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Alternate Universe

Today’s high-school seniors are pre-programmed with the idea that they must graduate, attend a four-year university, rack up debt, and graduate again. They do all this in hope of landing their dream job.

Some students, however, are realizing that their preferred profession isn’t something taught in a traditional, four-year college. They turn to alternative schools like cosmetology, massage therapy, design, and culinary institutions to attain certification and begin their careers, often at a much lower cost.

“In six months, for a day program, they can go out there and start working,” Tina Stephen, an admissions director for the Academy for Massage, said. A clear advantage alternative schools have over four-year institutions is the ability to get to work right away and, like some therapists at her salon, easily make $1,200 every two weeks.

San Antonio is host to many of these career-focused schools, including the Aveda Institute San Antonio, St. Philips Culinary Arts program, and the new International Academy of Design and Technology San Antonio. Tuition for these schools is often much less than traditional four-year colleges, but can still be pricey depending on the program. Some massage therapy schools range from $4,000 to $11,000. Cosmetology, culinary, and design schools’ tuition costs also run into the thousands. Unlike traditional schools, however, the tuition includes material costs like books, uniforms, and tools because the school provides them.

Kelly McGuire with the IADT admissions office said trade schools like the design school attract a wide range of people, from new high-school graduates to others in their 30s looking for a career change. The design school offers fashion merchandizing, graphic design, and management merchandizing programs, which have attracted a lot of locals.

“We have only been here a year-and-a-half, and the response has been tremendous,” McGuire said. “I think it’s only because when you narrow down to a specific, career-oriented program, a lot more people are just ready to get into that.”

To get straight to the career, the certification process of these schools usually requires you to take a certain number of classroom hours, as well as a number of training hours. Training is essential for the student, but also great for locals who want to explore the services offered. Often the schools advertise weekly, discounted rates for massages or haircuts by students. Mariana Gaona, an admissions officer at Aveda Institute, said the education and training behind the licensing is crucial not only to learn sanitation and proper practices, but because trade-school industries are often changing.

“There are always new techniques; there are always new colors, new products,” Gaona said. “There is always something trendy and new that will pump up their income. Actually the average salary for a cosmetologist in our state is about $50,000. So I would say it’s pretty good. Someone right out of college, they’re not making that.”

As with other trade schools, at the Design school McGuire said she receives a lot of calls from people asking whether the school is really worth it. She said they speak of background knowledge they already have, and they don’t understand what a piece of paper will do for them.

“You could have had those kinds of skills for years, known how to sew or how to design,” McGuire said. “But in both of these career fields, you have to have the education to back it up. We stress that so much to people. You can have all of the experience you want, but the actual degree is what is going to at least get you in the door, and then your experience can help you go from there.”


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