College isn’t the Only Path: An Interview with a College Dropout
By Madelyn Collins
Pursuing a journalism and electronic media major at the University of Tennessee. Teach and perform dance on the side as a living.
A college dropout gives an interview on why he felt like he made the right decision.
(Name of subject and institutions has been changed to protect identity.)
For some, the term “dropout” produces a picture of a person lacking ambition. A person who gives up the collegiate path to settle for a lower paying and lower valued job. Many people and the media encourage college as the only path to success. But are all of these dropouts truly unsuccessful?
Richard Vedder, the Director of Center for College Affordability and Productivity, reported “about 40% [of college students] do not make it through a four-year bachelor's degree program in even six years.” With almost half of college students dropping out, the question of how someone can be successful without a degree has to be answered. Many would say success without college is not possible, but Vedder disagrees. He believes “others would do well to enroll in shorter non-degree training programs to learn to be, for example, a long-distance truck driver, beautician, or medical records clerk.”
However, according to the trade industry students are not interested in these jobs. A report from the Office of the Washington State Auditor discovered high school students are purposely being directed towards a 4-year degree. Chris Cortines, a co-author of the report, said “being more aware of other types of options may be exactly what they [dropouts] need… that college is not the sole path for everybody." He said, "when you look at the types of wages that apprenticeships and other career areas pay and the fact that you do not pay four years of tuition and you're paid while you learn, these other paths really need some additional consideration."
Consideration for trade jobs is exactly what 21-year-old college dropout, Kyle, did. Kyle dropped out of college in 2017 and decided to pursue a trade job instead of getting a degree. Fast forward to 2018 and he is now a recent graduate from a massage therapy school and waiting to take his licensure exam to start his career. I sat down with Kyle to pick his mind about why he dropped out.
M: What was your life like before you switched to a technical trade?
K: I was trying to get a degree at Local College, and I planned to switch to University after 2 years. But uh, I did not do very well there… classic college wasn’t for me.
M: What was the specific moment or event in your life you realized college was not for you?
K: I went to a guidance counselor at my college and we were talking about my grades, and she was basically like, well, if you just don’t make good grades anymore you should just give up. I already felt like my heart wasn’t in it anyway. I didn’t know what to major in or what job I wanted to do.
M: How did you find out about the massage therapy career? Why did this path stick out to you?
K: I had to find massage therapy for myself. No one in high school told me how to apply to a technical trade school. Only college had been pushed on me. When I found massage, it just felt like something I could be good at. I especially loved the healing aspect of it.
M: How did dropping out of college and switching to pursuing a technical trade help you?
K: College didn’t make me happy and I had no sense of purpose. I had a fear I would go to college and get a useless degree. There are food service workers with degrees. There are even people at my massage school with college degrees. So, I felt like a technical job might be more practical than pursing a degree I may not even use.
M: Did you have any doubts about the switch? What were they?
K: Of course, I had doubt. That I was not going to be successful. That my failure I experienced in college would follow me.
M: How did you feel at massage therapy school? What was your immediate reaction, emotions, and thoughts about it?
K: I really felt at home. I felt like it was something that could make me happy. There was just a very personal connection there. It was very hands-on too, which is how I like to learn. Everyone was very friendly. It honestly felt like a family.
M: I’m curious, compare this to your first memory of walking into a college classroom? How was that?
K: Yeah, I will never forget. It was a math class. It was not the same setting as massage school. It was more like, you’re here, learn. If you don’t, too bad. There was no personal connection. There was too many people packed in a room. I felt like no one cared about me.
M: What was the biggest challenge at your massage school? How did you overcome it?
K: Confidence. I didn’t have drive in college. So when I first practiced massage I was timid, but when I started to get positive feedback from my clients in clinic, that’s when I started to feel sure about my skills.
M: Now that you’ve finished training, what is your outlook for the future?
K: Good. I already have a nice job lined up. I’m just ready to start my career.
M: With so many other people encouraging kids to pursue the university route, what would you say to encourage kids who do not want to do that?
K: Do what makes you happy. Look into the trades. People are needed there. Do not rely on high school to direct you. You have to find these opportunities yourself.
M: What do you think other people should know about people who do not want to pursue college? Do you think there is a misconception or unfair judgement made on you or others like you?
K: Yeah, I think people need to not judge us. People need to realize tradesmen or dropouts are just as smart or smarter. Just because you do not go to college does not mean you can’t succeed. In reality, people who reject college either probably did not have the means or just didn’t want to go.
M: Do you think the media, so the news, movies, shows, etc., show people who chose a technical career as successful?
K: No. I’ve seen plenty of stuff where they show people who work in trade jobs as not very successful when you know, you can make like 50k as a plumber. I can’t think of the name of this show, but there’s a show where this family that lived in a very poor area in a tiny apartment with a lot of people. The dad fixed AC units for a living. But in reality, you can make good money doing that. Instead they show him and his family as really poor and not a good role model.
M: How do you think the media should change this?
K: Just show it more accurately. All people that do trade jobs are not in poverty and are not idiots. Showing more successful trade people in shows and movies would promote technical paths more. Maybe I would have chosen massage sooner instead of wasting time and money at college.
M: Is there any last thing you would like to say that I did not ask you?
K: Well, I guess the only reason I picked massage was because it ended up feeling right to me. So just do what feels right to you.
Kyle is an example of a college dropout who took control of his life and directed it towards something he loved. Sometimes talking to someone outside your bubble is what it takes to break a stereotype. College is not the only path in life to success.