Rethinking your route to the 'American Dream'

Although students are pushed toward attending a four-year college, that may not be their best option. 

Image By: Betsy Osterberger

All my life, my parents told me that I was smart. They told me that I was going to go to a top-ranked university and become rich when I was older. I realize that I am not alone in this experience; as high school seniors, many of us felt tremendously pressured to get into the highest-ranked university we possibly could. We had been brought up to believe that our futures were in the hands of our SAT or ACT scores, personal statements and grade percent average—our dreams were in the balance of what college we graduated from. American society places a high value on white-collar jobs, which mostly require a high level of education. This “American Dream” of a high-paying job and white picket fence is something that everyone wants to achieve but is unrealistic for many. However, there are alternatives for a fulfilling future.

White-collar jobs are often high-paying and offer high social status. However, while their payout is great after the fact, they are costly to attain. To attend UW-Madison, it costs Wisconsin residents about $25,000 a year, whereas it costs out-of-state students about $44,000 a year. European countries such as Norway and Switzerland offer their residents a completely free college education, but many students choose to turn this down in favor of vocational training. Vocational training is offered to students who choose to enter a trade, such as being an electrician or plumber. Not only are students meticulously trained in their craft, but they are streamlined into an apprenticeship where they get hands-on experience in their field and a roadmap to employment.

Vocational training is glaringly underrated in American society. White-collar jobs are heralded for their high salaries and high social status, whereas blue-collar jobs are viewed as inferior. Because of this stigmatization of blue-collar jobs, students all across the country feel pressured to go to a four-year university, pay insanely high tuitions and still risk unemployment after graduation.

Unfortunately, not everyone can be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Instead of writing off students in high school who do not score as high on tests or academics, we should encourage them to be successful in the workforce by providing hands-on training in a field where they could have steady employment and success. This hands-on experience is something not even the most elite college students get; every summer, students across the country fight tooth and nail for elusive internships where they are promised the connections and experience in their field that they don’t get in the classroom.

Admittedly, when I signed my admissions contract from UW-Madison a year ago, I was doing so in hopes of getting my best possible future. I thought attending a high-level university would give me all the best chances to do well in my chosen field and eventually make a salary that would allow me to live comfortably. However, college is not a “one size fits all” decision. As a society, we should do away with the useless stigma of blue-collar jobs and instead help those who are not cut out for high-level academics become gainfully employed. 

Samantha is a freshman planning on majoring in communication arts and journalism. Do you agree with her? Send all comments, questions and concerns to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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