College not the only career path after graduation

Lily Geiser | Staff Writer

College application season is nearing the end. But for some students, their careers have already started.

Mason is the largest high school in Ohio, and the vast majority of its students continue on to college after graduation. However, there are still plenty of students that do not feel that college is the right path for them. Many would rather attend a trade school, join the military, or jump right into the workforce.

Sophomore Soariyah Francis plans to attend Scarlet Oaks next year to pursue her interest in automotive mechanics, after which she will find an apprenticeship to become a master mechanic and eventually open her own garage. Francis said she made the decision in part because of the experience the school could give her, without the high cost of a college education.

“I don’t really need a college diploma to become a mechanic,” Francis said. “It’s not that I never want to go to college, but I thought that it might be a waste of money if I don’t get a full scholarship, and I wouldn’t get the hands-on training as I would if I got an apprenticeship.”

Junior Mason Hemelgarn, who currently attends Scarlet Oaks, also feels that the high cost of a college education makes it unnecessary for some trades and careers. Currently in the welding program, he transferred to Scarlet Oaks from Mason once he made the choice to seek a future in welding.

“I was really interested in learning about welding so I decided to pursue that as my career instead of trying to go to some big college and go into a lot of debt,” Hemelgarn said. “If you’re the type of person that feels like college is not for you, going to one of these vocational schools is a great choice. This is the greatest choice that I ever made.”

Although the high cost of college can be limiting for some students, it is not the only reason students may choose to forego higher education. Sally Clark, one of the guidance counselors at Mason, works closely with many of the students who are looking for a different path. She finds that each students reasoning for why they chose not to go to college is unique to their own situation.

“Everyone who makes that choice usually has a different reason,” Clark said. “It’s personal for a lot of students. For some of them, school is just not an option for them, or maybe they’re just burnt out. Maybe they just need a year off and they’ll go back; who knows, maybe in five years they’ll go back. And some students are just not interested in going to college.”

Senior Alex Roberts, like many students Clark advises, desires a break from school before heading off to college. Although he has not entirely ruled out higher education, Roberts is going to take time off school to take care of himself and his mental health.

“I kind of just want to get my life together before I consider school,” Roberts said. “I feel like most people see me as unmotivated to go to school, but I think it’s less about my lack of desire to learn and more about just needing some time. School has been incredible for me, but I need time to think about who I am and what I really want to do.”

Junior Mason Hemelgarn attends Scarlett Oaks in the pursuit of a welding career after high school.

Being perceived as unmotivated is not the only issue students can face. While auto garage owners can earn well over the median household income, Francis finds that people still feel that college is the only way to earn a decent living.

“I feel like, not even in employers but people around us, there’s this stigma that college is the best way to go to get the highest paying jobs,” Francis said. “That is the case for a lot of people but not for everyone. If you’re going into a trade job, it might not be the best for you.”

In fact, many jobs that pay well require little to no college education. As trade jobs become less popular, employers are offering the remaining employees better salaries and benefits packages to attract good workers. Many students who graduate from the Scarlet Oaks welding program are able to make as much as $1,000 a week directly after graduating, and Hemelgarn feels confident that he will be no exception.

“There’s some good money to be made here,” Hemelgarn said. “The trades are dying out and welding is a big one. My goal is to become better in my field, and set my own price as a freelance contractor to just do any job for the price I want.”

Although a four year college degree is not necessary for many going into trades, there is often some extra education required to do the job well. Richard Cox, the owner of local business Al’s Heating and Cooling, said he prefers to hire those who have some training in the field, whether that be at a technical college or supplemental education in high school.

“Education is very important,” Cox said. “You need to be versed in what you’re doing. Some of the people I’ve hired in the past had no education in heating and cooling – they’re just mechanically inclined. But they still have to be taught that specific trade.”

Cox is not the only one who believes that students should seek higher education in places that suit them, if it does at all. Danny Mullins, who teaches Comet Connections at the high school, said he deals with students every day who plan on going to the Oaks, military, or other places after high school. He believes  that college is not for everyone, and while that should not be perceived as a bad thing, it often can be seen that way by the community.

“I know a lot of kids, they do feel that pressure throughout the day,” Mullins said. “They start talking about what they’re going to do, it’s not going to be college –  it’s a stigma. They do feel pressure when they’re sitting in that classroom with super high achieving kids.”

Roberts also feels the pressure placed on students to know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their life is unnecessary and even unhealthy. He believes that it is okay to not have everything figured out, as long as students are able to make their own choices.

“You should encourage people to go to college if that’s what they want, but I feel like along with that encouragement comes a lot of stress and pressure,” Roberts said. “Certain things that are said make kids feel like they have to go, whether that’s from teachers or friends or parents, and I think if that stress is lifted, then they might be able to make better decisions or themselves.”

While the impact of the people in the lives of teenagers will always be felt, too often that impact is to push students in a direction they don’t want to go. Despite that, Mullins is optimistic that the culture, not just of the school, but of the community, may be shifting in a different direction.

“The conversation’s starting to shift to where you don’t necessarily have to go to college to be successful as an adult,” Mullins said. “There is this perception that you need to go to college to be successful. It’s just one of the downsides of being a highly competitive academic school. That’s far from the truth. And more and more kids are starting to figure that out.”

Photos by Tanner Pearson.