Life After High School:
What Are My Options?
Like many other teens, you’re probably dreaming about the day you’ll be handed your high school diploma. Hooray! How you celebrate is up to you, but one thing is certain: you have some big decisions to make about your future.
The traditional 4-year college route remains appealing and popular- it’s seen as much of a rite of passage as much as a means to an education and a well-paying job. And why shouldn’t it? College opens doors- it’s a great space to learn a lot from highly educated folks, while meeting new people, living on your own and possibly having zany new adventures.
On the other hand, the cost of college is skyrocketing and graduates aren’t necessarily landing great, high paying jobs afterwards (or jobs at all). Plenty of college graduates are starting their adult lives out with tons of debt- some even have to move home- and have difficulty paying! That said, a traditional, 4 year college education can be a wonderful investment and a lot of fun. It’s a completely personal and challenging decision to make!
Here are some options to consider besides a 4 year college:
A Gap Year or Deferred Enrollment. A gap year is just that- taking a one year break between high school and college. What you do is up to you, but whether you volunteer, travel, or work, you’ll be gaining valuable skills and experiences while giving your mind a little breather. You may realize your real passion- meaning you can start school with a clear goal and avoid spending time and money on filler classes. In fact, some colleges offer scholarships for students who take a gap year. It may even be possible to defer your college acceptance for a year while you soul-search.
Trade or Vocational School. A trade or vocational school teaches skills related to a specific job. These schools are usually only two years, meaning you’ll spend less money and be earning money faster. Most of the jobs one can learn in a trade school- like cosmetology, plumbing, electrician, chef, machinist, vet tech, EMT, etc., are jobs that will always be in demand, offering some sort of job security. (If the plumbing has ever broken in your home, you understand!)
Trade school can be appealing if school isn’t really your thing. If you’re eager to get out of the classroom and like learning hands-on, trade school may be for you!
Military Enrollment. The military pays for your housing, training, food, healthcare, and eventual college. You’ll gain experience and some companies offer veteran’s preference for job openings. The military may not be for everyone, but it could be worth considering.
Community College. It may not be as prestigious as a 4 year college, but community college classes can be quite rigorous. CCs offer classes at a much cheaper rate than a 4 year university, meaning you can save money while you learn. It may be possible to knock out all of your general education classes at a community college, saving you time and money versus a 4 year institution. Since community colleges don’t offer housing, living at home or in an apartment may be more cost effective than living in a dorm or near a 4 year campus.
Job/Entreprenuership. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get right to work. You probably won’t make much right out of high school, but you can work your way up through a company, earning money and real life experience. Working for someone else not for you? If you have a great idea, why not start a business? We’ve highlighted many girls and women who have paved their own paths.
Volunteer. Organizations like the PeaceCorps or Americorps recruit young people to volunteer all over the world. You could learn and volunteer anywhere in the world, while having your basic needs paid for. You’ll have a completely unique experience and no student loan debt.
You don’t need to leave your community to gain valuable volunteering experience either. Your local neighborhood food bank, animal shelter, or other favorite non-profit could probably use a passionate, hard-working person like you!
No matter what you decide, you can live a fulfilling and successful life. It can be a difficult choice to make, but you’re not alone. Talk to your friends, family, teachers and counselors to help you make the right decision.
Remember, no path is carved into stone- if you decide something isn’t for you, see what other options there are. Ultimately, the choice is yours!
This post, written by Lindsey Turnbull, originally appeared in the Life After High School issue of MissHeard Magazine.
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