College: It’s Not One Size Fits All

When I was going through middle and high school, there was little acknowledgment for students who were not going to college. College was the perceived next step after high school, and if that wasn’t in the plans for you, it was almost as if you were locking yourself into a life of dead-end and mediocre-paying jobs. If you don’t have middle or high school-aged children, this might not be something you’ve given a second thought to, but let me assure you that as an educator and parent, these decisions are coming. It’s important parents and students alike know they have post-secondary options that don’t have to include college.

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For a very long time, the goal has been to get kids into four-year colleges. This was the formula for success. Technology and the ever-rising cost of college have forced people to rethink this model.  Have you heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder”? This applies to future plans as well. It’s not necessarily that more education is better; it’s the right education. Many students are choosing to work while in college or forgo college altogether. According to a study conducted by Georgetown University Center for Education and Workforce, there will be an estimated 55 million job openings in 2020. Many of these jobs fall under the “new collar” umbrella. New collar is a relatively new term that describes jobs that need some post-high school training and education, but not a four-year college degree. A new-collar worker is an individual who develops the technical and soft skills needed to work in technology jobs through non-traditional education paths. High school internships and post-high school apprenticeships are becoming more prevalent as students prepare for post-high school careers. Junior college has become a more tempting option as the cost of a four-year degree soars near six figures, depending on the college and location.

As a Career and Technical Education teacher, part of my responsibility is to educate my students on their post-high school options, and when talking with parents I’ve found they could use a little education, too. Gone are the times when a traditional four-year college experience is the only option for a successful future. Below I’ve outlined some options for students post-high school that do not involve a traditional four-year degree.

Technical or Vocation School

Technical or Vocational Schools are designed to train a person to perform a specific job or skill.  Often the training is much shorter than a four-year degree and much less expensive. The top 10 career options coming out of a trade school according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook are:

  1. Elevator Installer/Repairer
  2. Radiation Therapist
  3. Geological and Petroleum Technician
  4. Web Developer
  5. Medical Sonographer
  6. Dental Hygienist
  7. Electrician
  8. Respiratory Therapist
  9. Plumber
  10. HVAC Technician


 Many people confuse the term apprenticeship with an internship. Apprenticeships consist of paid on-the-job training paired with classroom education, whereas internships are on-the-job training only. There are many career fields that offer apprenticeships in plumbing, carpentry, electrical, construction trades, truck drivers, and others.

The number of active apprenticeships has grown by about 210,000 since 2013. These are in-demand careers field and ones that many students don’t realize is an option for them.

A Gap Year

For some students taking time off after high school may be the best option, especially if they don’t know what they want to do. Why spend a ton of money only to get a useless degree that they probably won’t use anyway? We all know that person. If you’re going to spend the big bucks on a four-year college degree then you best have a plan and a purpose. Insert the gap year, gaining popularity with Malia Obama back in 2016-2017. Students are considering a gap year or semester experience before college. The benefits of taking a break from the classroom can lead to an improved college experience, a more fulfilling career, and increased self-confidence.

During the gap year, students are able to intern or work in many different settings, including those overseas if they chose. They gain real-world experience and valuable insight before heading off to college.

Finding a Job

For some students who are unable to afford any type of post-high school education, entering the workforce is the best option. Even though these are entry-level jobs, frequently companies will reimburse for tuition and promote from within, allowing students to gain valuable work experience while also attending college.  

Although these might not be the best options for everyone, they are for some, and it’s time we start helping students be proud of their post-high school choices, regardless of whether they pursue a four-year degree or not.  College isn’t for everyone (heck, school isn’t for everyone either, but that’s an entirely different blog post) and it’s time we start acknowledging that there are many choices that lead to future success. With knowledge, we can change perception.

Hi all, I’m Britni! I’m a wife to the king of dad jokes and a mom to three daughters ages 10, 7 and 3. We live in northwest Olathe (basically Lenexa) where I am a part-time high school business/computer teacher and a part-time adjunct instructor at a local college. When I’m not teaching the youth of America, I can be found helping my husband run the two KC area shave ice stands we own (@jarvys_shaveice) and organizing our event business. In my free time, I enjoy running outside when it’s not above 85 or below 40 degrees, watching my husband grill out so I don’t have to cook, and being perpetually sarcastic. I love nights out with the hubs, traveling with my family, red wine, coffee, ice cream and flare pens. Follow my crazy on IG @britni_jarvis or on all other forms of social media @britnijarvis.