Rather than head to college, UAHS students explore alternative paths for their futures

By Aly Gordon and Olivia Milter

As vibrant perennials, tan-lines and shorts make their long-awaited debut, summer seems as though it is finally within reach. Each “X” on the ever-dwindling calendar signifies one small step towards long, pool-side days, hours upon hours of freedom and, most importantly, a time void of homework. That said, the approaching school year is probably the last thing on most students’ minds, though many seniors cannot help but ask one another— Where are you going to college?

This question, though certainly answerable for most, is inapplicable for others. Some students, such as senior Morgan Saxe, plan to not follow the conventional post-high school path, but instead, they will pursue their own unique passions, whether it be cosmetology, music or military service, somewhere other than college.

Making the Choice

While numerous students struggle with choosing which specific college to attend, others must decide whether college is right for them at all. According to a 2008 study by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68.8 percent of high school graduates—approximately 2.2 million kids—attended college, with this number is projected to rise. The percentage of college-bound seniors at UAHS is greater in comparison, standing at 95 percent according to college-counselor Mark Davis. However, Davis says that although many UAHS graduates head straight to college, other options exist for those who do not.

“In some cases the financial situation is such that the student is working to support their education at a later date. Some are just looking for a break from school, others are involved in service projects in or out of the country. Occasionally the student is going to travel for a year, and others have the call to serve their country,” Davis said.

Those who follow these alternative routes often pursue their own passions. Saxe, who at one point wished to study art at the university level, changed her mind so as to pursue cosmetology. She noted that although the high school does not have any particular cosmetology-related course, art classes were helpful in fostering this passion.

“I’ve always really liked messing with hair and doing make up, so I finally just decided to do it as a career,” said Saxe. “[Through] photography I got to do a lot of makeup for photo shoots… so that helped.”

This August, Saxe plans on enrolling at the Aveda Institute, a Columbus-based cosmetology school whose goal is not simply to educate students, but to offer them hands-on experiences, as well. Like Saxe, UAHS alumni Holly Ciampa pursued cosmetology, enrolling at the institute in September of 2011.

“I decided to go to cosmetology school because I knew that I wanted a hairdressing career, and that was the first step. I’ve just always admired the artistry and skill that hairdressing takes and I wanted to learn more about it,” Ciampa said.

With the institute’s two-pronged program, students choose either the esthiology path, which focuses strictly on skin care, or the cosmetology path, which encompasses everything from hair to nails. According to the institute’s web site, job placement for graduates of the cosmetology and esthiology programs stand at 83.2 percent and 79.1 percent respectively. However, job placement is not the only benefit the institute offers; Ciampa noted that passion is both acknowledged and rewarded.

“I never had a very good GPA in high school just because nothing really interested me there, but since going to Aveda I’ve actually won free services multiple times for having a top three GPA in the school,” Ciampa said. “It really makes a difference when you have a passion for what you’re studying.”

Although cosmetology is one example of a viable post-high school option, there are many other paths a student may choose. Some students, including junior Noah Hughes, view the military as their niche.

“When I come home, I want to have that hero feeling. I just want to help people. I’ve always said if life is worth living it’s worth risking, as well,” Hughes said.

Until recently, Hughes planned on following this path, but when his staff sergeant learned of his epilepsy, his deployment—originally scheduled for summer of 2013—was rejected. The setback, however, has not deterred Hughes from his ultimate goal: joining the army.

“I told [my staff sergeant] I’m not done here…I’m going to be joining no matter what. I may not be able to join right away but my doctor told me five years off my medicine and I can do whatever I want,” Hughes said. “So, that’s my plan. Go into the ROTC for a couple years. I might have to wait one extra year, and then I can get shipped out.”

According to goarmy.com, ROTC—or Reserve Officer Training Corps.—is a program offered by numerous colleges and universities throughout the U.S. It combines training with academic courses, and graduates commit to serve in the military after completing the program.

UAHS also offers several options for students who plan on pursuing courses that diverge from typical high school curriculum. According to Davis, these include Diversified Cooperative Training (DCT), a Career Based Intervention program, and Career Center options through Columbus City Schools and Fort Hayes.

These programs are all angled at preparing students for their potential careers. According to the Ohio Department of Education, students involved in DCT receive both classroom and on-the-job training to help with their transition from school to work. CBI programs are designed for students who are either academically or economically disadvantaged, and help them develop skills for post secondary education.

However, for those who do not want to make as drastic a commitment, another option is to take a “gap year”, which 2010 UAHS graduate Laura Hoffman did immediately following her graduation. Hoffman recalled that, although she was successful in high school, college was not her best option at that point in time.

“College sounded good to me, but not great,” Hoffman said. “I did pretty well in high school, I had some great teachers and great friends, but I wasn’t living my life the way I needed to live it. My gap year was an opportunity to live every second according to my own desires.”

