College (un)bound: seniors pursue non-traditional paths after high school

According to a National Center for Education Statistics report in 2019, 66 percent of public high school graduates directly attended a four year or two year college. What about the other 34


Kalea Rasmussen and Margot Granville plan to go to Hawaii after graduation to work on Kalea’s grandfather’s farm. Afterwards, they plan on participating in the World Wide Opportunities and Organic Farming (WWOOF) program. 

“[WWOOF] is an exchange program where you get to stay on a farm and work and get housed for free, in exchange for your services,” Margot said.

Kalea believes that her main motivation to work on her grandfather’s farm and participate in WWOOF stems from her yearning to have diverse life experiences before college.

I just want to have experiences and kind of find out what I want before I make any big decisions

— Margot Granville

“[I’m] definitely just not ready for college obviously and [am] wanting to see the world before I’m all old; I want to see it now when I’m young, and go traveling, rather than do more school, which I’ve been doing for the past 12 years straight,” Kalea said. “I want to do art and travel and be inspired by where I’m going.”

Margot agrees, saying that taking a break from school was a huge factor in her decision, in addition to her aspiration to investigate her personal values and wants.

“I just want to have experiences and kind of find out what I want before I make any big decisions like paying a huge tuition, or dedicating a lot of my time to a subject I’m not really interested in,” Margot said.

Throughout high school, both Margot and Kalea have endured external pressures to go to college right after high school. They remembered how teachers always talk about the “normal” college route. However, Kalea and Margot both think that taking a step back from traditional educational routes will benefit them and help with their lives and education in the future by allowing them to have a clear vision of what they want.. 

Nick Mollenkopf plans to enlist in the Marine Corps for six years after graduation. The contract involves infantry training and boot camp, and once Nick’s training is complete, he is hoping to sign up for deployment.

“[Deployment] would mean 6-12 months in whichever country they’ll send me. So maybe Japan, Iraq, we’ll see… I want to serve my country and that’s the best way to do so,” Nick said.

Nick has been looking forward to joining the Marines for a year, and feels like it is the best fit for his next steps in life. He is excited to join the United States Military, as it has always been something of interest. His parents supported the decision, allowing Nick to choose his own path after high school. 

“I am hoping to just become a Marine, it’s something I’ve always wanted to be.” Nick said. “I think it’s a decision that I won’t regret.”

Emelia Reuter and Ziggy Rees have decided to study abroad through Veto Education, a program provider allowing students to take a gap year while still earning college credit. 

“We are going to be doing school for the first semester in Italy, in Florence, and we are going to be studying and getting college credit for that,” Ziggy said. 

Both seniors are completing their first semester of college in Florence, Italy, but Emelia is going to continue college in San Diego afterwards while Ziggy is undecided on next steps. 

Both of the students had support from their parents, but Emelia felt pressure while at school, surrounded by her college-bound classmates.

“I would not say I felt pressure from my parents or the school, but pretty much everyone around me was hoping to go to a four year college so I felt pressure from that, but I’m super hyped with my decision,” Emelia said.

Emelia and Ziggy are both looking forward to their year abroad because of the experience traveling and learning rather than going directly to a four year college. 

Michael Riecken has signed with a modeling agency, through which he will be able to work in either New York City or Los Angeles. Having deferred his decision to attend UCSC for a year, Michael is still unsure whether he will continue modeling after one year or go to school. 

“I feel like I was supported to be able to explore the four year option, but when I was interested in doing something different I definitely had support and resources from the college and career center to help with that,” Michael said.

He is excited to dive into modeling after graduation and looks forward to traveling while working, without school-related pressures.