STAFF: For some seniors, the road ahead doesn’t need to lead to college

In 17 days East’s seniors will walk across a stage and be thrown into the beginning of a new life. Some will go off to boot camp for the military, others may work or take a gap year, but most new graduates will be off to college, moving miles if not states away to continue their education. With the costs of college climbing far beyond what is affordable it is a wonder that so many students still continue to choose to pursue a four year degree, begging the question, why are they doing it?

As of October 2017, 66.7% of high school graduates were enrolled in a college or university as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over 44 million Americans collectively hold a whopping $1.5 trillion in student debt, leaving one in four American adults paying off loans. One of the biggest concerns for high school grads is the impending cost of college, especially for students who are faced with paying for their college education all on their own. And yet, most students would rather face the challenges of student debt than face life without a college degree.

There is no denying that having a college degree can make finding jobs post-graduation easier and can often lead to bigger salaries than those who did not choose to attend college. According to Georgetown University, college graduates earn an average of $1 million more over their lifetime. However, just because it can be challenging to make a life without a degree, it is not impossible. For example, both Steve Jobs and Ellen DeGeneres dropped out of college after one semester, and while the road to success was not easy, they both made very impressive lives for themselves.

The most obvious examples of success without a college career are reserved for celebrities, but those stories are only so noticeable because the stories are writ so large for the public to see. What many don’t see are the everyday stories of people like yourself who achieved proportional success without going to college.

Many of our own parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings have achieved success without having gone to college. Whether it is dropping out of college to support a new child, foregoing it in pursuit of starting a business, or skipping it to work multiple jobs, there are many reasons why someone may choose not to continue on the college path, and no one should feel ashamed for making this choice.

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Poll based on a cross-section of East students

For one local father getting a college degree was never an option. After two years of community college this young student left school to provide for his family and newborn daughter. It was a struggle to find a job but after some searching this new dad found the job that he still works at today, 22 years later. Despite the stable job and good income however, he struggles each day with the stress of the job but fears if he quits he will not be able to find another job that will take him without a degree.

Another father of three managed to make a life for himself after moving to America at the age of 15 with only a junior high school education. Becoming a father at 19 did not allow him to go back and complete his education, but despite the odds he used the cooking skills he learned from his dad in Mexico to run his own restaurant. Now he is an executive chef at a local nursing home, a job that allows him to incorporate his love for cooking into his everyday life.

As one can see, life can take many different paths no matter how much education you have. Having a college degree to take into the workforce can certainly make job hunting easier, but it does not guarantee anything. It is possible to have a job you love and support your family with only your life skills to back you up. Each person’s story looks different and the decision to attend college is one that is specific to every individual and their circumstances.

The pressure to attend college can be overwhelming, whether that pressure comes from parents, friends, or the student themself. There is an unspoken fear among students that if they do not attend college they will be viewed as not smart enough. Even if college is out of the budget students are expected to scrape together some cash, slave over SAT prep books, and somehow make it through four years of debt-inducing education. There is nothing wrong with working hard to make one’s dreams a reality, but one should make sure the future they are devoting themselves to is the one they want, not the one they choose to appease others.

As students still transitioning from children to adults it can be easy to follow the opinions of parents and friends rather than one’s own wants, but when it comes to making a decision that will impact the rest of one’s life, it is important to make the decision that will lead to the life one wants. Whether that decision includes college or does not, the ultimate choice should be made by the student, whose life will forever be impacted by the choice they make.

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