“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Where do you plan to go to school?”
“Any idea of what you want to do with your life?”
Ever since I was young, family and friends would happily ask me the same questions, assuming that I will go to college or maybe even knew as a young child where I wanted to go to school. Was I supposed to know where I wanted to go to school so soon? What am I going to do for the rest of my life? If I am a freshman in high school and I don’t know the answer to those questions, do juniors and seniors in high school feel the same sense of hesitation when those questions pop up? With all the worries about the expense of education, how do you decide if college will be worth the costs?
Most students apparently think it is worth the cost, since about two-thirds (of those who complete high school or the equivalent like a GED) go directly to college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2017 is the latest data available). About 44% of them enrolled in a four-year college and 23% enrolled in two-year programs. These rates have not changed much since 2000.
There are various reasons a student may choose one program over another – or not attend college at all.
For the one-third of high school “completers” who do not go directly to college finances (concerns about affording school) was the number one reason, according to a 2015 report the National School Board Association’s Center for Public Education, which analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education. Already working and needing to support the family were the next most common reasons for not attending college for those who never enrolled by age 26 (which was only 12% of all high school completers). Only 2% said a college degree wasn’t needed for their chosen career path.
Anna Pless Peel, who is the college counselor at The New School said, “One thing is a lot of parents will say is, ‘I want [my child] to know what they’re going to study in college, they have to know immediately.’ But I actually think that college is really a time for you to explore something that you’re interested in because that is what’s gonna help you get a job. You go to college to explore things and also it is a time for you to find out about different careers. Just because you have a degree in nursing, doesn’t mean you’re going to get a job as a nurse, so it’s really important to go in with an open mind and get a degree, but also have an internship so that you can learn about something.”
If college is a time to explore and figure out their career, then why are there so many concerns surrounding high schoolers’ decisions?
“I think the number one reason [why] students don’t go to college is because of money,” says Pless Peel. “The one thing I want everybody to know is that the schools that give the most amount of money are the schools that have the most amount of money. So when you’re looking at schools, you want to look at their endowment, and you wanna see how much money they have.”
But what do today’s students say about what concerns them about applying to college?
Ace Kinkopf, 17, a senior at The New School said: “I think that I have anxiety about what might happen if I [don’t] go to college because of the way that this society treats people who [don’t have] a higher education, despite the barriers that are put in place for people to get a higher education. With regards to which college I’d go to, I might choose to go to a college that’s closer to home if I feel like my mental health isn’t the best so I can get support from my family more easily.”
Ajani Harrison, 16, a junior also attending The New School, said: “[Finances], it plays a lot into my decision. You know, sometimes I have schools that I think about and come across but if my family can’t afford it then I, then you know, I might not be able to go there.”
Low Test Scores
Jean P., 22, currently works as a housekeeping associate at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Although he graduated from high school, he says low test scores kept him from attending college.
Michael Abah, 21, left Georgia State University and is now duel enrolled in Year Up (a nonprofit that connects “ young adults who need an opportunity with companies who need their talent”) and Atlanta Technical College. He told VOX ATL: “I feel like college was taking too long, there were better alternatives to use to my advantage, to be self-reliant, create a business and a program where I can teach younger people to be self-reliant and to help them be more financially intelligent and stable.”
It turns out that most people do go to college at some point. By age 26 only 12% of high school grads haven’t gone to college, according to data analyzed by the National School Board Association’s Center for Public Education.
As a freshman, I feel like whether a student decides to or when to attend college, college is a time to figure out what we are going to do in life. It is not just about getting internships or just getting an education. It is simply a time to find passion and specific aspirations no matter what factors play into the decision.