My grandson is a senior in high school. He is a good average kid with no outstanding talent that would make his career path obvious. So, along with other seniors just like him, he has serious decisions to make in the next few months – what does he want to be and how does he plan to get there!
Being unsure of what he wants to be hasn’t surprised me as much as his lack of understanding of the education and training options available to him. It is tough to make a decision when you don’t know the choices – especially in a world where those choices can be very expensive.
For a year or two, when we asked what his plans were, all we heard was that he was going in the military. Since he really knew nothing about the military, I can only assume he had friends who had made that choice. Nothing wrong with choosing the military – no cost, learn a trade and grow up. But it was obvious he was making a choice based only on talking with his friends and nothing else.
So we talked with him about skills he could learn in the military and even about ROTC in college. One of those skills that did seem to interest him was computer work (he loves computer games), and he knew a friend of mine who is a network administrator who encouraged him to explore that area.
Now with an alternative to the military, we decided to take him on a visit this past summer to M.I.T. No, not the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (recall I said good average kid). This is the Morrison Institute of Technology – a small trade school a few miles from where we live that offers a two year program in network administration. The program consists of four semesters with a set course of study leading to an associate degree in an area in great demand.
We made an appointment and drove over to meet with the admissions counselor. The campus is in the country and has only four buildings: administration, classrooms, labs and a small dorm. You can almost throw a rock the length of the campus. But when we walked in the lobby of the administration building, all thoughts of the military disappeared. There in front of us was a large sign that said Welcome Brooks. Just that little show of interest, and he was putty in their hands. After a one hour tour of this tiny school, he was hooked. Suddenly, here was a choice he had known nothing about.
However, this place isn’t cheap. Basically, the cost is $10,000 a semester including room and board. So, the associate degree will cost $40,000 if he makes that choice and succeeds. And it is what it is. No fancy student center, no cheering for the football team on Saturdays in the fall. This is two years of directed study and then an excellent chance for a job since they have a 96% placement rate.
After that visit to M.I.T, he decided to change his senior schedule and take a two-hour computer networking class at the vocational center. Something he would never have considered a year ago. And since then, we have heard nothing but M.I.T. from him; the military has become his fallback position.
Last week, an admissions counselor from another tech school about an hour away visited the class and made his pitch to the kids. Suddenly, another choice he had not known about. So, we sat down together and got online to compare this school to M.I.T.
Since last summer, he has also visited the local community college, where each semester will cost less than $2,000 if he lives at home. He will also be visiting Northern Illinois University so he can see what campus life is like at a large university and where each semester will cost $12,000.
What a change from a year ago, when the military was all he could talk about. Now, he has several choices and I believe he will be open to others.
When we talk about careers with our students, we need to remember it is not only what they want to be, but how they can get there. It is tough to make a decision when you don’t know the choices.
As for my grandson’s choice … To be continued.
Charles Wilkinson, Publisher