Getting a college degree is a major investment of both time and money, and it would reassure hard-pressed families and students to have some assurance that their education was going to prove useful.
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Another direction to take in terms of instantly practical skills is the foodservice industry. The Culinary Institute of America, in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York State, or the Napa Valley of California (http://www.ciachef.edu/), and the Restaurant School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (http://www.walnuthillcollege.edu/Content1.aspx?cid=1.1) both offer highly professional training that prepares students to work in any food-related setting. Students run restaurants inside the school that are destinations for diners from their whole regions. In the case of the Restaurant School, the design, theme, and menu of the student-run restaurant change every few weeks, to give students a chance to participate in the process of creating a new restaurant concept on their own.
Both these institutions offer non-credit courses that introduce enthusiastic amateurs to the hot and steamy world of the restaurant kitchen. There are local cooking schools in most areas, and many community colleges offer this training as well. Will taking one or two courses in omelet-making or wine-matching ready you for a real job? The likelihood is that they won’t but restaurants are generally run by idiosyncratic entrepreneurs, and one never knows what will strike a restaurateur positively when hiring.
Large state-affiliated land-grant universities have Cooperative Extension Services. These often offer classes in growing vegetables, canning your produce, cooking the old fashioned way, making sound nutritional choices, and other useful subjects. While it is doubtful that such instruction will get secure a job, it will certainly help you save money and remain healthy over the long term.
If you are looking for practical education, that goal should ideally be articulated from the moment you begin looking at colleges. It is much easier to construct a course of vocational study from the ground up than to add a class here or thereafter you have already started working towards a major in Klingon opera.
However, even if you are more or less committed to a liberal arts degree, there are options. Your state’s universities, community colleges, free-standing commercial and state-affiliated trade schools, and Cooperative Extension services are all available to provide individual courses or whole programs of study that relate to real life. (There may indeed exist a college that offers a major in Klingon opera: let us know if you find one!)
There has been much recent discussion about the advisability of everyone being funneled into college when their inclinations may lead them elsewhere. The vocational-technical school system in the USA has been under-emphasized, and probably to our detriment in the long term. There is nothing shameful about learning and practicing the trades that make our lives possible in the modern world. If you feel a powerful attraction to a trade or craft, whether it is plumbing, imaging technology, or computer repair, let your parents and college/career advisers know so they can help you find the right school for your interests. These are honorable professions without which the modern world would be sick, dirty, cold, wet, and generally miserable. Good luck to you all!
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