Options for graduates

Last week, high schools across Nova Scotia saw mortarboards tossed into the air following the graduation ceremonies of Grade 12 students. It’s an exciting time for our youth as they leave the classroom and prepare for higher education or to enter the workforce.

For many students, their short-term plans have already been set. Applications to universities and community colleges have been submitted, summer jobs have been secured, and those looking to enter directly into the labour force are doubtlessly knocking on doors. Some graduates might still be mulling over what comes next, but it’s a safe bet that even the procrastinators are narrowing down their options.

Many students will go onto university where they’ll receive great educations. For them, their Bachelor of Arts or Sciences can lead to masters programs and possibly PhDs. Of course, university isn’t for everyone. Some will choose to attend community colleges where they too will receive great educations.

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Occasionally, an assumption is made that a university degree will necessarily lead to ‘big money’ jobs, and therefore universities are sometimes considered to be the wisest investment for someone coming out of high school. That sort of thinking is sadly outdated.

Facilities like the Nova Scotia Community College have prepared many people from the east coast for lucrative jobs as carpenters, plumbers, paralegals, chefs, hair stylists, and dozens of other occupations. A career in manual trades, for example, has led many people to big money in western Canada – not to mention opportunities here on the local front.

Last May, Canadian Business magazine released its listing of the best jobs in Canada. Some people might be a surprised to learn that pipefitting (supervisor role) ranked as the fourth best career in our country, based on average salary, security, and nuances of the employment landscape.

Pipefitting beat out serving as a lawyer (a career which ranked at ninth place) being a pharmacist (eleventh place), and serving as an aerospace engineer (14th place). The average yearly salary of pipefitting supervisors is $89,398.

Another rarely-considered benefit to attending community college is the length of time it takes to finish your studies. Compare, for example, pipefitting to becoming a lawyer or university professor.

Following their undergraduate degree, a prospective lawyer must earn a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree which means an additional three years of study. With that, earning a J.D. doesn’t make someone a lawyer. That title is reserved for those who are able to pass a bar examination, a grueling test that can last for up to three days.

University professors, in terms of length, have it even worse than lawyers. Following their undergrad degree, a prospective professor has to earn a masters degree (minimum one year) and then a PhD (four years) along with writing a dissertation.

Now, earning a place in the manual trades isn’t necessarily a short road either, as an apprentice period follows your schooling, but apprenticeships allow you to start putting money in your pocket sooner rather than later.

The moral of the story isn’t that one sort of career is better or worse than the other. With that, the trades of pipefitting, professorships, and lawyers were picked at random. We could have just as easily spoken of barbers, police officers, and trapeze artists.

The point is, if you are walking away from your high school and wondering what comes next, try to understand that you have lots of opportunities ahead of you. University educations are fantastic, but they aren’t the only means by which you can become a success.

And the truest measure of professional success is to earn a living in a field you enjoy. If that road takes you to a university, a community college, or employment directly following high school, the truest way of knowing you are on the right path is by seeing if you roll out of bed happy to start the day.