Panther Report: Alternatives to college

The struggle of future growth is upon us. People are concerned for where the country is headed, and in light of the current presidential election, the U.S. is entering a state of confusion and demand for a new start. Should we be that concerned though?

I recently sat down and interviewed three McKinleyville high school students and talked with them about their experiences at pre-college summer programs.

panther-report-sarah-gross-badgeAs juniors and seniors prepare for their futures, outside pressure to select a college is continuously drilled into their minds, which adds excessive stress onto an already-impacted schedule. The need for a college degree is crucial in today’s society in order to have a job that satisfies the spending of our consumer society. However, not everything demands a fancy slip of paper and thousands of dollars.

Robert Farrington, a contributor for Forbes magazine, stated five alternatives to college: trades and vocational schools; the military; volunteer work in organizations such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps; finding entry-level positions; or taking a leap and becoming an entrepreneur.

If there is anything that I discovered after conversing with McKinleyville students, I know that there is no shortage of ideas and solutions for problems that arise.

Anja Tjaden studied at Parsons School of design and focused on digital photography and videography. She learned how to translate an idea into a finished product, approach people to do street photography, and how to “integrate emotion and feelings …” and create stories in her pieces. She reflected that her academics made her “neglect her artistic side.”

Tjaden learned that art is about being “creative, thoughtful, courageous,” and it has made her more open to creative careers in the future.

Maisie French spent a week in Chicago at the Young Innovators Initiative. French utilized her time learning about leadership with a concentration in business. She conducted interviews with businesses in Nigeria via Skype, learned problem-solving techniques, how to pitch an idea and advertisement strategies.

While French does not specifically wish to pursue business, she does hope to pursue a career path that focuses on global affairs or foreign relations, due to the enjoyment she received from conversing with people in Nigeria.

Coco Lyell spent part of her summer studying at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Program, with a focus in business and entrepreneurship. This program included participants from 33 countries and every U.S. state, totaling about 2,500 people in her session alone. Her classes dove in depth into the fundamentals of business and economics.

Through an adventurous, hands-on experience, Lyell overcame her nervousness to stay in a foreign place, and learned what life could be like when you put yourself out there. After the experience of being surrounded by international students, Lyell owns a business, with her partners from Stanford, through investors in Singapore. Their project, Cosaint, is a bracelet, designed for women ages 14 through 30, which can be ripped off in high risk situations such as assault and rape, so that officials and personal contacts are alerted to the person’s location. Unsure of where her project will go, she is excited for the current progress and plans to start production in a couple months.

Lyell sees herself pursuing careers where she can incorporate her passion for gender equality and her new-found skills with business.

After talking with these students, I found that the next generation is defying stereotypes, at least at McKinleyville High School. Our students are engaging in the real world, solving problems on international levels, creating, starting and owning businesses, discovering passions, exploring, and having adventures.

Pressures for students to attend college dominate the social structure of high school, and I think it’s time we encouraged the next generation; trusting them to continue the great work that their predecessors established, whether that be through university, or through unconventional methods.

While the future is evolving, we should be looking forward to it, and excited for the possibilities that it will bring, with the help of the new innovators that make up the next generation of trailblazers and creators.


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