Choosing a College Pathway 3/29/19

By Richard Bleil

Many years ago, I was having dinner with my friend and her son who was about to graduate from high school. At the time I was teaching at a state university (where I met his mother, as a matter of fact). I asked him what he planned to do after high school. He hung his head, and in a shameful voice, “admitted” that he was going to a technical school to learn to work on diesel engines. I asked him if he wanted to design them, and he said “no”. I asked if he wanted to own his own business, and again, he said “no”.

“Then why are you so embarrassed by this?” I asked. “It sounds like the perfect plan for you!”

There is nothing wrong with technical schools. In an age of increasing post secondary education costs and student debt, technical schools offer a superb way to learn the skills necessary to get a high paying job that you love.

No, I’m not advocating for technical school. In fact, what I am advocating for is pursuing the education that will get the job that is most desired by the student. What I am advocating for is obtaining the higher educational experience that serves the student the best.

To do this, there are some things that the student should consider. Start with what it is that you want to do with the rest of your life. My friend’s son decided he wanted to fix engines on big trucks. Maybe, eventually, he will want to go into management or some other aspect of business that will require more education, but the reality is that he got a great education to do the work he wanted to do. There is no way he could have failed, because that experience will stay with him for the rest of his life even if the courses cannot transfer.

Once you have some idea of the direction you want your education to go, think about the following:

  • What kind of degree or certificate is required for the job you most want? If you’re not sure, look for that job on search engines. You’re not applying, so don’t worry about if you are qualified right now or not. When you find the ads, ask yourself the following questions.
    • What kind of degree is required?
    • How many job openings are there, and, just as importantly, are the job openings where you want to live?
    • Is the pay range what you want? Being wealthy is not nearly as important as having enough money just to live in the fashion you want to live.
  • After reading the job descriptions, does it sound like something you would enjoy doing for the next twenty years or more to come? Everybody thinks they would love working in a zoo because we imagine playing with friendly furry cuteness, but what about the hours, and cleaning up after the elephants?
  • Check into the degree requirements from a reliable disinterested source. My biology friends don’t like me talking about it, but it’s a great example. If you are interested in medical school, the most common degree, by far, is biology. But, a biology degree is not required by any medical school in the country, and the reality is that students applying with biology degrees have the lowest acceptance rate. In other words, you have a better chance of getting into medical school if you major in anything BUT biology. There might be several reasons for this, but there are books and studies that have been published on how to get into medical school that are well worth the effort to read. Especially since any major typically has less than a fifty percent success rate of getting into medical school, so you might want to major in a field where you can get a job, and one you enjoy, just in case you don’t get in.

And we’re on our way. Now you have an educated idea of what you want to pursue and the level of education, it’s time to start considering institutions. Here are some thins to consider, along with questions you can look up or ask a guidance counselor.

  • Does the institution offer the exact degree that you want?
  • What is the job placement rate within the discipline you wish. Within the discipline is important; a major may have a 98% job placement rate, but if the jobs are in the service industry and unrelated to the major, that may not be the institution you wish to choose. My apologies to the institutions for spilling the beans on this standard recruitment tool. (Not really; happy to spill them, truth be told.)
  • Is the institution’s accreditation active, on warning, suspended or non-existent. If they are not actively accredited without warning, then you will want to look into the cause of the warnings. If their accreditation is suspended, revoked or non-existent, then run. You can do better.
  • What is the institution’s reputation? You don’t need to go to an ivy league school, but the name will open some doors early on. An institution with a great reputation in the area you wish to live, though, may carry more weight than an ivy league institutional name.

With these questions, you can be assured that you are well armed with the information that you need to pursue the education that will serve you the best. Good luck!

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