Is College Right for You

In the United States 60-70% of high school graduates enroll in some form of college or higher education. Some people go back to college, later in life, part or full time, as a result of exploring other options like trade schools or the military. It seems to me, strictly through personal observations from reading articles and watching the news, that a higher percentage of high school students are considering not going to college to pursue other options.

Plumbers, painters, electricians, veterinarian technicians, hair stylists are some common jobs that don’t require college. They all require some form of training and usually an apprenticeship, all at a fraction of the cost of college, not to mention, a time investment of at least 4 years.

If you are an entrepreneur, there are always creative ways of building a business in a trade you enjoy, especially if you have gained a certain level of expertise. I have friends that have built tremendous businesses as plumbers, painters, construction companies, yoga studios, etc.

I know a hair colorist that made over $100K per year because he was incredibly good at blending colors and making it look authentic. These are the type of colorists that very wealthy people and actors and actresses use. They will pay an incredible amount of money so even the most critical eye can’t see that they dye their hair.

The question is, how do you know if college or a vocation is your best choice as a career path. What if you have the grades to get accepted to your ideal college and have the financial means to afford it, and you still aren’t sure. My advice is to ask yourself the following questions.

  • Do you like school? I don’t think many people consider whether or not they like school. Some students do, many are indifferent. Most look at it as a necessary part of life. A better question is, what subjects do you like? That’s actually a more important question because your first year of college involves taking mainly required classes.

    After you get the required classes out of the way you can focus on taking only the classes or courses you enjoy. If you can picture yourself taking classes in college that might not be available in your high school, then college becomes an easy decision. Art classes, languages, architecture, engineering, political science, are a few examples of subjects that most students have little or no access to in high school. If nothing about academics, specific classes, studying or taking tests interests you, then you have made your decision.
  • Are there subjects, topics, or hobbies that you really enjoy or have a natural aptitude for? I learned at a young age that I had a natural aptitude for anything mechanical. I once took a vacuum cleaner apart and put it back together just to see if I could, and I was only in the 5th grade. I also remember a time when a few of my neighbors were helping my father install an above the ground pool. They weren’t happy when I looked at the instructions and told them they installed part of the side walls incorrectly.

    I seriously considered going to a trade school or enrolling in the military to become an airplane mechanic. That career pays significantly more money than an automobile mechanic and they are always in high demand. There are a lot of different types of assessments that can identify your natural aptitude for specific skills. Ask your guidance counselor or search for an online assessment. They are usually little cost, and some are free. There is little downside in completing a personal assessment and you could learn something about yourself you never knew.
  • Do you have the grades to get into college and the academic aptitude to be successful in your area of study? If you don’t have the grades, but you still want to give it the old college try, you should consider enrolling in a community college and taking a couple of basic classes. Some people don’t have the aptitude for college, but with some, it could be just a matter of maturity. I taught at the college level for five years.

    I had adult students that excelled academically because their maturity and life experiences taught them how to stay focused and motivated. There were others who did not have the aptitude for college, regardless of their age. The first time I had to fail a student, I felt horrible. However, the dean of academic affairs explained that failing a person who does not have the ability to pass the class is a necessary and an important part of being a college professor.

    These students need to consider exploring other career paths before they spend any more money on college when there is no hope for them to graduate. Then there is the issue of having the grades to get accepted to a specific college. Maybe not having the grades to pursue a degree in subjects you need for the career path you desire would sway your decision.

    When I was a freshman in High School, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Science, however, was not one of my better subjects. Plus it is one of the most academically demanding careers since you have to excel in undergraduate college and then get accepted to medical school. I’m glad I knew enough not to pursue that career path.

    Having the grades or aptitude to get into college is something you probably know about yourself. If you are unsure about a four-year college or university, you might want to pursue the community college option. Just be honest with yourself so you don’t want to waste time and money if you can’t make it to the finish line.
  • Can you afford to go to college? This is also an important factor when considering higher education. To be honest, if you have the ability to get accepted to a college of your choice, you should probably figure out a way to afford it. However, you should consider all the costs and options for the entire four years. I know a few people that had to drop out and finish at night because they ran out of money.

    If they met with a financial planner or someone who could help them determine the total costs of the 4-year school they were considering, they might have decided to go to a less expensive college for a year or two and transferring to the college of their choice. In that scenario, they would have been able to graduate from their preferred college instead of starting there and having to leave due to financial constraints.
  • Do you have specific Goals and Interests? The first step in deciding whether college is the right path is to clarify your career goals and interests. What are your passions, and what field or industry aligns with those passions? If your chosen career requires a college degree as a prerequisite, then college may be the best option. However, if you are passionate about a trade, entrepreneurial venture, or a field that values experience over degrees, college may not be necessary.
  • Have you Considered a Specific Job Market? It is essential to research and understand the job market in the field you are interested in. Some professions, such as medicine, engineering, and law, have strict educational requirements. In contrast, other sectors like the creative arts or technology often prioritize skills and experience over formal education. Analyze whether your chosen career path demands a degree for entry-level positions and consider the potential return on investment (ROI) of a college education.
  • Do you have the self-Discipline? Another key factor is your ability to stay self-motivated and disciplined. College often provides a structured environment for learning, but it may not be the best fit for individuals who excel with self-directed learning or who can gain experience through internships and self-study.

Determining whether college is the best career path is a highly individualized decision that depends on a range of factors, including career goals, the job market, financial considerations, alternative education options, networking opportunities, long-term goals, and personal learning preferences. It is essential to conduct thorough research and self-assessment to make an informed decision that aligns with your unique circumstances and aspirations.

College can be a valuable path to certain careers, but it is not the only path, and alternative options should be carefully considered before committing to higher education. Ultimately, the best career path is the one that aligns with your goals, values, and circumstances.

If you are a high school student and considering a career path after graduation, I hope these questions and options were helpful. You shouldn’t be embarrassed about not going to college, especially if you don’t have the grades or aptitude. You can always go back to college later in life. You have an almost infinite number of options for education that includes college, trade schools, apprenticeships and entrepreneurial ventures. If you choose a career path that matches your interests and aptitude, you will be extremely successful regardless of your field of endeavor.