In the US, when a person reaches eighteen, they generally graduate from high school. There are outliers – kids who were held back, those who graduated early for one reason or another, or those who dropped out and later receive a GED – but, overall, most leave school around this age.
They are soon expected to go to college. It’s one of the things that aren’t really talked about, it’s just agreed upon, an expectation, a rite of passage.
As with many things, there is an alternative. Of course, many join the army or just end up working soul-draining, minimum wage jobs with no chance of upward mobility or career advancement. But that’s not necessarily the case.
I’m talking about trade school. The beauty of trade school is that, unless the power grid goes out and we’re transported back to the cavemen days, we will always need folks with these skills. From electricians to plumbers, to carpenters, and other fields, these skilled workers will remain a necessity as long as modern society is a thing.
With the US being so sold on the concept of college as the sole post-high school direction, trade schools have seen declining enrollment. As a result, there are more positions open in professions these degrees allow one to enter.
The increased promise of a high-paying job (which, obviously, is not guaranteed) isn’t the only reason one might choose trade school over college. It’s also cheaper. One estimate I read offered an example of trade school being $94,000 cheaper than a bachelor’s degree – specifically, the average trade school costing $33,000 versus a four-year college degree coming in at $127,000.
Now, I’m not sure where they got this statistic from. I didn’t go to Harvard, Yale, or any other school that might cost in this range. I got my degree in communications at a state school in Pennsylvania, which, while it cost me around $52,000 or so (if I recall right), was still $19,000 more than a trade school would have cost, going by the estimate here.
But what if you just aren’t feeling trade school? You might not be the type for it – maybe you have your heart set on a dream career that requires a Bachelor’s or even a Master’s or you just don’t want to. Those are valid reasons to favour college over trade school. You shouldn’t go this route if your heart isn’t in it.
At the same time, what if you don’t want to go into total debt like I and others have due to the rising costs of student loans and their added interest rates? Or maybe you don’t want to travel too far from home, and you don’t live in a traditional college town.
The answer: community college.
These institutions of higher education exist in quite a few different countries, but in the US, the term can be thought of as a mini-college. Indeed, another term for it is “junior college.” Often, they satisfy the same aim as a trade school, which is workforce training. Other times, students transfer to bigger, more traditional colleges.
The advantage of this type of schooling is time and cost. Many students enrolled in community college are older, folks with kids, people who work a lot. In other words, those in need of the quickest route to an education and a way to hopefully get ahead.
Community colleges used to be highly-derided. Students at four-year institutions made students the butt of bad jokes and mocked them behind their backs.
Times have changed, though. You can find articles praising community college as a wonderful post-high-school plan, and the number of articles favouring it go up every day. No shame in getting a degree from one of these schools. And, as an added benefit, if you opt to further your education at a bigger school, you can utilize transfer credits to make the process of earning a degree there quicker!
Regardless of which route you pick – even regular college – all are equally valid. There is no shame in doing what you feel is right. If you’re reading this and you chose to go into the military or manage a fast-food place instead, that’s great, too! It’s your life, and it’s your choice to live it as you see fit. You have to take the path you feel is right for you. But if you want an alternative to a four-year institution, trade school or community college might be worth looking into.
Stephanie Knarr recently moved to Pittsburgh, PA from the Harrisburg, PA area. Her writing appears in Harrisburg’s local magazine, The Burg, and her work will soon appear in Unwinnable and Five:2: One. Her favourite drink is RC Cola, and her favourite band is probably Animal Collective.