Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Abigail Jackson, Staffer

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As a junior, college is always on my mind. I’m always studying in my free time to bring up my GPA, preparing for the SAT or scrolling through Naviance looking at which colleges would be a good fit for me. I’ve considered following in my older sister’s footsteps and going to the University of Arizona because the campus is beautiful and they have a strong business program. I’ve noticed that society seems to encourage students to go to a traditional four-year college and discourage non-traditional options that may be a better fit for some.
Community college is one of the most popular alternatives to a traditional four-year college. Community colleges, also known as junior colleges, are two-year colleges that are often used as stepping stones into more traditional four-year colleges.
Community colleges are great options for a lot of students because they cost far less. The average cost of a two-year public community college is $2,713 while public universities can cost more than three times as much. Many students and their families can’t afford a four-year college, which makes community college a more economical option.
Class schedules can be more flexible in community college, so students often have the freedom to work or spend time doing other things. Community colleges also often offer online courses and night classes, so students can have full-time jobs or busy schedules and still pursue a degree.
Although community colleges have distinct advantages, there is a considerable stigma attached to them. Many people think that the flexibility offered by these schools means that they aren’t considered a “real college”.
Community colleges were founded to provide equal educational opportunities for every student with a desire to learn, regardless of their ability to pay. Community colleges cut down the required amount of credits by eliminating some elective courses, which decreases the number of classes that a student must pay for. By decreasing the cost, a degree is more accessible to those who can’t afford to attend a four-year college.
The stigma surrounding community colleges arose because there is a misconception that those who attend community colleges don’t get an education on par with graduates of a four-year college. On the contrary, community colleges offer top-notch education with access to state of the art technology, and they often have small class sizes to ensure that students are getting the best education possible. As community colleges become more popular, employers may begin to recognize the value of their graduates and recruit more from community colleges.
Another option for students is to attend a trade school after high school in order to study in a specific vocational area. Trade schools are usually one or two years in areas such as mechanics, construction or automotive mechanics. If a student knows that they want to pursue a career in one of these fields, trade school is a very practical option.
However, trade school is slightly more expensive than community college, with an average cost of around $3,000 per year. Additionally, the cost of equipment and other materials can add to the price.

Another common option for high school students is to take a gap year. A gap year is a break between high school and college that over 30,000 American students take every year.

While there are many reasons students decide to take a gap year, one is that students need to recover from academic burnout from high school. Students attend school for the vast majority of their lives up until the age of 18 which can make students less motivated and enthusiastic about school. Taking a gap year can help students focus on what they want to study in school and feel motivated to work for a higher GPA in college.
Many students spend their gap year traveling the world and experiencing new cultures. This extended time away from their life at home allows for interest in new areas of study and personal growth.
During a gap year, students can also take the time to work for the money needed to afford college. By taking a gap year, students can work a full-time job for a year and get job experience as well as a stream of income.
Some people disapprove of gap years because they make students seem “lazy” or “unmotivated.” Most students go straight to college after high school, so those who don’t might seem to be behind their peers who continue straight to college. Despite this apparent stigma, taking a gap year off is a great option for thousands of students who aren’t ready to go straight to college.
Choosing where, when, how and if to continue to higher education is an important choice that has lots of options. Although I don’t know where I’m going to go to college or what I plan to study, there is more than one path that can lead to a successful future. All high school students should seek to find an option that fits their needs, desires and goals.