It’s hard to figure out what you want to be for the rest of your life at 17.

As the average cost of tuition continues to rise steadily— up about 4.6 percent from last year— many are questioning whether or not college is the answer. The AP has recently ran several articles detailing the huge amount of high-paying trade jobs available, all while college enrollment is rising. The gas and oil industry is booming in the area. But then again, you’re still statistically more likely to have a job with a degree. So how does a minor, not yet old enough to buy lottery tickets, decide what to do?

Newcomerstown High School has implemented their own solution— give 14 kids a chance to find out for themselves.

"It’s a good way to test the water without a dollar attached to it," said Kendra Gerber, the high school’s guidance counselor.

The school initiated a new mentor program at the beginning of the year. Participants will have a chance to spend half their school day shadowing a professional in a career they’re interested in. Or, if they want, they can just go right to work.

"It’s great for our kids to get our kids in the community," said high school principle Joshua Branch. "We’re trying to build some relationships and give our kids a chance."

Ian Morrow, the teacher who oversees the students, agreed.

"We have kids in the workforce making money," said Morrow. "We also have ones that are more career focused."

To be realistic, there are children who won’t go to college. That doesn’t mean their education isn’t important, but it does mean they need to focus on what step they’ll be taking next. That may mean figuring out how to weld for an oil and gas company or work towards nursing school. Johnna Mercer, for example, is getting to paid to work in a field she wants to be in, and has found school much more enjoyable since. 

"I focus a lot more," Mercer said. "Last year I didn’t want to come to school. Sometimes I left and didn’t come back. Now I’m here every day."

Jade Johnson, a senior mentoring at the elementary school, is considering early childhood education. Or physical therapy, but she’s not sure. The program is well suited for students like her— now she can take a semester to try both. They have to stick with each position for at least one semester, but have the chance to switch the next time around.

"I want the experience so I don’t go in blindsided," said Johnson. "This is giving me a good feel for what I want to do."

Depending on which track the children take, they don’t always get paid. The experience in desired fields, however, has benefits of its own. About one third of college students change their major, and ten percent does so more than once. A switch in majors can require entire years of extra class time, which translates to thousands in added debt.

"It’s easier to take a trial run than changing your major for thousands of dollars," said Ariana Summers, a junior who wants to be a lawyer.

Summers spends half her week shadowing mayor Pat Cadle and the other half with Police Chief Gary Holland. She said the program has helped her establish relationships with people she otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to.

"Connections are good in a small town like this," Summers said. "It’s great to put yourself out there."

Branch said the first year has went as smooth as can be expected, and plans for expansion are on the horizon. More children are expected to join next year, and Branch wants to use it a jumping-off point for a future FFA class that will be taught in the school. 

"We want to take what we have this year, adapt it, and make it better," Branch said.

It’s too early to say whether or not the students are certain about the path they want them to take. That’s the beauty of the program though— they have anywhere from one semester to two years to find out.

"It helps you get your feet wet," said Mercer. "I think it’s something other districts should do."