The Road Less Traveled: Redefining Higher Education

Submitted by Rachael Maloney on Wed, 05/02/2018 - 14:48 - 0 Comments
In the minds of many Lincoln High School students, the pathway to success begins in a cave of rigorous course loads and demanding extracurriculars. It then dips through sleepless nights fueled by caffeine, bends through valleys of towering GPAs and test scores, and takes a detour through elite colleges. The debt-inducing trip often leaves people wondering if the road taken was even worth it.
Amanda Needham, a two-time Emmy Award-winning costume designer, took a different route.
“I didn’t go to any sort of major, fancy ivy league. Nor did I really have interest in that,” she states. Amanda, who has worked on shows like Portlandia and Baskets, started her career while she was still in high school. “I loved fashion, I loved being in the industry, and I just found my way.”
Yet finding your way can be hard, especially when the message coming from society is that attending a high-ranking, four year college is practically your only option. Through heavy glorification of taking full IB course loads, celebration of ‘Decision Day,’ and other college-focused commemorations, this message hits especially hard for Lincoln students.
The mentality this encourages is problematic, as it often leads to a variety of stress related health issues among students. In a survey of over 1,000 teens by the American Psychological Association, one third claim to feel emotionally unstable because of stress, over 32% say they experience headaches and other physical discomforts, and 26% report changes in their sleeping habits. For teens ages 13-17, school is most often credited to being the primary culprit.
In addition to negatively affecting the health of students, these overwhelming expectations are ones that systematically exclude a large population of people. Amanda, who was living in her own apartment by 16, says that attending a four-year college was not an option for her. “My demographic wasn’t such that we had college savings, and scholarships were hard.”
These kinds of economic restrictions are mirrored by many Lincoln students, as well.
Like with many Cardinals, the traditional road to success is one that did not cater to Amanda economically. Thankfully for her, it did not fit her characteristically, either. She claims that college did not interest her, and that a hands-on education sounded more engaging. “[College] just wasn’t something that was appealing to me.”
Instead, Amanda built her career off of real-world experience. “I started out doing makeup. I was 16, and there was a modeling industry downtown that needed someone for weekend work. I would bus downtown every weekend and work pretty full days, and I would make some money doing that. I did that job, and then more people hired me. It was a little bit word-of-mouth, but then I would do job search as well. I was actually on Craig’s List back then.”
Amanda credits a lot of her success to networking. By living and working in places like Boston, Hawaii, and LA, she was able to create the relationships necessary to spread her name within the industry. “I have a lot of references because I haven’t stayed in Portland my whole life. I was just always motivated to seek things out and to meet interesting people.”
Attending a four-year college is not the only way to receive an education. Amanda believes that what matters is fit - the education you pursue should align with however you learn best. For her, this meant taking classes in her free time that were tailored to her interests, and getting the rest of her experience on the job site.
Although she would not go back and change the way she pursued her costume design career, she warns that bypassing the traditional ‘straight-to-college’ route is not for everyone. Whether taking a gap year or going directly into a career, you must take your goals and personality into account.
“If you’re going to take a year off and not do anything, then I don’t think that it’s for you. If you’re going to take a year off, you have to really be committed to seeking out a career or seeking out inspiration.”
The career you plan on pursuing is also an important factor. “Everyone’s path is different. You couldn’t be a teacher or a professor if you didn’t do the educational route.”
When you are deciding what to do after bidding Lincoln goodbye, there is no black and white answer. Blindly following the conventional path through a four year college is not a good idea, but neither is staring at walls during time off of your part-time job flipping burgers.
No one can foresee the perfect route to take, but by following your interests or simply exploring your options, life might give you some directional clues. Whether you decide to intern, job shadow, travel, take personalized classes, or pursue a college degree, Amanda’s overarching piece of advice is to work hard. “Get in there and get involved with people you want to be and figure out exactly what they did to get there. Imagine what you want to be and do it.”

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