College vs. Trades: Why Not Both?

Some of you may be debating about whether to go to college or embark on a trade career. In fact, it is not an either-or proposition. It’s not unheard of for college students or even graduates to find out they like working with tools better than whatever white-collar job their education landed them.

It happens more and more these days. As I’ve pointed out numerous times in this blog, somewhere around 40% of college grads end up in jobs that don’t really require a college degree. Many of those jobs are dead-end, low-paying positions serving in restaurants or in retail sales. Who can blame them for
seeking a better life.

The other way around is probably even more common — for trade workers to end up in college classrooms. Some pursue business courses prior to opening their own trade business. Some study engineering in order to advance in the construction industry. Others may simply want to expand their minds in a field they find interesting. Some employers will pay all or part of tuition if advanced schooling relates to their work.

Even if employers don’t pay, earning a decent living as a skilled trade worker likely will provide sufficient funds for higher education. Plenty of colleges conduct night classes or even online studies that cater to students with full-time jobs. It’s time well spent to handle both a full-time job and part-time studies that may result in even better pay and advancement in a skilled mechanical trade.

Many people who enter college right after high school lack maturity and are more interested in frat parties than education. There’s something to be said for waiting a few years and graduating from the school of hard knocks to better appreciate what the academic world has to offer. (I speak from experience here. I was a C student in high school, more interested in chasing girls and partying than studies. After entering college at age 23, I became a serious student and graduated at the top of my class.)

Moreover, as a trade worker and part-time student, you’ll benefit from sizable paychecks lining your pockets rather than student loans depleting them.

Many European countries direct high school students toward either college or a trade apprenticeship. That’s helpful for those happy with the path chosen for them, but it’s very hard for someone dissatisfied to break out of their predetermined career. In America, many more opportunities beckon.