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Vocational High School and Other Non-Traditional Paths

Vocational High School And Other Non-Traditional Paths

You hear it all the time: college isn’t for everyone. Yet, many teens still face the pressure to apply to universities whether or not it's what they want to do.

There is, however, another viable option, and it can start while students are still in public school. It’s called vocational high school. And many school districts within the United States offer it—ask your own for more information if you’d like to enroll.

What is Vocational Education?

Vocational high school is a non-traditional approach to education, and it has been around for years. Not only will you focus on traditional academics, but part of your day will be dedicated toward learning a trade. These trades can range from plumbing, carpentry, cosmetology, information technology, and more! When you graduate high school, you'll leave with a high school diploma, plus a license and certification in your chosen trade.

Generally, vocational school will start in your junior year and last through your senior year (although some can start as early as when you are a sophomore). You will usually spend the morning in your core classes, and the remaining part of your day learning your trade as a part of your curriculum.

What are the Benefits of Vocational High School?

Between 2000 and 2016, the price of college increased by 75 percent. Stats speak volumes, and this astronomical increase in tuition is a major factor in the current student debt crisis. For those who had not wanted to go to college in the first place, student debt is another unnecessary obstacle to navigate.

Vocational high school programs offer the alternative some students may be looking for. They open doors for students that are more affordable, and can lead to training options that are much quicker than instruction that is offered at traditional universities.

Vocational training in high school holds many other benefits for students (especially at-risk students), including:

  • Decreased dropout rates
  • Decreased arrests and incarcerations
  • Increased earning and wage potential
  • Increased high school graduation rates
    • Students still earn a high school diploma
  • Increased likelihood of postsecondary education, whether it’s a 2- or 4-year college degree
  • Enough credits earned to shorten your freshman year of college (if you choose to go)
  • An inexpensive alternative to receiving a viable skilled trade education, because most partner with your school district
  • Better preparation with real life skills

Types of Trades Learned in Vocational High School

There are 16 occupational clusters, with different pathways included in each, that are available through career and technical education (CTE). Hands-on training, mixed with classroom learning give students a well-rounded look into their potential careers.

The clusters and pathways that most vocational high schools offer are:

  • Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources: Includes agribusiness; animal systems; environment services systems; food products and processing systems; natural resource systems; plant systems; and power, structural, and technical systems pathways
  • Architecture and Construction: From architectural engineering and drafting to welding, HVAC technology, and many other skilled trades
  • Arts and Audio/Video Technology and Communication: Tech and film; printing technology; visual arts technology; performing arts; journalism and broadcasting; and telecommunications pathways
  • Business Management and Administration: General management; business information management; human resources management; operations management; and administrative support pathways
  • Education and Training: Administrative and administration support; professional support services; and teaching/training pathways
  • Finance: Securities and investments; business finance; accounting; insurance; and banking services pathways
  • Government and Public Administration: Governance; national security; foreign service; planning; revenue and taxation; regulation; and public management and administration pathways
  • Health Science: Therapeutic services; diagnostic services; health informatics; support services; and biotechnology research and development pathways
  • Hospitality and Tourism: Restaurants and food/beverage; lodging; travel and tourism; and recreation, amusements, and attractions pathways
  • Human Services: Early childhood development and services; counseling and mental health services; family and community services; personal care services; and consumer services pathways
  • Information Technology: Network systems; information support and services; web and digital communications; and programming and software development services pathways
  • Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security: Corrections services; emergency and fire management services; law enforcement services; legal services; and security and protective services pathways
  • Manufacturing: production; manufacturing; production process development; maintenance; installation and repairs service; quality assurance; logistics and inventory control; and health, safety, and environmental assurance pathways
  • Marketing: marketing management; professional sales; merchandising; marketing communications; and marketing research pathways
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM): engineering and technology; and science and mathematics pathways
  • Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics: transportation operations; logistics planning and management services; warehouse and distribution center operations; facility and mobile equipment maintenance; transportation systems/infrastructure planning; management and regulation; health, safety, and environmental management; and sales and service pathways

Within these pathways, students should learn the academic foundations within their field, along with any tools/software needed, problem solving, critical thinking, etc. Once your schooling is completed, you should leave with a marketable skill that can move you forward.

Other Types of High Schools Beyond the Traditional Program

Early College high school programs: Imagine going to high school and knocking out two years of your college credits simultaneously. That’s the basic explanation for Early College high school programs. Students attend high school classes while also taking college courses. Some students graduate with not only their high school diploma, but also their associate degree. And, the high school pays for those college courses, so it’s a win-win.

School districts that have an early college program usually partner with a local community college or university. They hold their high school classes on the college campus, which makes attending those college courses very convenient.

Approximately 28 states offer some form of early college programs. There are many different models. Some may expect the students to live in college dorms, while others commute. Some start in 9th grade and begin the student recruitment process in middle school, while others are only open to juniors and seniors. Check with your local school district to learn about options available near you.

Co-Op High School Programs: Some high schools offer a co-op program to their juniors and seniors. You’ll earn credits through an unpaid work program or an internship. The schools that offer these types of programs do so at no charge to the student.

Co-op programs allow students to explore different careers while developing their resume, soft skills, and work experience. From skilled trades to office jobs to medical, anything you can think of is offered. If you’re under the age of legally being able to work, you may have to get a work permit to participate.

Many different local companies work with the school in offering co-op positions. Each have different requirements, from hours worked per week through maintaining a certain grade point average while involved with the co-op.

Many co-op programs have students enrolled on certain days or hours, while the rest of that time is spent at their training, where practical work skills are being applied. These students are able to go out into the workforce armed with the work experience necessary for success. College co-ops are different in many ways, particularly because the student may also earn a paycheck.

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