This Point of View article is the second in a two-part series about the college search process. The writer, 17, is a senior at Bethlehem Central High School who is attending college in the fall. She has recently been accepted to the University of Vermont, Fordham University, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She is (very carefully) making her decision soon.
Imagine, for a moment, the look of a parent’s face if they are told that their child wants to go to art school or, heaven forbid, become a poet. Even a marine biologist is scoffed at. Now consider the mortified parent who is told their child wants to opt out of school entirely. After all, we’ve always been told that if we don’t get into “a good college” then we’ll never amount to much. So, at the will of popular opinion, these children are put into college, acquire debt, and increase the demand of college education, keeping tuition rates high. And what happens? Only 56% of students actually finish attending a 4 year college. Our education system is characterized by common core classes that every student must take that all students need the same path in their education. Their passions are forced to fit into a major, or face being forgotten entirely. The system does not accommodate to different types of intelligence. There’s so much pressure to attend college, it doesn’t seem like a viable option to just start working, or following your own path. Electricians, contractors and plumbers can live extremely fulfilling lives and can make twice or three times more money than that of a college graduate.
Yet who would want to work in a field that’s been characterized and stereotyped as for failures and unmotivated dropouts? I’d like to see you learn how to fix the intricate workings and wirings of your precious foreign cars engine. It clogs up the system to put these individuals with unique talents in environments that don’t do their talents justice. We need blue collar workers skills daily, and always will. But how many psychologists or businessmen do we really need when we already have such a surplus? There may be more fulfilling paths, yet students will enroll in med-school and law-school where just seeking a nice salary is not going to cut it.
Ultimately, it is the student’s job to ignore the stigmas, and teaching the youth that gaining knowledge in their passions, relying on their own drive, is where permanent change will come from. It is the student’s job to figure out if we want to pursue a wide base of knowledge at a liberal arts school. Its the students job to decide if we have a passion that we are so strongly invested in that we need a private school that will allow us to build our own curriculum. It is the students job to decide if we want to go to a state school for the experience, price, and connections before entering the working world. There should be no stigmas, no sneering at the highly personal decisions we make on how we get an education, whether it be in school, work or travel. We don’t need to cripple ourselves financially for success. If the passion to learn everyday exists, then that is success in itself. If we trust ourselves, and get over the blind faith in a degree, then future generations will indefintely see increases in creativity, job rates, and life satisfaction in general.
When students stop trying to fit into some mold of the typical college graduate, schools that are repeatedly invested in may have to reconsider their staggering tuitions as application rates drop. Other schools that offer non-conventional educations might see a rise in applications and perhaps won’t get scoffed at by the other institutions as they improve. More college bound kids will get the attention they deserve and the rates they pay will not damage their hopes at future success. Their education will do what it was supposed to. Suddenly, any college education will be “a good college education” especially if the focus is more on what to do with the education rather than how to get that degree. Hard workers who join the workforce won’t have to face any guilt at their decision and can take full pride in their work, never looking back with regret, never warning their kids to grow up and be different from them. Learning happens in every moment, every day, from the classes we take, the problems we face, and the people we meet. If we hold on to that burning desire to learn, and teach others how to educate themselves, it won’t matter if you’re a professor, a dancer, a mechanic, or a sky-diving instructor. We can begin to take pride, finally feel we made the right decision, and feel in control of our own fates.