One of the biggest decisions for most high school seniors is choosing what to do after graduating. For most Whitman students, it seems like there are only two options: go straight to college from high school, or don’t go at all.
But there are also non-traditional options for high school students, including gap years and trade schools. In order to better cater to all students’ needs, counseling and administration should emphasize that post-high school options other than college are just as legitimate.
It’s important to present students with a variety of options. Many students who are unprepared for the rigors and stress of college attend anyway, and sometimes, they struggle and even drop out. Prodding all students’ decisions toward college can be harmful in the long run.
Providing more information about less conventional options would also decrease the stigma of not going to college. Many students who chose to attend trade schools were faced with disappointment from parents or friends. However, if Whitman presented these choices as legitimate, then students would be more likely to choose the best option for them and not decide based on pressure from others.
There are also preconceived notions against taking gap years; people often think gap years are only for students who didn’t get into traditional colleges. However, if counselors and administrators made this option seem viable, then more students might take gap years and reap the benefits of all they have to offer.
Despite the stigma, gap years and trade schools can be extremely beneficial. Eighty four percent of students who took a gap year acquired useful career skills, and jobs resulting from trade schools have a median annual salary of $35,720. In addition, because trade school degrees usually only take two years to complete, student debt levels tend to be much lower than those of traditional universities.
While these two options enable students to succeed on their terms, opponents may argue that since most Whitman students are inclined to attend college, prioritizing options like trade schools or gap years would waste time. However, even if many students are college-oriented now, presenting trade schools and gap years as legitimate options would encourage students who are only attending college because of pressure to follow norms to do what is best for them.
Schools should make it clear that two-year trade schools can provide a path to stable jobs, and that gap years can open minds to new possibilities. College isn’t the best option for every student, and counselors and administrators need to ensure that those students have other choices. Don’t force students down the wrong path; let them choose the right ones for themselves.