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Is College a Post-Secondary Education?

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By Johnny Bevers

Post-secondary education, also referred to as higher education (or college), is a level of schooling that goes beyond secondary education. For example, it could involve getting a master’s degree after completing a bachelor’s or attending a trade school to learn skills for a specific industry. There are specific institutions that offer post-secondary education and degrees based on completing their programs. Most students who opt for post-secondary education do so to break into a new career or improve their chances for advancement in their current career.

Post-Secondary Education Isn’t Required; It’s Optional

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Unlike the first few years of schooling, post-secondary education is entirely optional. Most children are forced to attend a certain number of education years in school, broken down by elementary school, middle school, grammar school, etc. In some countries, however, high school is considered a secondary education. Which is why college is referred to as post-secondary schooling; because it is a choice made after high school and is not required by students.

Why Do People Go to Post-Secondary Programs?

post secondary education pic of books with grad cap on top

With a high school diploma, there are some career fields people can get into. But, for the most part, a college degree or some formal training is required to advance in a career field or even enter into a career field. For example, a person who wants to work in a restaurant and be a chef cannot just apply for a chef job. They would first need to attend a trade school that teaches them their skills.

Most of the higher paying jobs in the United States require some form of advanced degree or certificate — which can only be obtained through post-secondary education. People can also choose to go to college to enter a particular field, such as someone who wants to become a plumber or someone who wants to eventually attend law school. Higher education typically means more opportunities.

Some people enter higher education with no defined goal. But they use that education to help make them better thinkers, workers and even apply what they learn to their daily lives. Such as taking a finance course to learn to manage their own money better.

Breaking Down the Categories

There are typical categories for post-secondary schools. They can be broken down into undergraduate programs, trade and vocational schools, and graduate degrees.

What is an Undergraduate Program?

secondary_education diagram of the process

An undergraduate program happens at a university or community college. In some cases, these courses can be taken online. Students can attend a public or private university based on their own financial and educational capabilities. The costs can vary; therefore, it is all about the education and field the student wants to learn in. Typically a student will attend an undergraduate program for four years or until they earn their Bachelor’s degree.

For students who are not sure what degree they want, they may start out at a community college. These two-year programs are designed to help students take their core classes (classes required by almost all secondary education majors). A student can end their community college career with an associate’s degree or continue on to a university to complete their bachelor’s degree. Some entry-level positions today require an associate’s degree to already be completed.

Trade Schools and Vocational Education

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Specific trades, such as plumbing, electrical work and even restaurant management often require some sort of vocational education or trade school attendance. These specialized schools provide students with the skills they need to be successful in their career. While some universities focus on giving students a broader scope of the industry, trade schools are dedicated to specific industries and career fields. These schools are typically private and do not tie with universities. Some of the training you can expect to find at these types of schools includes:

  • Mechanics
  • Restaurant Management
  • Cooking
  • Art and Design
  • Electrician
  • Plumbing

These programs can last anywhere from one year to four years. They can end with a certificate of completion or a degree. In rare cases these certificates can lead to local licenses — such as for plumbers and electricians.

Graduate Programs

Graduate programs are one of the more prestigious parts of tertiary education. Individuals that enter into graduate programs typically want to be lawyers, physicians, or even professors. These programs are part of a larger education and involve a master’s degree. So, in order to attend a graduate program, individuals must first go through the four years to obtain their bachelor’s degree. While most graduate programs average one to two years, there are some instances where they can take longer. For example, a graduate program for a doctor will take up to four years of education, a year of internship, etc.

Is a Post-Secondary Education Worth the Cost?

secondary education grads

Post-secondary education does cost money. Unlike a child’s first few years of schooling, which are typically funded through government programs, post-secondary education is paid for by the student. This is considered one of the biggest drawbacks to tertiary education, followed also by the length of time it takes to complete these programs. Some students may be able to qualify for government grants or additional funding to help them pay for their post-secondary education, but there is almost always some sort of out of pocket expense. Public universities are often more affordable than private universities, while trade and vocational schools are more expensive than your average community college.

But, post-secondary programs are often considered a long-term investment. While a student may pay for their education, they will also find better paying jobs upon the completion of that education. This means that cost can balance itself out. This is true in some fields, but not in all.

Most students opt for student loans to pay for their post-secondary education. Student loans can be used for community college, graduate programs, trade schools and even vocational education. There are also scholarships available for students who have the grades or other skills to help offset the costs. Students who do opt for student loans can defer payments until they graduate, but doing so could lead to a higher total payout cost than paying for the student loan while attending their education.

What About Online Post-Secondary Programs?

Some students feel that post-secondary education is not worth the time. With family and work responsibilities, getting a four year degree takes a lot of devotion and focus. Because of this issue, the rise of online programs has seen a steady increase. Some colleges only offer online coursework for their undergraduate and graduate programs. These online programs make it easier for students to balance their work life, family obligations and still obtain the degree they want. And, some schools that offer online degrees offer their programs cheaper, because they don’t have the same overhead costs as traditional post-secondary facilities.

Is a Post-Secondary Education Worth It?

Only you can decide if a post-secondary education is worth the time or money. For most people, it isn’t just about obtaining a degree, it is about personal advancement. Therefore, if there is a career field you are interested in, you may benefit from a post-secondary education. There are plenty of facilities offering vocational education programs, trade skills and degrees tailored to fit the demands of each industry. So, even if you don’t have the intentions of getting a degree, you may want to see what education your industry requires and consider programs that help you at least remain competitive, and get the most, out of your chosen career field.

The video below is about measuring the value of post secondary education.


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