October 4, 2023

Balancing school and agriculture can be a tricky endeavor.

GREENWICH, N.Y. — Graduating from high school as a farm “kid” can lead to some tough decisions. Do you go to college or stay home and work on the family farm? If you go to college, how will you balance your college and farm life? What should you go to college to study? Tackling the issue of agriculture after high school can be difficult for many young adults.

We want to help shed some light on this issue many face in the agricultural community. The decisions of going to college, what to study, and debating if you should miss class to go to a cow show are tough to make. Balancing school and agriculture is sometimes a tricky endeavor. Read on to learn how to balance cows and college.

Should You Go to College?

Many farming students think about their future and question whether going to college is necessary. They often plan to continue to work on their family farm and don’t feel they need to go elsewhere to learn how to do it. So, should you go to college if you plan on working on your family farm?

There are a plethora of benefits to attending college, including learning new skills, experiencing new things, and learning how to be independent. College gives you opportunities you would not have otherwise, making it a good option to consider.

At the end of the day, it is your decision though. It is okay to not go to college and instead learn from experience. However, getting away from the farm for a bit to learn new skills for an ever-evolving industry can be beneficial as well.

Should You Get an AG Degree?

The next question many young farming adults must consider is what they will get a degree in at college. Should they get an agricultural degree or branch out and get a degree associated with a different industry?

What this comes down to is what you are interested in. Are you interested in a specific agricultural field or are you more interested in an area like accounting or marketing that can be applied to an agricultural business? Perhaps, you don’t want to do an agriculture job out of college and instead want to go to a non-ag related job and then come home to your farm.

Whatever interests you, there are plenty of opportunities and degrees out there that will work for you. To help you get a better understanding of your options, we have laid out what you can do with an agricultural degree and what you can do with a non-agricultural degree.

Opportunities With an AG Degree

If you choose to pursue an agricultural degree, you can work in several agricultural fields including:

  • Agricultural engineer
  • Agricultural technician
  • Farm Business Owner
  • Farm Manager
  • Farm Service Provider
  • Fish farm manager
  • Food-Hub Manager
  • Local Food Coordinator
  • Not-For-Profit Farm Support Agencies
  • Sustainable Food Educator
  • Value-Added Production Manager

There is a plethora of other job opportunities for you to consider with an agricultural degree. Not to mention the fact that many interviewers for non-ag-related jobs will be interested in your resume since you come from a farming background. So, even if you choose to pursue a degree in agriculture, you can still look for jobs outside of the agricultural industry because you may be able to apply your skills and qualities elsewhere.

Opportunities With a Non-AG Degree

Just because you have a degree that is not in agriculture, doesn’t mean you can’t get a job at an agriculture business. Agricultural businesses, just like most businesses, require a variety of job aspects to run efficiently. You can have a degree in accounting, marketing, finance, or maybe even a communications degree and still get a job with an ag business because they still need people to fill those roles.

You can mix what you love to do (whether it’s numbers, social media, or anything else) with agriculture to get a job you love to do every day.

Choosing The Right College

When picking the college you want to attend, keep in consideration the classes it offers, how far away it is, and of course, the price.

The right college will offer a variety of classes and degrees that interest you. Just in case you decide you do not like your degree a year in, you can change to something else that interests you without having to transfer.

Depending on your wants and needs, the right college may be within an hour from your home or across the country. It all depends on what you need from your college experience. Do you want to go somewhere that allows you to go home to your animals often, or do you want to experience what it is like to live in a different state?

Tips To Balance Cows & College

Being in college while owning cows can be difficult. You may not be able to go home every night to care for your cattle like you usually do. This can be quite an adjustment for many farm kids who form special bonds with their cows and enjoy seeing them often. Not to mention, many dairy and beef farm kids enjoy going to local fairs and cow shows that they may be forced to miss for college.

My advice is to trust your family back home to care for your animals but make sure you take time to head home and visit them occasionally. Even if it is just a call home to ask how they are all doing, it will help.

Plus, we found that bringing pictures of your cows and trinkets you have won over the years with them can help make your dorm feel more like home. I brought my championship mugs to school and my sister brought her grand champion buckets to store candy in. Having that little touch of cows at school was nice.

Go to the Cow Shows

My biggest advice, if you are very involved in the show world, take the time to go to the shows. Tests and homework can be made up, but the memories you make at the cow shows cannot. Even if you have to lie to your non-ag professors about where you are going to get approval for taking a test early, do it.

True, it’s not good to lie, but my biggest regret was missing my family’s trip out to NAILE because I told my professor the truth about where I was going and they wouldn’t allow me to take the test early or make it up because it wasn’t a valid excuse for an absence. The test accounted for a big chunk of my grade, but only took me 20 minutes to complete. I missed the chance to watch our first All-American cow go through the ring in person due to a 20-minute test.

The point is, if you love agriculture, and you love cow shows, don’t miss out on the big moments for college. Tests can be made up, extra credit is a thing, and most teachers will be understanding. Do your best to attend most classes and always get your homework done on time, but also remember that your cows need your attention too.

Planning for the Future

During college, remember that you are there to set yourself up for a successful future. Whether it’s back on your family farm or out in the “real world,” there is a lot you can do in college to make your future self happy.

We suggest trying different classes to discover new skills you may have not thought about before. Who knows, you may discover you love a different degree or concentration than the one you are currently in and end up much happier on a different path you hadn’t considered before. It’s okay to change your mind as many times as you need to find the career path you will be most happy in.

You should also take advantage of internship opportunities. Internships are a great way to gain valuable experience and network yourself. Another great way to network yourself is by attending events on campus and taking advantage of networking opportunities offered through the college.

AG After High School Looks Different for Everyone

We all have similar upbringings in the agricultural world. However, what we do after high school is different for everyone, and that is okay. You don’t have to pursue a career in agriculture to continue to enjoy it.

For example, Bridey Nolan went to college to become a nurse but spends her free time with her cows preparing for the next cow show. I went to college for digital marketing and writing and ended up working for a website development company for a few years while doing cow things in my free time. I now work for an agricultural news source combining my skills in marketing and writing with agriculture.

My best friend went to college and then returned to the farm doing what he loves with a little extra knowledge to help him keep up with the evolving industry. I even have a few friends who decided not to take the college route and are happy with their current lives.

At the end of the day, agriculture after high school isn’t a one-way path. There are many options and routes you can take that best fit your needs and desires. Choose what makes you most happy and don’t be afraid to try different paths along the way.

Lila Nolan is a dairy farmer in White Creek, NY who works at Morning Ag Clips. She avidly attends dairy shows and draws from those experiences to write about the Udder Chaos that occurs.

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