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By Mark Emery

It’s a path so commonplace and accepted, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it as the only one.

Go to college after high school. Of course. It’s just what people do. Never mind the four years you give up in time, or the tens of thousands you pay in tuition and room and board. In the long run, these are nothing concerns. Especially when you consider the higher income that a college education all but guarantees.

Right?

Actually, maybe not. Four years is a significant period of time to wait before you can start earning money. And the costs? Credit.com puts the average student loan debt at a whopping $31,172. That’s not something you can pay off overnight. If your debt is higher, which is all too possible, it may not be something you can fully pay off ever.

When you also consider that basic employment is far from guaranteed in many fields — let alone that higher income — college starts to look a lot less stable and reliable than we’re led to believe.

Bucking Tradition, Together

Roommates Michael Lim, 23, and Michael-Anthony Shipman, 25, experienced some of these drawbacks firsthand. Both of them tried the traditional college route after high school, and both of them decided it wasn’t for him.

“There’s an overemphasis in my opinion on college degrees,” Lim says. “I don’t want to downplay at all the education you get from college, the social understanding and things you learn outside the classroom. But for the price, it’s a little bloated. A little bit, in my opinion.”

Both of Lim’s parents went to college, as did all five of his siblings. But he didn’t take to his new lifestyle at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He didn’t like the massive classroom sizes, nor was he completely sure of the value of his intended computer science degree.

“It wasn’t really like, ‘Oh, should I go to college and get a degree?’ It was like, ‘When am I going to get it?’” Lim says. “For me personally, just as a life choice, I didn’t want to go to college right after high school — and it kind of showed. Getting out after a year and a half in was my way of saying, ‘Oh, I don’t think the timing is right. I don’t want to be going into this kind of intensity. I just want to figure things out for myself.’”

After Lim left, he wound up in Pittsburgh, where he met Shipman. In addition to his ongoing work with the Army National Guard, Shipman was studying game design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, which eventually shut down as part of a wave of Art Institute closings across the country.

Together with a couple other friends, the group migrated west to Aurora, Colorado. Some enrolled in a new school, but that turned out not to be exactly what they were looking for either. That’s when Shipman came across LeaderQuest’s Denver campus.

“Just from all the options and the outcomes that I could have from LeaderQuest, it was going to be better than getting a degree in college,” Shipman says. “Especially with being already in the military, having the VA benefits and already having a clearance for jobs for getting out of LeaderQuest is a huge bonus.”

Shipman — a tech guy who built his first computer five years ago — decided to give it a go, ultimately convincing Lim and their roommate Ryan Broadwater as well.

“When [Shipman] started looking into it, he was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is a really, really solid place,” says Lim, who was also attracted to the opportunity to earn college credits. “The idea of me and my two roommates going to school together, as well as getting some certifications and whatnot, it was a very enticing proposition. So it was very hard for me to turn it down.”

Hitting the Books

While Shipman was able to secure funding for his IT training based on his military experience, Lim had to take out a manageable loan. Compared to the costs of college, he was happy to do it.

“When you’re going to college, you’re spending just literally tens of thousands of dollars, every year,” Lim says. “Coming to LeaderQuest, time-wise, it’s less than a semester. And money-wise, it all just kind of made sense, like lucratively. You’re going to be making a fair amount of money coming out and you’re going into an expanding field. It just makes a lot of sense.”

Source: EducationData.org

Whereas before he was one of 300 in classes at UNC-Charlotte, with LeaderQuest Lim learned in classroom sizes of 15 or less. He called that “very refreshing” as he completed his LeaderQuest courses and went on to pass the ITIL exam as his first certification. 

Military duties related to the coronavirus, meanwhile, have kept Shipman from wrapping up his coursework just yet. But once his training is finished and his certifications are acquired, he’s looking forward to working with the Department of Defense as a civilian contractor — “to not necessarily be in uniform but work with people in uniform.”

Both Lim and Shipman are fully confident in LeaderQuest’s career services team to help them find full-time employment in IT.

“One of the best things is how ready they are to help you out,” Lim says. “When I connect with my teachers they’re like, ‘Hey, even outside of LeaderQuest, when you’re gone as an alumni, you can contact me. If you need a reference, you can contact me. If I leave LeaderQuest, you can still contact me and I’ll help you out.’ I was like, ‘Dang, these guys are just like all for me.’ It was really nice to hear that kind of encouragement from my professors. I just thought it was top tier.”

Though the young men are closer to the beginning of their professional journey in IT than the end, both feel good about the less-than-traditional route they’ve decided to pursue.

“It all worked out really well for me,” Lim says. “This is an amazing decision in my opinion. Me and my roommates, we were just like, ‘Oh, best decision of our lives, hands down.’ It just makes a lot of sense for us.”

Adds Shipman: “I think this was a great decision. I’ve never regretted doing it.”

Ready to Learn More?

As Lim points out, with LeaderQuest you can get the training you need to pass the certifications necessary for IT positions in less than a semester. Going to school at night, as he did, takes 10 weeks; if you’re able to attend classes during the day, you’ll be done in five weeks. The Computer User Support Specialist program is the most common direction for those with no experience. It prepares students for the ITIL, CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, and CompTIA Security+ certifications that will help them successfully break into IT.

Our staff of instructors and mentors are there to help every step of the way, even after the course ends. LeaderQuest prides itself on helping students pass their certification exams, and then helping them get jobs. To that end, our career services team is tireless in their efforts to connect LQ alums to IT positions. They’re well-connected in the community, and can often put in that good word with hiring managers that moves our alumni’s resumes to the top of the pile.

Are you a high school student who feels college might not be the right fit? Could you see yourself joining the expanding field of IT and cybersecurity? Fill out the form below to get in touch with LeaderQuest and start talking options, from potentially finding funding for your training to seeing how IT certifications can build the foundation for a fulfilling career.