College, university, or none of the above; a personal decision

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The first major decision many young people make in their lives will be the decision to go to university, college or to take a different path.

It’s a decision that marks a transition into adulthood, and for some, can be the first life changing decision made without the influence of parents or guardians. It can be an incredibly difficult and stressful time for a young person and adults don’t make it any better.

Parents want the best for their children, but many fall into the trap of valuing university over other choices. Students who want to go to college or enter the workforce after high school might find themselves applying for universities despite their best interests to appease a concerned guardian.

Many high schools push university over other options, believing that having a higher percentage of university bound students makes their school look better. Guidance counsellors and teachers might make the misguided decision to steer students towards university level courses rather than college courses where they may have greater success.

Students often put pressure on themselves. They take in all of this information and force themselves into a university mindset that might be unnatural to them. I remember students from my high school shaming one another for the choices they made in their applications. Students who considered applying to colleges, or even less “prestigious” university programs were treated as less than and their intelligence was called into question. This shaming lead many of them to apply to universities that weren’t right for them.

There’s nothing wrong with a university education, of course. The theory based approach to learning works well for some people and many students end up thriving in academia. There are other students, however, who flounder in this kind of environment. These students might be better suited to the more hands on approach that college provides, or the real world job training that an apprenticeship provides.

Not everybody is meant for university and forcing students into that pathway will only set them up for failure. Yes, people can work hard, and get their grades up to get into a difficult program, but not everybody has the desire or disposition for higher learning and we need to get better at respecting that.

Not all students shine when writing essays or giving presentations, some people’s strengths are in cooking, or carpentry, things that can be developed in college programs. College provides a different approach to professional life than university. Students who have a specific occupation and career path in mind can earn a certification in that line of work and move right into a job.

For those of us who made the choice to pursue a university degree, we need to recognize, that while this may have been the right choice for us as individuals, it might not be the right choice for our friends, siblings and classmates.

It’s approaching the time of year where the high school students in our lives will find out if they were accepted to the universities and colleges they applied to this winter. It might be difficult news for some, it might be amazing news for others. No matter what happens, we need to let them know there is no shame in their decisions. There’s no doubt that they’ll have put a lot of thought into what path to choose for themselves, and respecting that is integral to their developing sense of independence.

The world needs all kinds of people, we need academics, and writers, and professors, certainly but we also need craftsmen, and paramedics, and cooks.

Seeing the value in a college education, and recognizing that apprenticeships and job training are also valuable forms of education is what will ultimately help the most people find the most amount of professional success.

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