Wan-Take: Taking the road less travelled

From the time you enter the American education system, you are told that there’s only one path to success: get into a four-year university, graduate with a degree in a stable field and either get an immediate job offer or apply for higher education. 

What this system has failed to acknowledge are the various other paths a student can take. Whether that’s entering a vocational school or simply attending a junior college, these options are not discussed until you’re well into high school, if ever. But, by that time, you’ve already spent a decade of your life spreading yourself thin to attain that dream of a college education.

As someone who’s graduating high school in two months, I’ve had a singular mindset since I was 10 years-old: to get into a top 50 university under a stable major, preferably within the fields of STEM. Now, this might well be due to my upbringing in an Asian-American family as I was never taught any other narrative.

As I grew older, finding that I valued my creativity over my lack of mathematical skills, I felt myself experiencing a loss of identity, grasping at straws that were never mine in the first place. When I joined organizations that pursued my more creative passions, everyone assumed I did it to add something extra to my resume. Based on the system we grew up in, my peers never thought that I was chasing after a career I could see myself in the long-run, outside of the stereotypical college education. 

Even though I ended up choosing the traditional route, something I decided of my own accord, I can’t help but wonder, what if? What if I decided to take the California Exit Exam that allows me to graduate early and attend a junior college? What if I decided to pursue my creative passions without a college degree? But, after working towards the same goal for all of high school, any thought of those options was immediately pushed away. 

And, what else could you expect? Any students who entertain the idea of venturing out of the established norms have limited means of doing so—mentally and physically. Seniors who want to attend a junior college or immediately enter the workforce may feel pressure from their peers to do otherwise, despite both being equally legitimate options. In terms of the high school curriculum, there’s little to no way a student could be introduced to such opportunities. 

At Diamond Bar High School, there are various ROP classes, such as Forensics through Chemistry and Social Media Marketing, that can introduce students to a possible career path. Not to mention the extracurricular programs, namely Journalism, Robotics and FBLA, that groups students with like-minded peers to further explore their passions. While these programs serve as an introduction to different fields, they lack any sort of true directive into these fields—additions that are entirely possible. 

Take Germany’s VET system for example—a vocational education and training program that pushes its participants directly into Germany’s workforce. This program is commonly supplemented with the country’s dual training system, which combines practical training with classroom instruction to help young adults transition into the workforce.

While a much smaller country than the U.S., such a program can still be implemented in the States on a much smaller scale, especially considering the less than five percent of young Americans currently training as apprentices, according to World Education News. 

For a country that preaches its status as a first-world country filled with freedom and opportunities, there’s too many societal barriers for students to truly embody these values. If the country wants to move into the 21st century, they should push a new narrative— one that is the antithesis of our current social construct.