To Go or Not to Go, That Is the Question

Today’s high school students are faced with a tough choice – to spend upwards of $250,000 to attend a four-year college, or choose another route, such as go to a trade/technical school for significantly less time and money, join the military, or start working.

The traditional wisdom for the past few decades has been that students are better off attending a four-year college. Currently, a person with a college degree has higher lifetime earnings than a person without such a degree.

But that belief may be changing, as a result of multiple factors coming together.

First, there is the high cost of college, which causes many young people to go into significant debt, creating a difficult start for when they graduate.

Second, there is the recognition that many college graduates take jobs that do not require college degrees, so why bother to get one?

Third, there is strong demand for skilled workers in traditionally blue-collar jobs, skills that college grades do not have.

Fourth, technical schools and two year schools can usually respond more quickly than four-year schools  to changes in the market place and what employers are looking for.

When you combine all of these factors, you are looking at a situation that can have significant impacts on the future of college and work.

Today’s Wall Street Journal had an interesting article that looked at two young high school women who have a strong desire to go to technical (trade) school, and little to no interest in attending a four-year college. These students want to be doing something as soon as possible, and not wait four years to land a job that may not be what they wanted.

This partially relates back to what I’ve written about before – the value of community college. They are perfectly situated between the four year schools and no additional schooling, and many times offer certificate programs that focus on the trades and other technical skills.

I think the key takeaway is that the decision to go or not to go to college is an individual choice, and not just a one-size fits all approach. If someone wants to be a doctor or lawyer, then it is likely best to go directly into a four year college out of high school. If someone wants to be a welder, than technical school may be the best choice.

For those who are not sure what they want to do, community colleges can give you additional time to figure that out. If, after two years at community and you find a job that suits you perfectly, then take it. If on the other hand those two years whet your appetite for more schooling, then a four year school may be best for you, and you have saved a good deal of money by going to community

Another option, and one that seemed to work quite well for one of my nephews is to join the military out of high school, stay for a few years, and then take advantage of the G.I. bill to go college for free.

Another nephew is attending community college and will then be transferring to a four-year university to pursue a business degree.

As I said, what to do right after high school is not a one-size-fits-all type decision.

It’s also important to note that whatever decision you make at 18 does not lock into a certain career or life for the next 50 years. You can always go back to school, whether it is a traditional four-year or a two-year technical school.

Bottom line for these high school students- have an open discussion on the topic that includes several points of view, and once you hear them all, the choice is yours.

And pursue whatever you choose with passion and perseverance, skills that require little to no formal schooling.

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