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Should I Go to College or Learn a Trade?

Determine the best choice for you.

During high school, you will begin refining your career plan to determine what your next steps are to transition into adulthood.  You will have plenty of opportunities for career exploration through online assessments, informational interviews, networking and exploring opportunities online.  You may even gain some work experience through volunteering, community service, part-time work or an internship.  At this stage, it is critical to explore all of your possibilities to be able to make an informed decision.  Match your interests, strengths, and values to a career with responsibilities that are appealing to you!  Remember, you want to at least like what you do, if not follow your passion, as life is very short!  You want to be happy when you leave for work in the morning and have more of a purpose driven life.  However, it may not be that simple for everyone as life circumstances can often get in the way!

After narrowing your focus on a career, you will have to determine the time you want to dedicate to education, the possibility of on-the-job training included in the curriculum and, of course, the costs involved.  If you do not intend to go straight into the workforce after college, then consider the advantages and disadvantages of either earning a degree at a college/university or learning a trade through an apprenticeship.  Consider the factors below to help with your decision:

Factors Advantages Disadvantages
  • Required by many employers
  • Potential for earning high salaries
  • More marketable for jobs beyond entry level
  • Develop transferable skills
  • Enjoy extracurricular activities
  • Build a diverse network
  • Receive a comprehensive benefits package
  • Median increase in lifetime earnings is $765,000
  • Limited experience
  • Competition
  • Lack of direction
  • Theoretical learning
  • Takes 2, 4 or more years
  • General classes are required
  • Debt
  • Hands-on training
  • Earn while you learn
  • Specialized skills
  • A paycheck guaranteed to increase over time as new skills are learned
  • Potential for paid education
  • Entry into a career path
  • National industry certification
  • Over 400 different types
  • The average annual starting salary is $50,000
  • No debt
  • Starting salary may be low
  • Limited access to certain careers
  • Missing out on the college/university experience
  • Steep learning curve
  • Entry level tasks initially
  • 3 to 4 years to complete

Ultimately, the choice is absolutely yours; however, the training or education that you choose will affect the rest of your career in one way or another.  You can always change gears resulting in loss of time from your life, more costs involved and a decrease in your earning potential while you are transitioning.  Take your time to explore your options and select the best choice for you.

Written by Melanie Rebottini.

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