*This piece originally ran over at Simplify and is posted here with full permission*
The world of work has changed, and our educational system hasn’t kept up. In some cases, students have a career plan decided upon at an early age. If not, you shouldn’t overlook community college, tech school or interning for a year as post-secondary options. The old school advice that anything less than a university degree is second best is just old-fashioned. The Community College where I grew up had the initials CLC, which held the nickname “college of last chance.” That isn’t the case anymore.
Many students, even ones with straight A’s, find themselves on the treadmill of expectations earlier than ever. They are taking classes in eighth grade to test into prestigious high schools which they then study hard at to be accepted to selective universities. Many assume that they should know what they want to study and when it isn’t clear it can be frustrating for the entire family. Choosing something innocuous like “business” and hoping that upon graduation they get hired somewhere is a common outcome.
Communication between parent and student is essential. Begin early in high school if not before. Talk about how your child sees her future. Expect the view of the future to evolve and keep adjusting the plans to accommodate those changes. Taking some time to consider all paths shouldn’t feel like a luxury.
Community colleges are and have always been a real bargain. Many have teamed up with four-year schools so that you can complete a bachelor’s degree without living in a dorm. Many students can test out of credits in Community College using either the CLEP system or using the Proficiency Examination Program that allows students to test out of many classes not available through the CLEP system. Both the CLEP and the Proficiency Examination Program give ample information on the material covered in the exam, and a motivated student can save a sizeable amount of time and money pursuing credits in that way. In some academic areas, students may show proficiency through appropriate means other than written tests. Alternative forms of testing include a musical performance, review of art portfolios, review of credentials, work skill evaluations, or other means.
Consider that there is a growing need for skilled tradespeople (mikerowe.com), yet the stigma surrounding vocational technology vs. the traditional 4-year college route remains entrenched. Homeschoolers, especially, have the time to introduce Vo-Tech skills into their chosen curriculum. All students should at least witness the creative energy surrounding welding, machining, woodworking, plumbing, carpentry, and heating systems. With the growing trend toward green technology, creative and practical opportunity abounds in solar, wind turbine, geothermal, radiant heat, and green construction/fabrication in general. Most of these new technologies do not require a four-year degree. Rather than retype the advice, I would give for considering a career in the trades, go read this excellent primer on the subject at The Art of Manliness (don’t be fooled by the title…there is good advice there for us girls as well).
Interning during a gap year is another valid option. Usually, interns are not paid and can work part-time (allowing the student to save for College) while interning in an industry that interests them. Internships are highly competitive so applying for them before the end of high school is necessary.
This is the time of year that seniors are making their final decisions and writing essays for college applications. If your senior isn’t sure about their future plans, now is the time to consider all options.