By: Leslie Thatcher, Director of College Success @ Perkins
In our previous piece, “College: Is it the right option for me?” we discussed how students can evaluate whether or not they are ready for college. That’s the first step! It’s also important to understand what other paths and non-college options are out there. The more you know about the potential paths, the better positioned you will be to make informed choices for your future!
Here are some of the options:
Check out community college
- Taking courses or enrolling in a two-year associate’s degree program at your community college is a solid option for several reasons. You will have hands-on exposure to college-level courses — syllabi, assignments, disability service offices and self advocacy, and, of course, papers and exams.
- Community colleges are a great option if you’re narrowing down your possible majors or career interests, or choosing between majors, as you can explore several types of courses in a very cost effective way. In the long run, while you work on making these big decisions such as choosing a major, and determining if you will go on to a four-year college campus and degree in the future or not, you will be learning in a cost effective way, receiving quality academic experiences, learning how to organize and manage college disability services.
- Finally, you’ll give yourself time to learn about how to study at the college level, sharpening your study skills, note taking, time management and hopefully technology skills, all at little to no risk.
Take a gap year
- Let’s face it, college is not a decision you want to make hastily, or without confidence. Using the year after high school and before college to sharpen key skills, join a college readiness program or blindness skills program, and/or get job readiness skills through an internship or volunteer position in your community are a few ways that a gap year can be used to refine your plan for next steps.
- We all mature at different rates and we all require different attention on different skill sets before we are college-ready. A gap year can provide that pause you need to focus on you, your needs, and your goals.
- Data even show that individuals who took a gap year were more successful in college, more so than their peers who went straight to a college or university from high school.
- This is less about “staying back a year” or “falling behind” and more about making sure you are equipped to succeed on your own time. We know that learning to manage school and life independently, with a visual impairment, can take time, as well as specific skills that are not taught in high schools, but are critical in creating options for independence, such as O&M skills to manage a campus or job location independently.
Get an internship or job experience
- Sometimes, we hold lofty ideas about our dream career without ever even stepping foot in the building, or meeting someone in the field. Before taking out a loan to pay for a college education, don’t you think you should know what this dream job entails, in the daily grind?
- Work experience in your preferred field can give you the frame of reference you’ll need to decide if it’s truly the right path and more importantly, in the process, you’ll see what skills — technology skills, time management skills, time and money management — you still may need to refine before you’re able to fulfill the responsibilities of this job.
- Internships, apprenticeships, part-time jobs or volunteering in the specific field of your choice, will help you gain valuable, realistic exposure to the career path you may decide to take. Check out Salter School, Career Launch at Perkins, to start.
- Some companies are launching alternative job training programs. Check out Google’s.
Consider a career training program
To remove some of the pressure from this big decision, remember three things:
- Your decision and what you decide to do with it is not written in stone; you may need to adjust your plan down the line, and that’s okay. You may even adjust it more than once.
- If you can get a head start now, you will give yourself the gift of time to do the research and make an informed, well-rounded decision.
- You are not alone. Tap the resources around you — your transition counselor, school counselor, TVI, or a local community organization such as the Lighthouse Guild, and others, that can help in the decision.
While that constant buzz around college decisions can be distracting, you owe it to yourself to stay focused, explore your options, and then weigh what next step is right for you and your goals. If not attending college immediately after high school is the best option for you, at that particular stage of your life, then it’s a smart decision.