While Hoffman’s peers were adjusting to college life, she was traveling the world. For the 2010-2011 school year, Hoffman volunteered on a rainforest preserve in Peru, where she not only did physical labor for the environment, but recorded the activity and growth of various organisms, as well. There, she cared for rescued animals, including spider monkeys, otters and toucans, and experienced Peruvian culture firsthand. She also volunteered at both an orphanage in Jamaica and the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, and eventually commenced with a 10,000 mile road trip: a drive from the Atlantic to the Gulf to the Pacific, and finally back to Ohio.


These decisions are not taken lightly, and there are a number of pressures that come into play. The roles of parents are especially significant, as their opinions often make or break a student’s choice. Hughes’ family, for example, worries about his decision, as it poses many threats to his safety.

“Of course, my mom doesn’t really want me to [join the military]. She always says, ‘I worry about it,’ and she’s like, ‘I don’t want you getting hurt out there,’” Hughes said. “I told her, ‘Well, I’m not planning on getting hurt,’ and I tell her that if it does happen, I still have honor.”

Hoffman’s parents were likewise reluctant to accept her decision.

“They were always pretty hesitant at first,” Hoffman said. “[But] once they realized how much I had been working on my plans, they weren’t really left with any reason to tell me not to do what I wanted, and they supported me completely.”

Nevertheless, the concerns people may voice about the importance of college are not without cause. According to the US Department of Labor, those with a bachelor’s degree earn an average $1,053 weekly, while those with only a high school degree make a comparatively meager $638.

In addition to these financial pressures, peer pressure can also sway a student’s decision. Hughes especially felt the scrutiny of his peers, noting that his classmates initially doubted his commitment.

“I’ve been saying [I wanted to join the military] since freshman year, and I was made fun of a lot at first because [people thought] I was just all talk,” Hughes said.

However, once he began joining programs, strength training, and attending meetings with his staff sergeant, he noted that both friends and classmates showed more respect.

All things aside, Ciampa believes that, while many pressures do exist, the decision ultimately depends on what a student wants for his or her future.

“Whenever I told my teachers what my plan was, I never got any feedback about why I should go to college instead,” Ciampa said. “If what you want to do with your life calls for you to get a bachelors, masters, PhD, etc., then you should definitely do that. It’s all about knowing what you want and doing what it takes to get it.”

A Life-long Experience

Post-high school decisions are pivotal, and often shape people for the rest of their lives. Saxe is aware of this, and hopes to make a career out of cosmetology.

“[After Aveda], I’m going into another program where I’ll get my management license, so I can…own a store if I want to,” Saxe said. “Then, after that, I’m going to a skin class so I can become a dermatologist… I also might want to go into special effects makeup at some point.”

Ciampa also looks forward to her future, noting that, although she would be happy working in or owning a salon, she would rather find a career in a more innovative field.

“I think my future really lies in doing more high fashion jobs for fashion shows and editorial shoots,” Ciampa said. “There’s much more creativity in that field. And after apprenticing in a salon—even though I loved it—I’ve found out that so many people want the same haircut, that the day gets a little monotonous. I feel like more creative jobs will break up that routine.”

In addition to self-discovery, Ciampa’s decision revealed many of the challenges a working adult must face.

“I’ve had to take a lot more responsibility a lot sooner than most people my age. I don’t have weekends off, or nights really, and my entire life is based around my schedule at Aveda,” she said. “I’m there 40 hours a week and I work around that whenever I can to make some kind of money to live off of, not to mention my responsibilities at home, so it gets to be a lot. It’s worth it though, I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for all the free time in the world.”

Likewise, Hoffman—who now studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder—will carry what she learned from her gap year into all her future endeavors. Her experiences—some of which dangerous and potentially life-threatening—taught her not only about the world, but about herself, as well.

“[My most memorable experience happened while] I was driving on US-64. I had recently spent a week with Trappist Monks in Kentucky, and I was in the middle of 550, one of the most strenuous miles I had ever driven,” said Hoffman. “I was caught in all kinds of crazy storms, going through flash flood plains and up mountains, avoiding scared groups of deer, didn’t have cell phone service, and was going through a rough time with a day-old death in the family. I was forced to be alone during a scary time both in terms of my emotions and in terms of my environment. The experience was extremely profound, [and] I learned a lot.”

With many such experiences under her belt, Hoffman feels that taking a gap year is an incredibly rewarding, beneficial decision and encourages others to do so.

“Taking a gap year…forced me to grow up and make something of myself without parents, teachers, or coaches forcing me,” Hoffman said. “In a way, I stole a year of my life from the system, and it was completely up to me to make something worthwhile of it.”