Career Path: A Degree In Happiness

Here’s a familiar snapshot: A young lady has recently turned 18 and is about to graduate from high school. She has been accepted to her first choice of college—a private institution out of state—and is eager to be off in the fall.

This isn’t just a familiar snapshot, it’s a way of life. Where just 30 or 40 years ago college was not a foregone conclusion, high school graduates are now expected to attend college…whether it is the right choice for them or not. If you ask that same young lady who is so excited about going off to college what she plans to major in or what career she hopes to pursue after college, chances are good that she’ll tell you she hasn’t a clue.  If she does have an answer for you, statistics show that there’s as much as a 70 percent chance she will change her major at least once, maybe as many as three times. And why shouldn’t she? Your college major plays a big role in your future career path; and choosing the field you will spend the next 50 years giving the better part of your life to can be a monumental decision. What if this young lady instead chose to delay college in order to pursue an apprenticeship, which could help her find a career field, earn an income she could put toward a degree, and set her up for greater success—and therefore happiness—in both college and her career?

An Alternative

Apprenticeships are slowly becoming a viable alternative to college for high school graduates in the United States. Apprenticeships have been a staple part of the German educational system since the 1970s, and are gaining steam in England. Here in the United States, students, parents, and educational advisors are learning to set aside the stigma associated with apprenticeship programs in favor of the on-the-job education students gain along with the guarantee of a job once their training is complete. And it’s often a good job too—starting salaries average around $44,000 and provide a direct route to growth. Remember that median national income? Apprenticeship graduates already have a well-trodden path to exceeding that $45,000 average.

This is not to say a student completing an apprenticeship program foregoes a degree. In addition to learning a trade, apprenticeships allow students to simultaneously earn an Associate’s degree. Bolstered with a trade, an income, and a two year degree, students can then choose between turning their apprenticeship into a full-time career or pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher. Either way, there are more options, less debt, and therefore a greater chance of career fulfillment.

So what should young women do? Follow the traditional path and attend a 4-year university earning a bachelor’s degree? Or try to find an apprenticeship program, which will give them on-the-job training as well as an income? As college tuition costs continue to rise, the apprenticeship route will have to be carefully considered before making a commitment. Young women will have to consider what career they wish to pursue, whether that career even offers apprenticeships, and how serious they are about said career before they can make an informed decision. It’s a lot to ask of a high school graduate, but it will impact her for the rest of her life.

by Caroline Johnson


Most 18 year olds are not ready to make a career choice, and they shouldn’t have to. Learning responsibility is one thing, choosing a career is another.

Lend a high-schooler your ear and offer your skills in researching, analyzing and weighing these options to help them find their answers to this most important decision.