I am not going to college by choice

Haegan Altizer is a senior at Decatur High School.

As a high school senior, I get the same question all the time: “Where do you plan to attend college?”

It’s a not a surprising question to ask a high school student, especially one who has done well in school. My response, on the other hand, surprises a lot of people.

I explain that I don’t have any immediate plans to attend college, leaving people a little confused or even upset.

It’s almost unheard of for any reasonably good student to have no plans to go to college. To most people, it’s a logical progression: You go to high school, graduate and go to college.

I’ve always made good grades and been in advanced classes; both my parents work in education. My dad is a teacher at my high school, and my mom runs the local education foundation. Clearly, my family values education.

So do I, but it is important to recognize that college is not the only form of post-secondary education.

Just because someone doesn’t plan to attend college doesn’t mean they’re eschewing education. In eighth grade, I started thinking that I didn’t want to go to college. Since then, I have been told by my peers and even by their parents that I’ll never amount to anything without a college education.

It’s hard to believe that my eighth-grade classmates would say to me, “If you don’t go to college, all you’ll ever do is work at McDonald’s,” at a point in their lives when they didn’t even know what college was like or what other options existed after high school.

I have a few reasons for my reservations about college. First, college tuition rates are increasing far faster than inflation and making a college education more expensive than ever. The average college graduate in 2013 had more than $30,000 in student loan debt. Additionally, 48 percent of recent grads are underemployed — working jobs that do not require a four-year degree.

When you consider the average college student is taking six years to complete a four-year degree, it seems to me that it might not be the best use of everyone’s time.

For me, one of the biggest reasons not to go to college immediately is that I can always go back. College will always be there, and I can go get a degree when I’m ready to; it just doesn’t have to happen right now.

The main reason for me to hold off on college is that there are other things I would rather do. When or if I go to college is something I plan to approach with the same drive and dedication as I do with everything else. To go while I have other ambitions would be to rob myself of the full experience and would result in a less thorough education.

Another question I get is either a confused or contemptuous, “Well, what are you going to do?” — as if there is no other possible path for a high school graduate. Personally, I plan to work and travel, but there are many opportunities out there.

Hoping to help people see that college isn’t the only path to success, I’ve organized a College Alternatives Fair, which will be held tonight at Decatur High School to showcase the many alternatives to a traditional four-year degree.

I’ve gathered many different opportunities, from gap years to apprenticeships to short-term career-oriented degrees, all of which have their own place as students plan the next steps in their lives.

If you are uncertain, or a student you know is unsure, about what to do after graduation, come hear about a few of the possibilities. College is a path, but it isn’t the only one.

The College Alternatives Fair will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight in the Decatur High School Performing Arts Center, 310 N. McDonough St. The event is free.