- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 13, 2005

My son has been researching some alternatives for his future, and he found a book that puts a name to something I have been advocating to my children for years. It’s called “The Uncollege Alternative,” by Danielle Woods.

Citing statistics about the costs of a four-year college degree and the slim correlation with eventual work or life activity, the author makes a compelling case for stepping back and getting experience in other ways to discover one’s true vocation and then get trained and successfully employed in that vocation.

It’s refreshing to see the breadth of options mentioned, which include everything from volunteer work with humanitarian organizations to entrepreneurship to becoming a filmmaker. Opportunities abound for young people who are willing to invest their time and a bit of unpaid or low-paid labor to learn the ropes.

Working in nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, or partially government-sponsored ones like AmeriCorps, not only helps a young person discover new aspects of others’ lives, but it also lets him discover some of his unsuspected strengths. In one program, Camphill, volunteers live, work and help train disabled residents for jobs, living in small, self-sustaining villages scattered around the globe. This not only teaches the residents vocational training and caretaking skills, but the villages also incorporate a lot of special trades, including metal smithing, arts, candle making, baking and weaving, so those interested in arts could gain skillsas well.

For those who enjoy the outdoors, there are a lot of different places to do internships or get work: leading outdoor adventure trips, working in the park service, or even working at a dude ranch out West.

For those attracted to the health field, many apprentice-training or alternative-medicine training options are described, from acupuncture to midwifery. Those who love the world of food can find ways to satisfy their appetite for knowledge in jobs and training in the world of restaurants, catering and specialty food production.

The book also gives details about the military services, including the strengths, options and drawbacks of each one. All branches, however, offer both training as part of the military service itself — which often is the best guarantee of a job in fields that pay quite well — but also tuition support for any college courses a student may want to pursue during or after military service.

Trade professions — including electrical, carpentry and plumbing — are better compensated and more difficult to break into than many young people would assume. Apprenticeships, high-tech applications and free — or paid — training are available.

Entrepreneurship allows a young person with a head for business the chance to build a future on his or her own terms. If someone has a skill or service that others need and can put together the funds for the start-up equipment and raw materials, he or she can translate that into a new business. This will require lots of time, hard work and headaches, but the training and results can be far more satisfying than spending six years earning an MBA, only to be looking for a job at someone else’s company.

This book provides young adults and their parents with a smorgasbord of options for career training and experience. Despite the title, it does include many college-study options as well. Once the person is clear on what he or she wants to do and what knowledge is needed, a specific course of study can be extremely beneficial.

The difference, I would say, is in being a deliberate student, rather than simply attending college as a default, putting off the real exploration and life decision for four very expensive years.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer who lives in Maryland.

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