Shaker students are expected to do one thing after completing high school: go to college.
Few people question the belief that the fast track to success is through education. For most students, this is an accepted idea; they recognize that after four years of high school, the only option is to continue on to college.
“I think it’s becoming much more of a standard that you have to go to college. But I don’t think it’s the only way you can be successful and I don’t think it’s for everyone,” said history teacher Amanda Ahrens. “Our school and all schools, really, don’t offer other options.”
For some students this isn’t the case, and they consider options from a wider spectrum of alternative choices. Students commonly choose to pursue ventures other than attending classes, including pursuing artistic dreams, joining the military, traveling the world and entering the work force.
Several seniors plan to pursue life outside of college. “I just don’t feel the need to put myself in debt trying to train my skills as a writer. I don’t think that the extreme costs of college are worth it for what I do,” senior Hombre Thomas said.
Thomas plans to inspire youth to change violent ways by traveling and speaking to groups of kids. “Even if I can’t become super rich from this, I think my life would have more worth and I would be happier with this path,” he said.
Rather than deciding to not attend college at all, more students will take a gap year – an interval during which people take a break from formal education and undertake activities.
Although the practice of taking a break is more uncommon in the United Sates than in other countries, numerous universities, including New York University, Amherst College, Princeton University and Harvard University have formal policies which allow and encourage students to defer admission and take time off.
Alex Wagner (’12) deferred enrolling in Cornell University for a year to travel the world. Wagner began her gap year volunteering at a school for children with mental and physical disabilities in Kenya and then backpacked around Eastern Africa.
“I decided to take a year off before college to gain some out-of-the-classroom life experience. I wanted to try new things and step out of my comfort zone to learn more about other people and cultures around the world,” Wagner stated in a Facebook interview.
Currently, Wagner is in Argentina learning Spanish and getting her bartender certification. (The drinking age in Argentina is 18). Wagner plans to continue traveling through South America for the remainder of her gap year.
“It has been extremely beneficial in terms of life experience. I’ve been challenged with language barriers, culture shock, missed busses and getting lost in foreign countries, but in the end it’s all helped me learn more about myself and grow as a person,” said Wagner.
Senior I’Jaaz Abdul-Hakim plans to take a gap year and travel to different countries with programs that work on helping preserve the environment and wildlife.
“I need some time to find out what it is I am passionate about and what I want to pursue in life. I feel that in the last few years I haven’t met my potential. It’s like driving a car that clearly has mechanical problems. You don’t keep driving it; you pull over and find out how you can fix the problem.” he said.
Abdul-Hakim is confident that the less-traveled route will lead to success.
He said, “There are so many ways to make money and develop a profession. I think that it will give me a better view of what I want to do so therefore I will have a developed idea of what I want to pursue.”
A version of this article appeared in print on 26 March 2013, on page 10 of The Shakerite