Noa Ní Aoláin Gross
A core value of the college prep school experience, is getting accepted to and attending a four year college. College counseling support is a big draw for families navigating that competitive process. Sometimes the signs pointing to the four-year degree or BA/MA/PhD path drown out other options. The alternative to this, other post-high school graduate paths, community college, military service, gap years, may fall through the cracks as valid post-grad options.
There is no denying the draw of a four-year university. It is a place where students make lifelong friendships, explore their interests and meet like-minded people. The four year degree opens doors to graduate school. Having a degree also correlates to higher lifetime earnings, greater access to medical insurance and has been shown to extend life expectancy. Four-year universities also help students network and find internships, making connections in their intended field. For certain careers a Bachelor’s degree is required or preferred for applicants.
For some attending community college may be the best route following SPA graduation. While this is a private school and many will be able to afford college without going into debt, this is not the reality for everyone. Even with financial aid packages, a four year university may still be out of reach. Community college provides a more accessible and affordable alternative. Aside from this financial aspect, a two year degree may more quickly place people in the workforce and fields they care about. For seniors who don’t know yet what they want to do, community college gives them more space to try out options. There is also more flexibility with community college night and weekend courses, which makes them easier to schedule around other aspects of life.
With many seniors 18 at the time of graduation, the military is another option and it may surprise some to know that most careers exist in the service branches: from security to chef’s training, medical and emergency responders, management and education. Joining the military allows access to the GI Bill, which covers tuition costs following military service. Additionally, different branches of the military provide training programs that give members real-world experience. Free medical and dental are also included in any branch of military service. For some the discipline of the military and the stability may be appealing as they leave the safety of high school.
While more common than community college and the military for SPA students, taking a gap year can take a number of forms: whether it’s work, an internship, service or travel, there are real benefits to a year away from the classroom. The Gap Year Association found that students who took gap years developed more openness and understanding of the world and the gap year helped them learn emotional and technical skills useful in life. In the study, 77% of those that took gap years reported that they found their purpose in life.
That said, even with the emphasis on college prep, the SPA college counseling department does a good job of supporting senior choice. They encourage students to choose a school or a path that will work best for them and coach students to allow privacy and respect around each other’s decisions. While college counseling works to set this standard, it’s essential that every member of the community support their efforts and celebrate individuals’ decisions for their future. There are an endless amount of ways to enter the real world following high school, and just because a four year college is on many students’ minds doesn’t mean it is the best or only option. Interests, needs, and paths are different; avoid snap judgments and let peers chart their own course.