Different paths to education

Lucia Bosacoma, Executive Features Editor

By the end of her senior year, alumna Dana Cagen (‘17) was exhausted. Four years of intensive studying and extracurriculars left her tired and burnt out to the point at which she could not imagine attending college in the fall.

“I felt like I really lost my love for learning,” said Cagen in a phone interview. “I really just did, and I’ve always been a person who has loved learning, but I couldn’t imagine going to college right away. … I had no idea what I really wanted to do or where I saw myself.”

Cagen decided she wanted to take a break from school, so she attended an annual gap year fair at New Trier for students who want to learn more about alternative options to college. There, she took interest in a program called Carpe Diem Education through which she was able to explore Ecuador during the first semester of the 2017-2018 school year.

According to David Boyle, coordinator of college counseling, there is no formula for deciding whether to take an alternative path after high school, but the initial decision needs to come from within the student. Boyle and other school counselors can then provide the student with more information about his or her options.

“If a student came to me and said, ‘I don’t want to go to school right away,’ I first would assess that interest level.

“Do they want to delay [college] for a year, or is it that they don’t want to go to a traditional college or university setting?” said Boyle. “Do they maybe want to go to a trade school to learn the trade, to learn the skill, to get into the working environment?”

In addition to trade schools, Boyle said other alternative postgraduate paths that have been popular with students in the past include taking a gap year, entering the workforce and going into the armed services.

According to Cagen, what attracted her to Carpe Diem Education was its emphasis on alternative forms of learning. Through the program, she was able to learn about topics such as sustainable development, the impacts of Spanish colonization and how to minimize one’s ecological footprint.

“I’ve grown so much more this year than all of high school combined,” said Cagen. “I feel like when you’re traveling it just forces you into those super uncomfortable situations where you have to be assertive and you have to be confident and you have to speak up, and those are all qualities I’ve developed so much.”

Cagen said for the second half of her gap year, she participated in an organization called Love Volunteers through which she taught at a school in Morocco. She plans on attending University of Victoria in Vancouver in the fall of 2019.

“I now know more about what I’m interested in just by experiencing things and talking to people,” Cagen said.

She said that students who are nervous about choosing an alternative path to college need to listen to themselves over others.

“If you think this is right for you, and if you think you will benefit from it, then go for it,” said Cagen. “It is one of those things where you’re going to be, like, one of the few kids in the grade that isn’t going to go to college right away, but you are going to do something so cool, equally as cool as what your friends are doing. And just because it’s out of the box and not on the traditional path doesn’t mean anything really. It just means it’s this really cool, unique experience.”