Options After High School

Article shared from CareerOneStop.org.

Wondering about what your options are once you complete high school – besides a 4-year degree? School counselors want students and parents to know the full range of options open to them as they think ahead to graduation.

As part of their mission, the American School Counselor Association sponsors a podcast called “I hear you say”; a recent podcast focused on how to expand the scope of students’ future options beyond college. Below are some of the key points and CareerOneStop resources to explore further.

Suggestions for how to look at the “after high school” decision

  • School counselors emphasize that there’s no one size fits all. Sometimes people get the idea there’s only one idea of success. Students at age 17 or 18 can feel pushed into a decision when they really aren’t ready, don’t know what they want to do, or may not want to attend college but don’t see other realistic options. Families and communities need to value all career and education options.
  • A good question to start from is: What is the right path for this student, at this time? The focus of planning for after high school should be to explore the full range of options and discover what makes sense for the student.
  • A four-year degree is not plan A, and all the other possibilities are plan B. Media, cultural signals, and many parents reinforce the idea that college is the best path, but different directions should be considered.
  • Students can feel intimidated, but it’s important to think about what they would like to do after high school, what they can see themselves doing in a job or career. If it’s a 4-year degree, consider what you want to study, what you want to do with a degree, vs making just “going to college” the default goal.
  • Students should also realize that they are making a decision at age 17 or 18 that will likely change. This is just the next step and they will learn and grow from it, and may take a different direction down the road.

Broaden options beyond high school

School counselors want students to learn about their full range of options. Within each of the categories below, there are many directions to take, but these outline the major paths a student might take after high school:

  • Military career
  • Join the workforce with a job right out of high school. Many employers are more and more willing to pay for education for employees, so students might continue their education while working.
  • Apprenticeships to “learn while you earn” in a range of different types of jobs
  • Short-term training programs (a few months up to less than 2 years) for a career-qualifying certificate from a community college
  • Associates degree programs, a 2-year degree earned at either a 2-year school, or a 4-year school that offers a 2-year program.
  • Bachelor’s degree program at a 4-year college or university
  • Gap year, maybe to learn a skill, or contribute to a cause

How to support your student to see their future possibilities?

Parents can help students make educated decisions. “Stick to the data” to set appropriate expectations.

School counselors often welcome parents and students to schedule an appointment to meet with them together. It’s important to start the conversation. Listen to what the student is looking to do. Offer information. For example, students often lack context for a future career, so show them labor market data – such as typical pay for different careers, and the importance of a strong job market outlook.

If college is the direction a student chooses, students and parents can look at data about different programs, such as job placement of graduates, and typical earnings for graduates of different programs.  They can use the net cost calculator (available on every college’s website) to help determine actual costs for attending that college.

CareerOneStop resources

  • Hot careers reports – See lists of careers that are fastest-growing, have the most openings, highest-paying, and more
  • Job Finder – Find job openings in your local area
  • Job Corps – Free training program for eligible young adults ages 16-24
  • Apprenticeship information – Apprenticeships combine a full-time job with training—and prepare workers to enter in-demand careers.
  • Short-term training – Classes and programs that can help you find a job, get a promotion, or earn more money, all less than 2 years.
  • About college – Information about types of colleges and how to pay for college
  • Local Training Finder – Search for certificate programs (less than 2 years), 2-year and 4-year college programs in your local area

Other resource

College Scorecard – Use this U.S. Department of Education tool to compare colleges and programs, including costs, admissions, outcomes, and more.