Finding Value in all After High School Experiences

College. It’s hung on the school walls, it floods our inboxes, and the question “where are you applying?” pops up constantly from both teenagers, and adult figures. For many students, a 4-year college plan is an expectation and their interactions with other options are limited. 

     As students become upperclassmen, they need to start thinking about what they want to do after high school. 70-75% of Oyster River students continue to a four-year university leaving only 10-15% to community college, and even fewer students continue onto something else. In the 70-75% of students who go on to college, there are both students who wish for an academic career and those who don’t know what they want to do and just assume college is their best option. In 2020, Isabella Crocco (‘21) published MOR’s, “Why are you Going to College?”  She talked about the stigma of those who go to a community college and the pressure to go to a four-year university. These stigmas are still present and that is likely due to missing information about other opinions after high school. Here are the benefits students can gain from going to trade school and community college, and how they can get involved. 

     While students choose where they go next, there can be a lot of pressure from community members. ORHS school counselor Jason Baker thinks that it’s because that is what everyone around us is doing. He said, “I think at Oyster River, especially since it’s in a college town and there are a lot of university personnel who live in Lee, Durham, and Madbury, we have a high value on education. Community members went through a lot of education themselves…You have a lot of student desire to do the same thing.” 

     Dillion Labonte (‘22) who is considering trade school and college, has received community pressure to go to college and also to get into a top school. “I feel that most of our students go onto college. We have a lot of people who are going to big colleges or impressive colleges like the Ivy League and whatnot so there definitely is that pressure.” 

     Jaden Smith (‘21) who chose the community college New Hampshire Technical Institute for nursing, also received pressure and some judgment for not choosing to go on to a well-known academically successful university/college. He explained, “My piano teacher when I told her [I was going to community college] she said, ‘aww Jaden, you could have done better.” I was a little offended because NHTI is a really smart decision for me.”

     When it comes down to it, going to an expensive and competitive college is not for everyone. Other paths can lead to successful and happy careers. There are many options for students after high school including, community college and trade school. Community college is usually a two-year program where students can get a work training certificate, an associate, or credits transferable to a 4-year university. Trade school is a two-year program where students are taught the skills to get a specific job, usually a job that takes more hands-on skills.

      Baker explained that there are different factors in a student’s decision on where to go after high school such as different interests, financial needs, goals, and comfort zones. He explained, “I think there are benefits in every way. There’s definitely benefits going to a four-year school, and getting out of New Hampshire… [but] there’s value in everything our kids do. You have to find out what you need.”

Trade School:

     Ron Senet, a currently licensed electrician in multiple states who works primarily in NH, explains why some students may not choose college and instead pick the trades or something else. “For a lot of people in high school, that structure is not how they learn best and it doesn’t interest them. Some people just don’t perform well or do well under this type of structure that schools are set up as. Not only that they are not necessarily engaged or interested in doing academic things like that. For a lot of those people, they like working with their hands.”

     For Labonte and Sabrina Gullo (‘22), some of the elements of what Senet said is true to them. Gullo thought she was going to college for a while but wasn’t excited about it. “I mean up until freshman year I was like yeah I’m gonna go to college for something, I don’t know. I have to go to college right? At least throughout middle school and freshman year, I heard college, college, college. Then when I heard about the trades, I was like ooh here’s another option I could totally go into… something I actually love.” 

     Senet didn’t want to go to college and the trades ended up working very well for him. He explained, “I like my job a lot. It definitely takes the right kinda person to want to do it. It’s very hard work. It’s pretty dirty work but it’s pretty rewarding I feel. I’m not the type of person who can be happy sitting around in an office and working at a desk. There’s always something new [new project] and you’re always seeing something else [working in different locations].”

     Students who like some of the elements in Senet’s job may want to check out the trades and take some classes. Oyster River provides trades classes taught by Michael Troy. Troy teaches woodworking, advanced building construction, mechanical engineering, and electrical work. In these classes, students can gain some trades skills, and work on cool projects such as launching rockets, doing basic wiring, woodworking things like chairs, and in the more advanced classes, students even get to make a shed. These opportunities are great ways for students to learn if they enjoy working with their hands. 

