Illustration by Lucinda Drake

College is the classic route to take after high school. You’re 18 and ready to continue your education for another four years…right? Not necessarily. For some, alternatives to the traditional post-secondary plan makes much more sense, and shows that college is not equivalent to satisfaction in your life. 

Starting second semester, seniors definitely feel the pressures of college creeping up on them. It’s a stressful thing, having to decide your future within a six month period. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 3.1 million people ages 16 to 24 who graduated from high school between January and October 2016, about 2.2 million, or 69.7%, were enrolled in college in October 2016. So what are those students who aren’t in college doing after high school? There are so many feasible and legitimate options to choose from.

Take a gap year. Maybe you want to go to college, but just don’t feel ready in some capacity, or maybe you just aren’t really sure if you want to attend college at all. It could be financial, emotional or maybe you just don’t want to move away from home and start your post-secondary journey immediately after you graduate. A gap year—also known as a sabbatical year—is generally a year or so long break between high school and college. It’s typical for a gap year student to work during their break from school, and some even travel for a bit. Those who choose a gap year usually have the intention of eventually enrolling in college or university. 

Kira Jacobson, a recent Franklin High School graduate, is currently taking a gap year, and says that it’s the best decision she’s ever made. Jacobson says that it’s given her a chance to expand her world view, gain work experience, learn about herself more deeply, travel and set long term plans. “Taking a gap year was a fairly last minute decision for me, but as soon as I made it happen it felt right,” says Jacobson. “It was a really scary decision as well. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel ready for college, academically or otherwise. I spent all 13 years of my time in the public school system assuming I would head directly to a four-year university the fall after I graduated. Deciding to change that narrative was terrifying.” When the financial aspect of college didn’t work out for Jacobson, she decided to defer the university she was accepted to, and explore her other options. When it comes to taking a gap year, Jacobson says that it’s usually portrayed in one of two ways. “Either you’re deferring a prestigious university to travel the world or spend a year at an incredible internship,” says Jacobson, “or you’re someone that’s completely lost with absolutely no idea what you want to do.” Those, of course, are not the only two options available.

Jacobson says that she’s consistently scheduled with work from 9-5, Monday through Friday. Most days she gets up, goes to work and then comes home. She explains that while she doesn’t feel like it’s an option that’s typically talked about, taking a gap year is quite nice, saying “I have time to read and go to concerts and take walks. It feels good to slow down after years of moving quickly from one thing to the next.”
Another plan following high school could be seeking out an internship or a paying job. Being an intern for something you’re passionate or want to learn more about can be very enriching and educational. You could even snag a paid internship and make some money while learning. Many companies don’t require a degree to be an intern, and just want to see that you’re reliable, responsible and show initiative to learn. For some, that’s a wildly preferable alternative to paying $40,000 a year in tuition to get a degree that teaches you the same skills you’re gaining in your internship.

Megan Dutton, a senior at Franklin, has chosen to pursue a job that she is very passionate about after high school. Dutton currently works part-time at an Italian bakery in SE Portland, and plans to take the summer off to pick up working there full-time in the fall. There she hopes to sharpen her skills as a pastry chef. Getting a job right out of high school can be just as educational and provide just as much experience as going to school for that particular skill. “I’m choosing to take this route to experience what it’s like working in the baking and pastry industry before I spend money on culinary school.” says Dutton. She also says that she gets to learn from one of the best pastry chefs in Portland, which is an amazing opportunity.

If Dutton feels like she still has more to learn, she may attend Oregon Culinary Institute in the fall of 2020 to pursue a Baking and Pastry-Hospitality Management AOS Degree. When asked what she hoped to achieve from her choices after high school, Dutton says that she hopes to gain experience and knowledge. “I think that by working hands on in a kitchen, I’ll be able to learn even more than what I could in a classroom.” If you’re thinking of pursuing a job, or potential career post high school, go for it. You can take a year to forge ahead on a possible calling, and if it doesn’t work out, university will always be there if needed.

There are so many options that stray away from the typical post-secondary path. Some other suggestions would be start an online business, take classes online, travel (if you have the means to), or volunteer. Maybe choose to not go to university at all, and avoid all the pesky debt.

If you do choose to go to college straight out of high school, more power to you. Do what feels best for you. But if you’re stressed about deciding, know that you have options and that college can wait a year or two. Don’t stress out if you feel like you don’t want to jump in right away (or at all). Just because these alternatives aren’t talked about a lot, doesn’t mean they aren’t reasonable options to explore.

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