What’s Next After High School?

The value of a college degree is a hotly debated topic. Whether you’re swiping through TikTok or talking to your school counselor, everyone has an opinion. 

While some research shows that adults with degrees are more likely to earn more and achieve high levels of career satisfaction, no path has a guaranteed outcome. It’s important to explore your options, learn what works best for you, and do what brings you the most joy. Below are some common paths students take after high school graduation.

Start Working

Some high school graduates want (or need) to start working right away. Full-time employment could include apprenticeships or simply working 35+ hours a week. 

Top Tip: If a job interests you and you don’t meet 100% of the qualifications, apply anyway! You never know who is in the applicant pool and doesn’t hurt to put yourself in the running. 

Work/Attend College 

Many employers have created programs to help keep solid employees. Employers like UPS, Starbucks, and Target offer tuition support for eligible employees at partner colleges. 

Top Tip: Make sure your schedule is balanced. It’s hard to work more than 20 hours a week and attend college full-time (4-5 classes). Pace yourself and take time for self-care. 

Go to College

If you graduate from college, you’ll have a wide variety of career options. Remember, not all colleges are created equal. From price tags and degrees offered to the social scene, each college has its own vibe. Whether you pursue a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s degree, pick a program and college that fits your academic, social, and financial expectations. 

Top Tip: Make a list of 3-5 top “must haves” for your college experience. Choose a college that fits your expectations. 

Military/Military + College

When you enlist in the military, you commit to four years of active duty and four years of inactive duty. Some military options combine military service with education, including the National Guard, military academies, and ROTC. If you’re interested in a military career and want to pursue life as an officer, you can earn your degree while enlisted. 

Military Top Tip: There are many jobs within the military, and many aren’t combat. You will take an aptitude test when you enlist in the military to determine your placement. To increase your placement options, take some practice tests and brush up on your English, math, and science skills.

Military + College Top Tip: Start early. ROTC programs and scholarship spots are limited. Choose a college that offers ROTC, and speak to a recruiter before your senior year about how to pursue the opportunity. 

Take a Gap Year

Some students take a gap year after high school to travel or volunteer. Gap years can be formal, planned overseas experiences, while others are less structured or self/student-directed experiences. The best way to structure a gap year is to have a goal in mind and a set end date. 

Top Tip: Apply to college first and then defer your admission for a year. You’ll have to file FAFSA again, but you’ll have the support of your high school team/counselor before you leave to pursue your year of experiential learning. 

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