College & Career

By Julia Huebner, Walter Payton,
Cami Grandjean, Walter Payton,
and Lizet Nava, Lane Tech

It may seem like all anyone can talk about is going to college, but it’s not for everyone. Although many students and adults believe that a four-year college or university is simply the next step for high school graduates, seniors have a number of other options besides the traditional collegiate route. Some jump right into the workforce or join the military. Whether you’re unsure or just feeling burned out on school, here are three other options to explore.

Gap year: Explore the world
(Stock photo)

(Stock photo)

Gap-year experiences are a win-win for students and colleges alike: Students love them for the self-discovery, soft skills and non-classroom lessons they learn, and colleges are thrilled to admit mature students who can better enrich their campuses. According to their website, Harvard University “encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work or spend time in another meaningful way.” The Ivy League school averages about 80 to 110 student deferrals for the purpose of taking a gap year.

But what do those students actually do with all of that time? If taking a gap year interests you, it’s easy to attend a gap year fair near you to discover specific programs. USA Gap Year Fairs compiles a list of official for-profit and nonprofit organizations that offer world travel, community service, environmental protection and internship opportunities. Some travel is pricey, such as Thinking Beyond Borders’ $31,000 price tag for a transcontinental, two semester program. Other programs pay for themselves, as students earn their room and board by working for a host family. Still others pay students to participate, like the highly acclaimed City Year program, which places teens and young adults in cities to “stem the dropout rate in lower-income areas,” according to the New York Times.

Some chart their own course. Cormac Slade-Byrd, who graduated from Walter Payton last spring, deferred from Yale to gain a “sense of (academic) direction” before hitting the books once again.

He spent the first part of his gap year “living, working, making friends and hanging out in Seattle.” This month, he plans to take the cheapest flight out of Los Angeles International Airport bound for a foreign country. Although his parents were supportive, Slade-Byrd said his gap year has been far from easy. He struggled to find a job in Seattle, almost becoming a busboy before he found a paid internship with a board game design company.

Because of the endless meaningful ways to spend them, gap years are a great option for many students. “Meaningful” is a key word—if you know that your lofty gap year goals would inevitably be spent watching Netflix and not holding yourself accountable, an unstructured gap year might not work.


Community college: Minimizing your costs
(Stock photo)

(Stock photo)

Going to a community college isn’t unheard of these days—student numbers are increasing, and there are good reasons for it. Affordable pricing, smaller classroom sizes and the relaxed atmosphere are a big plus, but there’s even more to consider.

Lane Tech graduate Adriana Chavero said she considered attending a community college due to financial reasons.

“You hear a ton of stories of people graduating from college with so much debt that they have to pay back for the rest of their lives,” Chavero said. “I have an older brother who went to college and decided to drop out after his second year because he had $10,000 in debt already from loans. The last thing I wanted was to drop out or become a financial burden for my parents.”

Cost often deters many students from pursuing certain universities, and choosing a community college can minimize the hefty cost of higher education. Chavero decided to attend Wilbur Wright Community College after receiving a scholarship and said she plans to transfer to a four-year university after graduating with her associate’s degree.

While it might not be the same atmosphere as a four-year college, Chavero added that there’s plenty to gain from attending a community college.

“The classes are smaller,” she said. “I’ve had a class as small as five students and a class as big as about 30 students. There’s also so many different people that you’ll meet, especially age-wise. Everyone is in a different point in their life and it’s exciting to hear their stories. There are also a handful of different clubs and sports to join.”

Although the price and atmosphere of community colleges are positive aspects, Chavero acknowledged the negatives that are associated with this choice.

“A big con about going to a community college is that you probably won’t get the full ‘college experience.’ You won’t be living in a dorm, and you’ll mostly make friends that last until the end of the semester,” Chavero said. “Another con is that a lot of people tend to look down upon community colleges. But don’t let that get to you, community colleges are great—they just don’t get enough credit.”


Vocational school: For the hands-on student
(Stock photo)

(Stock photo)

Thinking of pursuing a technical career? Don’t think a typical four-year college fits your needs? Want to save two years and thousands of dollars? A vocational school might be the perfect fit for you. Vocational schools are a post-grad option often forgotten by students going through the crazy, stress-filled college search and application process. A vocational school specializes in providing students with the skills specific to a particular job such as carpentry, plumbing or cosmetology.

Attending a vocational school will cut costs by an average of $67,482 over a four-year period, according to a 2014 U.S. News article. Some vocational schools even pay their students. The Apprentice School in Virginia pays students a salary of $54,000 by their final year of the program. Saving money in this period of your life is crucial, seeing as you will graduate and go on to lead your own life without the constant support of your parents. Not only will it cut costs by a massive amount, you will also reap the benefits of searching for a job with a technical degree. Some schools have partnerships with companies that employ graduates with technical degrees, providing a straight shot into a job right after graduation. The Apprentice School guarantees their graduates a job with Huntington Ingalls Industries, the owner of a large shipbuilding company.

At four-year colleges, lots of time (and money) is spent on electives, but vocational schools only require you to take courses relevant to your degree. The typical classroom also takes on a new meaning at a vocational school. In high school, we imagine a classroom to be a bland room with desks, chairs, a white board and some posters. A vocational school takes you out of the typical classroom setting and allows you to learn using a hands-on approach; courses are interactive and students learn through doing instead of listening. This environment is a perfect fit for students who don’t enjoy sitting and listening to hours of lectures and would rather be working on something with their own two hands.

All things considered, attending a vocational school in lieu of the typical four-year college experience can reap many long and short-term benefits for students who think this unconventional path would best fit their needs.

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About The Mash

The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free every other Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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