transfer student you're not going to have the same social connections as those who attended all four years. That could be a disadvantage not just as a junior, but for years to come – alumni connections can be extremely important to your career. b) Not all of the courses you took at the community college will necessarily be accepted for credit by the four-year school. Check to make sure the community college classes you're taking are viewed as the academic equivalent of those at a four-year school. c) Make sure you'll really transfer. A recent study showed that a lot of the students who say they'll go to a community college and then transfer to a four-year school don't end up doing so.
By knowing ahead of time of this possibility, you can find ways of reminding yourself why it's good to stay on track, even if some of your friends are falling off theirs. In a way, the fact that college isn't such an automatic option anymore can be a blessing. High school students can take different routes to get to their destinations, and employers are more likely to understand why. Whatever your route, stick to it until you've found the outcome you're looking for.
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