I was scrolling my newsfeed one morning when someone shared a video that caught my attention. I spit out my coffee and said, “Ah-ha, I should blog about this!” Here’s what happened:

Formerly of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs fame, Mike Rowe has been a vocal proponent of exploring all educational options beyond high school, in particular trade programs. Check out this insightful Facebook video.

Wow! Mike brings up numerous valid points. As you further investigate his messages across other sources, he references shortages in skilled workers, the impact of high student loan debt, and the opportunity to get well compensated as a trade professional. You can watch a variety of videos from Mike on this topic by visiting his website.

So, how does all this impact you and your family, especially when thinking about your college options? What insight can I, as a College Planning Specialist, offer you, on this topic?

The fundamental answer is this: Find the right fit for you.  Spend time learning about the different options out there, and think about the desired outcome you want from your educational experience. If it’s afour-yearr degree from a university, fantastic! If not, that’s fantastic, too! Fantastic because there are also a variety of other options to get you educated, without committing to four years at a large university.

So what are these other options?

Community Colleges offer up to a two-year associate degree, and a variety of certificates and diplomas of less than two years. Many community colleges have the friendliest tuition rates you’ll find, and chances are you don’t live too far from a community college. Set up a campus tour, learn about what programs they offer, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Private career schools, or Trade schools, are private institutions that specialize in training their students for a specific industry.  Often the program will also result in an associate degree, certificate, or diploma. They too will offer programs that are shorter in length. Visit their school, ask them questions, and also research the strength and reputation of that school, as well as the cost.

Apprenticeships are where a student (apprentice) will learn directly from an employer (and many times there will be a collaboration between the employer and a college), where they will receive on-the-job training and job-specific classroom instruction. After a predetermined amount of time, the apprenticeship may lead to employment. Examples may include carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers, sheet metal workers, and more.

Is there money out there to help pay for this?

Many of these trade programs are in high-demand, meaning they are lacking enough skilled workers to fill the job vacancies. So yes, there will often be scholarships available or industry-specific funding (such as a sponsor) so that you can get trained. Your local community, or state, may even have some funding available; one example from here in Nebraska is the Community College GAP Assistance Program. Also, if the program meets certain requirements, federal financial aid (Pell grant, work-study, and student loans) may be an option.  Reach out to your nearest EducationQuest Foundation office, and we can help explore funding options with you.

This feels overwhelming; where do I even begin?

Start with you. Spend time thinking about what you want to do. Don’t think that the idea of “college” is limited to only one path; there are different paths to your goals. Talk with your school counselor, set up a job shadow, visit different colleges or schools, and quite simply, go into fact-finding mode. The important thing is that you prepare yourself for SOMETHING beyond just a high school diploma.

Find out what that something is. Your future self will say, “Thank you!”