By Maddie Smith
National FFA Officer Candidate
Think about your senior year of high school. As graduation approaches, what is the one thing most people talk about? Aside from senior pranks and graduation parties, most high school students are probably worrying about what’s next. For me, it hasn’t been too long since I was a high school senior. Two of the biggest things I remember were being asked “Where are you going to college next year?” about 7.8 times a day and not actually knowing that answer until a day before the national deadline at the end of March.
Thinking back, I always questioned where I was going to college, not if college was the right fit for me. To be honest, we’re asking high school seniors the wrong question. I can think of several Fillmore County graduates who are or will further their education at non-four-year institutions to pursue cosmetology, welding, mechanics, farming, or other relevant occupations to our communities and world. Many jobs that are in-demand, rewarding, and respectable don’t require a Bachelor’s degree. The question shouldn’t be “Where are you going to college?” Instead, we should be asking, “How are you furthering your education?”
High school education is critical for equipping students with foundational knowledge. It should be a time to grow into well-rounded individuals both academically and socially. Hopefully, by the time students graduate, they have a general idea for their career goals and have had some experience connecting to that pathway through hands-on work or mentorship — formally or informally. Even something as simple as helping in the shop with a parent or attending a medical camp at Mayo can help you determine if you have an interest in diesel mechanics or pathology. Students who participate in organizations like Business Professionals of America (BPA), Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), and FFA are especially likely to have formed social networks and have experience with career exploration and immersion. Upon the completion of high school, students should feel confident in their ability to pursue further education that is relevant to their career goals.
Continuing education after high school is an important step towards career success, and a four-year degree is not the only option. In the past, going to college and having a four-year degree made you a stand-out applicant when applying for jobs. Now, it’s normal and sometimes unnecessary. The U.S Census Bureau reports that more than one-third of Americans over the age of 25 have a Bachelor’s degree, and that number continues to increase. While having an educated population is something to be proud of, it has also formed the conception that not having a Bachelor’s degree means you have set yourself up for failure. Ironically, it’s not uncommon to find someone who has paid upwards of $100,000 for a degree that they didn’t need.
There is a difference in educational requirements among different professions. No matter what your dream job, pursuing some kind of formal education after high school helps build connections, widen career insight, and build technical skills related to the specific work. This is where the 1:2:7 ratio outlines the demand for the different education levels in our economy. For every 10 jobs, one requires a master’s degree or higher, two require a Bachelor’s degree, and seven may require an associate’s degree or certification (LinkedIn). Kevin Fleming’s short video “Success in the New Economy” provides a more in-depth explanation of this ratio.
Degree requirements depend on the occupation. I don’t know about you, but the idea of having a neurosurgeon who went to school for six weeks cut into my head doesn’t exactly thrill me. Similarly, it isn’t practical for a high school student who is skilled in carpentry to pursue a full four-year degree that puts him or her into debt when an Associate’s Degree or a short-term certification program provides sufficient preparation for this occupation.
Making post-secondary plans depends on our unique interests and goals. When it comes to furthering our education, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer, nor should there be. Higher education does set us up for success, especially when we know what level of education will help us maximize our skills and knowledge while minimizing debt. Two resources that may help you explore and analyze job requirements include the Minnesota Career Fields, Clusters, and Pathways chart and the Minnesota State CAREERwise website, both of which are easily accessible online. To ease your mind, remember that career plans change, learning never stops, and higher education will still be available in the future. Whether you are a high school senior, the parent of a graduate, or planning to return to school, pick an education route that best fits your needs.
A four-year degree is not the only route to success. Nor does it guarantee it. Those who analyze their career goals and pursue a post-secondary education that fits their needs are most likely to be successful. Whether you complete a 12-week certification or a Ph.D., if it aligns with your goals, it’s worth celebrating. Rely on available resources — not the plans of your graduating classmates — to determine what route is best for you. As supporters of students, it’s time to rephrase the question from “Where are you going to college?” to “How are you continuing your education?” as a way to best encourage career success through higher education.
In the upcoming weeks, I will be sharing what I have learned and continue to learn from my experiences and conversations across the state. Topics will range from local stories to understanding the relevance of policies and current events in agriculture. Literacy is listening. To share any questions, story ideas, or comments on published or potential articles, please feel welcome to email me firstname.lastname@example.org.