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College Isn’t the Only Path to Success

Woodbridge High students should destigmatize the pursuit of non-traditional paths to success
Focus on the places you’ll go and your path, not the places everyone else goes.
Catherine Lee
Focus on the places you’ll go and your path, not the places everyone else goes.

Besides attending college or university immediately after high school, there are several alternative paths that individuals can take to gain financial stability, career success and fulfilling life experiences. These options may include attending trade school, taking a gap year, doing an apprenticeship and going to the military.

Despite these different pathways, going to traditional two-year and four-year colleges has become a norm for many years now. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “between fall 2021 and fall 2031, total undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase by 9 percent to 16.8 million students” in degree-granting postsecondary institutions.

Senior Noelle Zepeda indicates that there is pressure on students to go to a college or university in the Woodbridge community. She says that she’s noticed in Irvine, it is assumed that students must go to four-year universities in order to be successful. She also acknowledges the pressures that peers put upon each other to go to traditional four-year colleges, with those who do not plan to go to college seemingly left out of a critical step of their future.

“I think a lot of people think, if they can’t get into college, then all their years of education [were] pointless because they won’t be able to get the skills for a job or they won’t be able to have an education to prepare them for another stage,” Zepeda said. 

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Despite the current stigmatization of paths other than college, individuals who pursue non-conventional paths are capable of gaining the education and skills to secure careers. 

Joining the military is one of the ways Woodbridge High students plan to gain the leadership skills and technical skills necessary for their future careers.

Senior Noah Borokoff plans to join the army after graduating high school. He plans to work as an aircraft powertrain repairer, working on helicopters and planes. While serving in the army, he is going to complete a degree in either electrical engineering or avionics. 

“You still get to go through college [in the military], which is the thing that a lot of people don’t know. They pay for all of it. They give you housing, they give you food, they give you stipends every month, they pay you. It’s a great deal. You come out of it with your degree, no debt and [with] skills,” Borokoff said.

Also, the military route offers many advantages in securing a career at a young age. Borokoff explains how joining the army will allow him to learn leadership skills to apply to his career, start working without any student loan debt and get a career he will be genuinely passionate about.

“I was talking to a staff sergeant that actually does my job and he got a job outside the army getting a hundred thousand, a hundred fifty thousand dollars a year at 24…I don’t have to pay off student loan debts, I don’t have to work a job like normal people. [Instead,] I get to take all of the things that I’ve learned and all of the leadership skills that the Army has taught me outside of the military and apply it in real life,” Borokoff said.

Senior Madison Bueche will also serve in the army and study linguistics during her service. She plans to continue her education after her service as well, pursuing a doctorate in entomology.  

She challenges the misconception that individuals can not receive an adequate education if they do not go to college. With her experiences as an excelling student, she explains there are many opportunities for bright students in the military.

“When I started this whole journey, I wasn’t too sure what it would entail for myself either and a lot of my family thought ‘Madison, no, don’t do it’…A lot of people seem to think that smart people don’t go into the military…There are a lot of opportunities for smart people to go into the military,” Bueche said.

Another pathway to develop skills for future careers is trade school. Senior Alberto Nieto plans to go to Universal Technical Institute. He aspires to get automotive and diesel training to eventually start his own mechanic business, and he feels that trade school will open up more opportunities for him to do so.

“I think [going a non-traditional route gives individuals] a lot more opportunities because the industries are, I would think, much bigger. And you could just go your own way, like start your own business if you want to, ” Nieto said.

Additionally, despite the pressures that peers put on each other to go immediately to college, taking a gap year is a pathway that offers an opportunity to evaluate what one wants to pursue in the future. This path can give individuals long-term satisfaction in the fields they have confirmed they are passionate about.

According to the Gap Year Association, 78% of survey participants said taking a gap year influenced what they chose to study in higher education and 84% said taking a gap year increased their academic motivation. This data suggests taking a gap year is a self-reflective process, in which students can explore their interests and more deeply consider how they would like to shape their futures.

Senior Tamar Berman will take a gap year after graduating. She plans on attending college after her gap year, but she is taking the time to discover what she is passionate about first. 

“I felt like I needed this year to take a break for myself to take more time to think about what I want to do…I think a lot of people know exactly what they want to do already and they already know their plans…I feel like I just really need more time to learn about myself and take time to explore what I like,” Berman said.

During her gap year, she plans to participate in an Israeli volunteer program called Nachshon Mechina. There, she will be volunteering to help kids who have lost their homes due to the war, take care of those in the hospital and serve the community. She is considering pursuing medical school or nursing and believes this volunteer program will help her evaluate these interests.

She says that taking a gap year is a chance to not only seek out what she wants for her future but to also live in the moment and build a supportive community, setting herself up for long-term success.

It is a misconception that students who choose pathways other than the college or university route will not learn the skills or attain the education needed for success. Students passionate about pursuing these alternative pathways should be encouraged to explore their options. 

Students in the Woodbridge High community interested in seeking out these other pathways should schedule an appointment with the counseling staff. Proactively researching different ways to a future one is passionate about is essential to destigmatize these effective, but non-traditional pathways.

This story was originally published on Golden Arrow on May 9, 2024.