“College isn’t for everyone.”
I heard that phrase kicked around quite a bit in the mid-90s when I was finishing up high school, but I’m gonna tell you a little secret: I didn’t really believe it. What I believed that phrase surely must mean was, “College isn’t for everyone—just the smart kids.”
It’s embarrassing to look back now and realize how ignorant I was. Part of my glorious ignorance came from the fact that I had always known I’d be expected to go to college, and part of it came from the ridiculous yet true fact that I had no idea that trade school was a thing.
As the child of two teachers, trade school was never on my radar.
I went to a local Christian school and although I knew the “JVS” (joint vocational school) existed because my mom had taken me to get a discount haircut from students there a time or two when I was little, I didn’t really get it. Technical and vocational educational opportunities might as well have been only available on Mars.
As I said, I knew I was expected to go to a four-year college (as my older brothers had done before me), but I now believe that if I’d presented my parents with another educational choice, they would have supported me.
But at the time, I truly did not even know trade school was an option.
Until my high school boyfriend told me he wanted to go to trade school.
A very specific one, in fact: Nashville Auto Diesel College, to be a mechanic. I was like, “HUH? You can DO that? Wait, it’s only one year long and then you graduate? That’s crazy!” I wasn’t opposed to the idea, just surprised that he even knew about it. My ignorance truly abounded, let me tell you! But, my boyfriend was smart, and he knew what he wanted to do—why shouldn’t he pursue it?
His parents, however, WERE opposed to the idea. Like most college-educated parents of kids in the 90s, they wanted their kids to go to a four-year college as well. So my boyfriend Bobby, like his three older sisters before him, was expected to go to a local university. At the time, his parents did not like the idea of their son wearing a blue collar instead of a cap and gown at the end of his schooling.
So, he went to the local university. And he hated it. He spent a miserable year there, and it was not time (for him) or money (for his parents) well spent at all.
After that year, his parents saw that their son knew what path he should be on and they agreed to send him to his dream school. YES—vocational schools can be dream schools! So off he went.
Eleven months later, he graduated from trade school.
Within a couple of weeks, he had his first job, and within two months, a job at his dream dealership, where he still works today, 21 years later almost to the day.
On his one year anniversary at his dealership, Reader, I MARRIED HIM. Marrying me, naturally, was the best decision he ever made. Choosing a trade school and a career as a mechanic was the second best.
My trade school man has had a wonderful career at his dealership. He’s now the Shop Foreman and Diagnostic Specialist. He’s always made much more money than I have with my 4-year degree, though to be fair I’ve focused many of my “working” years on raising children while he focused on providing for us financially. (But still. I don’t think I could out-earn him!)
The liberal arts education was absolutely the right way for me to go, and I am not knocking it in the slightest.
As a matter of fact, I think at least two out of our three kids are probably more gifted in ways that would lead them down the bachelor’s degree path as well.
But would I have a panic attack and wonder what Karen down the street would think of me if I let my baby go off to (gasp!) trade school if he or she wanted to? Absolutely not! We need skilled tradesmen and women in our workforce—trust me, my husband is always looking for other talented mechanics to add to his shop! We need plumbers and welders and electricians and HVAC techs, not to mention our beauty specialists—oh, how we need them!
So if any of my babies want to go the tech route, I’ll support them ALL the way. After all, marrying a trade school kid was the best decision I ever made. The fact that he knew at age 18 what he wanted to do and the fact that he’s well-educated, hard-working, and dedicated to a career he loves has been a gift in my life, and one that truly keeps on giving, every single day.
So parents, make sure your kiddos know what I did not: that post-high school, or even during high school there are a wide variety of educational options that can lead you to a prosperous and fulfilling career—and that “college isn’t for everyone” actually means, “college isn’t the only path to success.”