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Students consider alternate paths amid pandemic’s impacts | Education

Amid the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, school counselors said they are seeing more students consider alternatives to college. Students are considering trade schools or gap years, and there is generally more uncertainty about what they want to do beyond high school graduation.

“I have noticed more students who are unsure about what their path should be after graduation,” Sarah Wilkins, a counselor at Portage High School, said.

Lauren Dado, career and technical education director for the Hammond Area Career Center, said she has seen more students consider CTE or contemplate different pathways outside of college.

“It was time for the narrative to change,” Dado said. She said that when she was growing up, a lot of students felt there was no option other than college.

She said that especially in the Region, there is money to be earned without taking on a lot of student loans. Wilkins said a lot of students are considering going into a trade, as they can make higher wages right away and have little to no debt after high school.

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“It’s another way to make money and sustain gainful employment,” Dado said.

Wilkins said she tries to encourage students to look at career assessments and see what aligns with their interests and skills. Portage will also be adding a Jobs for America’s Graduates course next year, which will help students who are still unsure.

Karen Moffett, counseling department chair at Chesterton High School, said there is a lot of focus while students are freshmen and sophomores to try to help them determine their interests. She said a lot of students take classes at Porter County Career and Technical Education Center. Moffett said students also have the opportunities to participate in internships while in high school.

She said nearly 20% of the senior class does an internship in fields such as physical therapy and other unique careers.

“I wouldn’t say students are choosing gap years per se, but there has been a huge switch from traditional four-year college / universities to trade schools, apprenticeships, etc.,” Wilkins said.

Moffett said that Duneland School Corp. has been steady in how students have reacted but that during early COVID-19, a lot more students took a year off.

“They did not want to pay money for college and do it all online anyway,” Moffett said. She said that once schools started opening back up, she saw more students transition back to considering college as their postgraduate plan.

She said that in March, 70% of Chesterton seniors had applied to a two- or four-year institution.

Wilkins said she thinks the pandemic has changed the view of society as a whole on careers. She said students may have seen their parents switch careers, get laid off or work fully from home.

“I think the pandemic may have forced students to look at various career options with … ‘will this career survive through a pandemic or allow me flexibility with at-home working options should something like this ever happen again.'” She said.

She also said she thinks the pandemic put a huge spotlight on the service industry and medical field, which may have sparked interest in some students.

Dado said a lot of these industries are in high need, especially health sciences. At the Hammond Area Career Center, students can train to become emergency medical technicians or certified nursing assistants, both careers that are desired right now.

She said that the career center always has all of the health sciences classes filled completely.

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