In your graduation column, you gave general words of encouragement to high school grads and Miranda addressed those going to college. But not everyone goes to college and of the ones who do, not everyone finishes. I was wondering if you could write a column for those kids.
Dr. Wes: Indeed we can. Let’s start with young people who don’t finish high school. For them, my best advice is to “go back.” Not necessarily reenrolling in a local high school to pick up where they left off. That’s often impractical and a bit weird, as they’re no longer matriculating with their peers. Instead, most communities, including our own, offer adult education programs that will get kids back into classes that actually land them a diploma, not just a GED—though that’s an option too. Many of those programs are self-paced, but they expect their clients to be there working or they’ll drop them from the roll for someone more motivated.
For those who graduated but don’t feel they’re ready for the full college experience, my advice is “don’t go.” Too many young people feel pressured into college by their parents or because they have no other plan. There’s nothing wrong with a gap year or two, as long as it’s used productively on life exploration (real life, not Second Life). There’s a lot wrong with spending a lot of money for a 1.5 GPA and then dropping out.
For many late teens, the academics of high school were a horror show of unmanageable classes with little personal meaning followed by disappointing grade cards, sadness, and anxiety. In our yearning to make everybody a math and science whiz, we’ve left a lot of kids behind who would have enjoyed school and learned a lot there if it met their needs, instead of some committee’s “Standard of Excellence.” Fortunately, there are still some great vocational training programs that can connect young adults with a paycheck if they put in the effort. Miranda discusses several of those options.
What new adults cannot do, however, is give up on additional education. We just don’t live in that society anymore. Auto mechanics, chefs, HVAC techs, electricians, hairstylists, and truck drivers all make higher wages than folks without vocational training and to be quite honest, many make better salaries than four-year college grads. It’s definitely worth considering. And for kids with significant learning problems, there’s Vocational Rehabilitation, a state program that helps folks with all kinds of disabilities get training and gainful employment. It’s been a lifesaver in many cases I’ve seen.
Miranda: While lots of former high school seniors will continue at four-year colleges, many will choose different, yet equal paths. For a long time, a college degree guaranteed a secure job and a promising future. But times have changed and many college grads are starting to see that pursuing a degree without thinking through a future will have costly consequences. Not all degrees or majors are created equal and an AA or two-year certification in a competitive job field could be the path to a promising career. In addition to the fields Wes mentioned, vocational careers include carpentry, two-year nursing programs (you can get an RN that way), emergency medical sciences (paramedic/EMT) and several other allied health fields. Being in school for a shorter time means you’ll incur less debt too. Serving our country in the military is also a great option, as is seeking real-world job experience while exploring careers and saving up for your education.
Wes is right. Without additional education of some kind, teens and young adults aren’t preparing themselves for the future in the best way possible. Whatever path you take, it’s important to have a general plan and a couple of long- and short-term goals. This is the framework that guides our big decisions in life. Use your plan as a roadmap, but don’t be afraid to try a few different directions. Then you can use your goals to check your progress. We should always be asking ourselves, “Where do I want to be in five years? Ten years? Is this what I need to do to get me there?” If down the road you are happy with your life and your success, it won’t matter what path you took to get there, as long as you are making smart, planned decisions now.