     Another way students look into the trades is through classes at Dover. At Dover High school there is a much bigger shop, with more tools and teachers. Labonte and Golding both love their Dover trade classes. They said there are some amazing guest speakers and building opportunities. Golding explained, “We are starting to build a shed for someone. That’s cutting and assembling and we are assembling it with a company, so that’s pretty cool. We get to hear what they are into, what they are doing, their profession, and how they got into it; I think it is awesome to learn from people. Later we are going to be building an actual tiny house which is really cool.”

     Labonte loves working with his hands and having these experiences, but is still considering college because he’d like to run competitively on a university team. Labonte explains that choosing between the two is a big financial decision. He said, “At Manchester’s community college if I did the [electrical] line program it would only be six grand total before financial aid or scholarships. College is going to be a lot more than that per year. I’ve been looking at SNHU and talked to their coach because he reached out to me. It’s 18,000 a year before room and board; that’s $72,000 for four years.”

     Choosing college is a risk financially that doesn’t make sense to some students. According to Midwest Technical Institute’s article, Trade School vs College: A Guide to Weighing Cost, Timelines and More, trade schools usually cost $5000-$15,000 total in contrast to a four-year school that costs on average $32,500 per year according to the College Board. Spending $32,500 per year with debt on top of that can be hard for a student to pay off. Choosing not to go to a four-year college also doesn’t mean that students don’t make good money after school. Trades jobs on average make $81,414 per year depending on experience level and type of trade, according to The Value of Trade Schools in Today’s Economy, by Best Colleges. 

 Community College: 

    Trade school is not the only way for students to get less expensive education. For those who want to continue academics, community college can be a great option. Community college costs on average $3,440 a year and can get you good jobs. Smith’s two-year nursing program will still give him a certificate for the job he wants, nursing, and the same money as any other nurse (the average American nurse makes $75,510 per year). Many students also transfer to a four-year school after 2 years to continue their education. In New Hampshire, there is a credit transfer system that ensures students can transfer community college credits to the schools: Granite State College, Keene State College, Plymouth State College, and the University of New Hampshire. Some universities after community college require more planning, to make sure the credits being taken are transferable. Other universities and colleges require more planning in that students need to check with councilors to see if credits will transfer. 

     Although Smith can work with his two-year certificate he plans on continuing and at least completing his bachelor’s. “I think after my two years I’m definitely going to get my bachelor’s and luckily there is a credit transfer system.”

     Some elements of community college wouldn’t be fitting for some students. A lot of community colleges don’t provide dorms, the campus can be small and spread out, commuting may be required, and some opportunities like clubs and sports may be more limited. These elements vary in importance for different students. Smith explained, “There’s the college experience side of things. If someone is going to UNH they are going there to get the experience of being a college kid. At NHTI you’re not getting that. It’s a smaller campus.”

     For some students, the money isn’t worth the college experience. For Smith, missing out on some parties and sports wasn’t a deal-breaker for him. He’s made friends and loves his class. Academically, he doesn’t feel he’s missing out on a lot either. He explained, “Actually in the two-year program that the community provides, I’m getting right out in the clinical setting right in the hospital within my first few weeks. Whereas if I went to a four-year college the first two years I’d just be doing lectures and not even be able to go to the hospital.”

     While students think about where and what they want to do after high school, it’s important to evaluate all options and truly regard which option makes the most sense. All experiences can lead to future career success. None of them measure one’s intelligence or potential. If an option after high school sounds like just a chore for a reputation or money, then perhaps the program isn’t for you, at least during the present moment. Other options for students after highschool include internships, travel abroad education/work, starting a business, or completing a short licensing program like to be a nurses assistant. 

     Senet explained that success doesn’t come from what or where you pursue something, “You can be a successful electrician like you can be a bad electrician, just like you can be a successful lawyer or a bad lawyer. It comes down to you and how much you want to put into it, study, learn, and how much drive you have.”

     Students’ passions, goals, and life positions change over time. Four-year colleges, community colleges, and trade schools are not the only options. Students may choose to later change their education path and pick up more school later in their life. Pick the plan that sets you up for a life you love, a stable future position, and something exciting to you and change it if you change. Your future is about your happiness, and transformation, not anyone else’s.