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What to Do After High School: Higher Education Options

There are several paths: community college, university, military enlistment, or trade school, to name a few.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

March 26, 2022

After high school graduation, what’s next? There are multiple avenues to explore.
What to Do After High School: Higher Education Options
It is not uncommon for 17- and 18-year-olds to struggle with the decision of what to do after high school. For years, they’ve been told that they “need” to decide on a career to determine next steps – but how many high school juniors and seniors know exactly what they want to do with the next few years, let alone the rest of their lives? Fortunately, there are a variety of paths that students can venture along to find a job or career that interests them. Furthermore, there are indicators of who they are now that can help them decide what to do next.

For the Student that Loves to Learn

While there may be few students who admittedly love to learn, many would say that they want to continue exploring the academic world after high school graduation. For these students, college is likely the best option. There are also those students that may not know what they want to do with their life, but they do know that college is the path they want to take to figure that out.
In college, students will take classes in a variety of disciplines and potentially find a field that interests them. Their time in college may also include internship opportunities, networking events, and the chance to develop professional skills through clubs and organizations on a college campus. Ultimately, their college experience will help to prepare them for a job after graduation.

For the Students that Wants to Work Now

Then, there are those students that want to work right now. They know exactly what job or career they want to pursue, and they’ll opt for trade school vs college. Trade school programs offer students the chance to become very specialized in a job. They range in length from one to two years and teach students everything they need to know about performing a specific job. Instruction is a mix between classroom learning and real-world work experience. Examples of trade school jobs include dental hygienist, health care technician, electrician, and legal assistant.
An apprenticeship is somewhat similar to a trade school degree; however, the education involved can take three to five years. Though the learning commitment is longer, apprentices start getting paid on day one, and they learn exclusively on-the-job.

For the Student That Wants to Serve

If a student is interested in serving in the military, after high school graduation is the time to join. Students can either enlist right away or attend college through the ROTC programs. Joining through the ROTC will enable students to attend college without having to pay any college costs. There are a variety of careers within the military for those that graduate through the ROTC, like health care, aviation, finance, engineering, chemistry, law enforcement and transportation.
Students can also enlist right after high school and have access to education benefits while they are on active duty or as a veteran. Get more information about enlisting at Military.com.

For the Student That’s on the Fence About College

Next, there are students who are interested in college but don’t know yet if it’s the right next step for them. They may not be ready to commit the next four years to learning in the classroom. Or they may prefer to start their post-high school life closer to home before going away to college. For those students that are on-the-fence about college, community college is a great option. Choosing community college vs university allows for students to explore general education courses without paying the full cost of college. Community college poises students to either transfer to a four-year university or graduate with an associate degree within two years. While they are taking courses, they can consider whether the field they’re interested in requires further education, or if they have the freedom to get to work sooner rather than later. Attending community college also allows for greater flexibility. Students pursuing this type of degree can work part- or even full-time to help cover education costs because classes are offered during the day and in the evening.

For the Student that Needs a Break

Finally, there are an increasing number of students who don’t know what they want to do after high school – and that’s ok. These students are taking a gap year after high school, which has been the norm in countries like England and Australia for some time now. Malia Obama, former President Barack Obama’s daughter, made it a little more mainstream for U.S. students when she opted for a gap year in 2016 before attending Harvard University. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 made the gap year a necessity for some students when their families suffered from economic and health setbacks. During the gap year, students may opt to participate in special gap- year programs, take on an internship, do a more in-depth college search, or work part-time. The point is: the gap year is for exploration, and there are no rules to what a student can or can’t do. They just need to do something.

Scholarships for Every Schooling Option

Though the path after high school graduation looks different for everyone, there is one component that remains the same: scholarships. A common misconception about scholarships is that they are just for students pursuing a four-year degree. However, that could not be farther from the truth. There are scholarships for students in trade school, the military, community college, and four-year universities. Students can even find gap year scholarships! Students – and their parents – can create a Fastweb profile to see which scholarships they qualify for. By indicating which school or degree option they intend to pursue after high school, they will be matched to correlating scholarships. We recommend that students apply to 1-2 scholarships per week in order to maximize their chances of winning. Ready to get started on the scholarship search? Create a Fastweb profile now.

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