Student Life

Exploring Your Options After High School

This guidebook explores the five paths students could take after their high school graduation. It also includes the pros and cons of each to help you make the best decision.

Student Contributor, Lydia Schultz

March 10, 2021

Exploring Your Options After High School
This is simply the next step in your life, not a map of your entire future.
Graduation is just around the corner for seniors, and while it may not seem like it, your high school journey will soon come to an end within the next few months. Juniors, you’re up next! While many students know exactly what their next step will be upon receiving their diploma, many are still unsure. This is not meant to be an all-encompassing list, but hopefully it will give you an idea of a plan you may have not yet considered. Below are five paths to follow after high school (because college is not your only option!):
  1. Four-Year College or University
  2. I will begin with the most popular option, or at least the one that everyone expects. Students attend a four-year college or university with the intention of obtaining a four-year degree, and this option includes both public and private universities. As of 2020, there are 5,300 colleges in the United States, so students have a vast array of choices to choose from when it comes to picking a school. Pros: • Being in the same community of peers for the next four years may help you form invaluable relationships. • There are great networking opportunities for your future career due to the resources and connections with professors available. • There is a large amount of data that suggests better employment opportunities for those with a degree versus without.
    Cons: • Likely the costliest option, unless you are awarded generous financial aid, in which case it may still be expensive depending on your living costs. • It is an investment on your future, with no guaranteed returns (your degree may not be worth much depending on what career you pursue). • Student loan debt could take years to repay.
  3. Community College
  4. In the past, community college had been for students who only wanted an associate’s degree (two years of college) or for those looking to take specific classes in their spare time. While there are certainly many that still attend for this reason, community college is becoming a popular option for students looking to save money on a bachelor’s degree (four years of college). They accomplish this savings by taking prerequisite courses their first two years, then transferring their credits to a four-year university. Pros: • It’s a much cheaper alternative than immediately going to a university, as you are save in both tuition and living expenses. • This is great for students undecided on a major, as you have more time to decide since you are not under a tight budget or university requirements. • Some students may not feel ready to move away from their parents after high school– which is completely okay. This option allows you to live at home for a couple more years and receive a little more family support before your next step.
    Cons: • You may experience FOMO (fear of missing out) seeing your high school peers posting about their time at university. • Since you will likely be remaining at home, you won’t have as much independence as you would living in a campus dorm. • The resources and amenities offered at a community college may not be comparable to a 4-year college.
  5. Gap Year
  6. A traditional gap year is when students take a year off, before starting their first year of college. While the term “gap year” raises some eyebrows, students who utilize their time productively during this period often come out of it with useful knowledge and experiences that are extremely beneficial. A popular ways to spend a gap year include volunteering, participating in an internship, or traveling! Pros: • Allows undecided students to explore their options and gain real world experience to discover their desired major and career. • Could save you money on a degree since you will have a clearer idea of what you want once you return to school • The time in between schooling will provide you with unlimited potential for personal growth and development
    Cons: • Many of those who take a gap year, don’t go back to school the following year for various reasons. • When you return to school the next year, most of your graduating class won’t be the same age as you. • With an entire year off school, it may be difficult to remember the things you learned in high school to prepare you for college courses.
  7. Vocational School
  8. A vocational school is another post-secondary educational option. The difference is that it is a specialized institution for those interested in specific, hands-on careers. This could include fields such as construction, welding, nursing and other technical jobs. Instead of a focus on holistic academics, most of the things you learn will be industry-specific to prepare you for your technical career. Pros: • The admissions requirements for vocational schools are less demanding than universities; the acceptance rates are much higher than a four-year school. • If you know with certainty that you want a technical career, this is the best way to get the training you need to be prepared for the workforce. • Since most vocational degrees only take two years to complete, this option is more inexpensive than attending a 4-year college. Cons: • If you decide the career you were working towards isn’t for you, it may be difficult to change careers, especially if it is in a completely different field. • Since these degrees only take two years to complete, your workload may feel fast-paced and your breaks will be shorter than they would be at a four-year college. • Because the focus of these schools is career training, there won’t be as many opportunities to take academic or elective courses you may be interested in.
  9. The Military
  10. A final option to consider is joining the military to serve in one of the six branches. The military is as old as America, and is the largest U.S. Department. It consists of hundreds of thousands of American citizens protecting and serving our country. There are a multitude of different positions or jobs in each military branch—not all require engaging in combat. Pros: • Having military experience can provide you with many benefits, including having your educational expenses covered. This is a huge benefit for those who can’t afford college. • The experiences you gain in the military will be highly rewarding as you will be serving your nation and all U.S. citizens. • You will gain a lot of practical knowledge and wisdom from your training and service. This is a one-of-a-kind experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Cons: • The military requires hard work and discipline in your training and while serving in your Armed Forces role. • Joining the military is a big commitment. This decisions requires a lot of forethought before you decide to join the military; after you commit, simply backing out is not an option. • In many instances, you may not be given much choice in the location you are sent, or what job you are given. You must remain adaptable at all times.
A Final Word Remember that this is simply the next step in your life, not a map of your entire future. It’s okay to not know all of the answers yet—you aren’t supposed to. Uncertainty is a constant of life (no, it’s not just a 2020 thing)! Therefore, try your best to balance planning for your future with enjoying the present.

You Might Also Like

Join Fastweb.
Match Instantly.

Become a member and gain exclusive access to our database of over 1.5 million scholarships.

I am a:
Parents: Complete the questions using your child's information
Please select a grade level
Please enter a valid zip code.

By clicking, I agree to the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.