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According to a 2012 study from the US Department of Education, high school graduates from low income households are 30 percent less likely to enroll in college than high school grads from high income families. The disparity widens even more when it comes to actually completing college. Youth Radio commentator Derek Williams describes the psychological hurdles teens often face when they don’t matriculate to a four year college and lack a well trodden path to success.
In high school we are told what to do. We do it and then we’re rewarded in some way, whether it be verbal praise or a grade that tells us we’re doing well, but for those of us who graduate from high school and don’t go directly to a four-year college, we enter a transitional phase where there isn’t a clear outcome to our efforts. The obvious pathway disappears.
Recently while celebrating my 21st birthday, I was forced to ask myself, “What am I doing with my life?” After almost twenty years of instant gratification, action and reward, I now find it difficult to invest in hard work towards “my future,” without knowing what that hard work is leading to, and I think that is also the case for many of my peers.
After high school I enrolled in community college, but twice I lost motivation and withdrew. A person could argue that the same reward mechanisms and graduation trajectory that existed in high school exist in community college, but it’s not the same. Kids who are on a four year track, are just that…they’re on a track. They know where they are headed, and there’s a bachelors there at the end of it. That’s what it was like in high school too.
But for me, community college has never felt like the right track, or a track at all. I was there without direction, just signing up for classes not sure what my ultimate goal was. I had to figure things out for myself and that wasn’t something I was used to. I was still looking for someone else to set me on the right path. I knew that it was up to me to get things done, but since I didn’t have that watchful eye of my high school teachers, I found myself slacking off.
For young people who don’t move directly to college, the pathway to careers and the rest of our lives becomes muddled and confusing. I learned a lot in high school and i feel like it set me up to go to a four year college, but I don’t feel like high school prepared me for the workforce. There needs to be some revamping to the high school educational system to include a real vocational track, and many of this country’s strongest minds are working to increase career pathways for young adults. But there’s another side to this problem that many of my peers and I need to own ourselves.
We have to step up and put in the hard work that comes with being an adult, remaining conscious that the decisions we make now will have an impact on our futures. No longer are all of our goals visible on the horizon. Some of them are distant and require much effort, but if we don’t put in hard work, we will never feel accomplished or reach our own pinnacle of success.