We’re currently in a major dilemma when it comes to higher education. The costs of attending a college or university seem to still be on the rise, yet a college degree is still considered a necessity for most professional fields. This leaves a majority of college students, who simply do not have the immense expendable income to cover their college tuition, in a dire situation of paying off what seems like an insurmountable amount of student loans. The reality of student loans places an extreme financial pressure on an endless number of young recent graduates. In addition to the emotional stress of figuring out how to navigate the professional world, determining a career direction, and establishing a meaningful presence in a world outside of the institutional confines of a college campus, the burden of paying off student loans seems to tip the scale of anxiety for college graduates. Some solutions, such as the emergence and rise of vocational trade schools, have surfaced in recent years, yet the issue of student loans remains a crisis in America.
What does this mean for especially creative-minded young individuals? While the question of whether or not art school is worth the cost is still heavily debated in the creative world, it’s important to discuss other realities for teenagers starting to think about college. The current societal norm for the majority of high school graduates is to continue straight into a 4-year university program, but this route is not always the best path for each high school graduate. For young people who may not have a strong career path in mind, and especially those who are contemplating a career in art, it’s important to weigh out alternative options. Taking a step back from the current of where your peers are going, and evaluating what you’re meant to do on your own unique path, could not only save you years of your journey, but save you thousands of dollars in student loans. Here are three alternative post-grad paths for high school students to take instead of a 4-year university.
Try a 2 Year Arts Degree
The art field is filled with people who come from all different types of unconventional backgrounds, so if you know you want to continue in a specialized art education, but palpitate with anxiety at the thought of being tens of thousands of dollars in debt from a 4-year university, consider venturing into a 2-year arts program. You will still get training specific to your field, but you don’t have to commit to both an academically and financially daunting course that a typical 4-year program would entail. Plus, a 2-year program means that you’ll be able to get started in the professional workforce sooner, which will move your plans to become a working artist along much quicker.
Take a Gap Year
There is no rule that proclaims you need to attend college as soon as you graduate high school. There are so many pros to taking a gap year, including gaining experience in the workforce, saving money, and allowing yourself an entire year to really plan and think about the type of career you want without being rushed into the overwhelming stress of starting at college. Sometimes, experiencing the “real world” outside the confines of an academic institution leads to life-changing revelations. You may discover that you are better in the workforce than in an academic setting, or you may even get a head start in becoming a working artist and find out that you’re further along in your art career than you thought and no longer need to attend art school.
Attend a Community College First
Say that you are certain you want to attend a full four years of college, but you’re still iffy on the price. A great way to save money but still get the university experience is to start at a community college, where the tuition costs are significantly lower, and then transfer to a university. Many extremely selective universities are scouting for high-achieving community college students to transfer in, and by choosing this route you get to cheat the expensive traditional 4-year path a little bit. For many universities, especially if you’re interested in pursuing a broader, liberal arts education, you are required to take various introduction and prerequisite courses anyways. Instead of paying twice the price to take these basic courses at a private institution, you can attend a community college and jump right into the discipline you wish to pursue at a more prestigious university. That way, you almost cut your costs in half, but still will get an invaluable education, and college degree, from your university of choice.
There is no cookie-cutter route to pursuing your education, and by enforcing the idea that all high school graduates need to immediately attend a 4-year university, academic counselors are putting unknowing teenagers at steep financial risk. For some students, college is deeply expensive in both time and money. Understanding that there is more than one path for students to achieve their career goals is vital in helping them in their journey. It’s important to remember that we all have our entire lives to establish our career, and that rushing the journey won’t get us where we need to be any better than taking a step back and carefully thinking about the steps we each need to take.
Isabel Lamont is a senior at Sarah Lawrence College and serves as an admissions assistant with VAR.