The “Traditional” Path Through College

If my previous two years have taught me anything it is how to be flexible. My time in high school ended for me, as for most of my peers, with a search for a university to attend. The whole process was stressful and hectic but understandably so; trying to coordinate sending different information to so many different people is always going to be a nightmare. The only pieces of the experience that I look back on and find unnecessary are the expectations I had. Throughout all the deadlines, standardized tests and college fairs I operated with one central idea of my next four years: I was going to go to a four-year university and graduate with a bachelor’s degree. That is a rough summary of a long period of my life, but this was the traditional path I had seen many others take. Today I am on track to accomplish my goal, just not via the means I had imagined. By the time I get there I will have lived on two different campuses as a part of two different “colleges” and obtained an associates degree along the way. Having experienced half of my undergraduate life, I feel I can safely say we can all forget the “traditional” path through college.

To be clear, I am not advocating for forgetting higher education, just for changing how we expect participants to complete it. I am a strong advocate of education past a high school diploma. Lately a movement has been gaining steam that seeks to devalue this kind of learning and suggest our efforts are better spent elsewhere. Starting your career after high school is a perfectly fine choice, but I would never argue someone is worse off for choosing to continue in education. Whether it be in trade school or in a university, our expectations of a student’s experience in college are missing something.

To me the biggest advantage to being open to a different type of university experience is that it enables you to cater your experience to your person. When my group of friends from 12thgrade and I all left for college, we were all headed in different directions. Of the five of them who chose not to attend either of the nearby major universities, two have now transferred back “home” to one of these aforementioned schools. Two other friends of mine one grade ahead transferred out of the same school. Every one of these transferees are doing just fine. Their complaints about the first schools they chose were remedied by their switch. All of them will graduate, or already have, and all will look back fondly on their college experience. Digging in to the idea that the first school one picks will be the only school one picks eliminates the option of making changes to improve your quality of life later on.

Too often students are scared away from the idea of transferring or going to a two-year university. Neither guidance counselors nor admissions staff ever spoke the word transfer to me during my college search, but I wish they had. I have never wanted to transfer, I love where I am, but letting me know I had the option would without a doubt have lightened the load I felt during that final year at home. Furthermore, explaining two-year or alternate campus solutions to students should be on the forefront of everyone’s minds. It would be a great way to market higher education to a wider range of people but runs no risk of scaring off those not interested in the programs. Finally, the taboo created by not talking about the many ways there are to achieve a bachelor’s degree can end up being harmful to students in different programs later down the line. If good dialogue about these options does not exist, then negativity towards the people involved has no place to be addressed.

As a high school senior, I would not have predicted that I would be where I am today. Any words other than “four years at one university” just were not in my vocabulary. Now that I have taken a sort of “road less traveled” I have no regrets whatsoever. Continuing to improve advocacy for alternate paths through undergraduate education will serves to benefit everyone.



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