When I was eighteen – many decades ago – you either went to college after high school or you went to work. The paths seemed to be eternally parallel. In the 21st Century that choice must be different for all students regardless of income levels because of the reality of lifelong learning.
Every high school graduate—and their parents—needs to embrace the concept that opting for an alternative to a full time post-secondary experience is not the bad choice. Leaving high school to go directly to work where you can really explore work that interests you may very well be what you need to decide where to concentrate further study. And your employer can help fund the educational experience you select as well as support you toward your career goal.
And maybe that traditional path still doesn’t match your style. Attending an immersive experience such as a boot camp that gets you into a career path in months instead of years makes sense. Joining a program that integrates learning with earning is doubling down on both your academic and professional future. Stacking industry recognized credentials earned on-line or in a hybrid program may give you exactly what you need.
People may argue that while need-based aid from the federal government is available regardless of age, institutional merit-based aid is disproportionally offered to students coming directly from high school so if you postpone a degree you forfeit merit scholarships. Truthfully institutional aid has been the slowest to evolve as institutions cling to the traditional model. So clearly if you have a full merit scholarship from a high worth college you should take it but only after you guarantee that it will cover your 4-year program. All of us have heard of colleges reducing aid packages after your first year.
I think the single best reason to examine all your options is employment. If you want to enter certain licensed professions – education, engineering, law, medicine – the traditional route still offers the clearest path today. But if you’re interested in emerging tech fields -AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, gaming- the alternative providers provide the skills-driven state of the art learning that employers are demanding. And if you are interested in looking at how employers are using cross-disciplinary skills and forming teams in real time that is called on-the-job training or quite simply a job.
The critical point is to recognize that you have options. Listen to people in your life but most of all listen to you. If you are ready to hit the work world running and decide what and how you will learn from there, explore all possibilities and be comfortable with your choice.
Jane Oates is the President of WorkingNation, a non-profit organization created to tell the stories of the solutions in training, attracting and retraining workers. Before joining WorkingNation, Jane was the Commissioner of Higher Education in New Jersey, among other roles.. You can learn more about innovative solutions and get engaged with WorkingNation.org or contact Janeoates@