What Should You Do After High School?

A highschooler graduating.
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Graduating from high school is the end of an era. Gone are the days of carefree learning and socializing with friends. Now you need to decide what you are going to do with the rest of your life and that is no small decision to make. While lots of teens see high school as a chore, something to get through and leave behind, the reality is that high school is the last frontier to cross before the responsibility of adulthood takes center stage.

Sure studying is work and school isn’t always fun and games but guess what? After high school is over you will come to appreciate it for the relatively carefree time of life that it is. It may sound cliché but once you graduate high school real life begins and how that life plays out is shaped by what you decide to do after high school.

So let’s take a quick look at your options. What are your choices when high school is done? Where do you go from there? It all depends on where you want to be and how quickly you want to get there. Some people have life plans started before freshman year while others are still at the planning stage a year after high school. No one way is the right way because every choice means sacrifice and every path leads to more than one destination. Here are some of the options that you have immediately after grad – yes, there are others but these are the most common ones - along with tips to help you can decide which is best for you.

Post-Secondary School

What is it?
This includes university, college or career training in a non-trades field. Some examples of non-trades training include; Medical Office Assistant, Legal Assistant, Dental Assistant, Corrections Officer, and Office Assistant.

Is it right for you?
This is for you if you are ready to select a career path, did reasonably well in an academic program at school, and are able and ready to study and learn in a traditional setting.

If you are thinking of university or college you will need good grades in high school coursework to get accepted to a school, or you must be willing to take extra time to upgrade in a post-secondary college prep program. Just because your grades right out of high school weren’t great does not mean that college or university is not an option for you, it just means you’ll have to take a slightly longer path in getting there. As for career training programs, like the ones noted above, your high school grades may be less important but could come into play when seeking financial aid for tuition. Check with the training center of your choice for details.

The biggest hurdle faced by many people wanting to go on to post-secondary schools like university or college is the high cost of tuition and books. If your parents or family can afford to pay your way or if you have an education savings account this may not be a concern for you but if you’re not so lucky you still have options. Extremely good grades can help in getting full or partial scholarships or bursaries but student loans are available to everyone, even if you just squeaked by with minimum entrance requirements. Visit the Registrars Office or Financial Aid Center at the school you plan to attend to find out more about your funding options.

A Word to the Wise
College and university are not for everyone and you should not feel bad if this path doesn’t feel right for you. Vocational training is also not for everyone as the learning structure in these programs is patterned after the traditional academic model. If high school was a struggle for you academically you may find this a frustrating choice. While a difficult time in high school should in no way deter you if you really want to go on to a college or university be aware that the learning environment is not much different than high school and be prepared to deal with whatever it was that made high school learning a challenge for you.

Trade School

What is it?
Trade school is where you go to learn a trade or craft. In trade school, you study to become a ticketed journeyman in a trade such as; electrician, plumber, carpenter, master builder, mechanic, auto body technician, mason, drywaller, heating and refrigeration technician, etc.

You enter into a program where you learn the skills hands-on, become an apprentice in a specified trade and eventually take a test - usually both written and practical - to become a full journeyman in that field.

Is it right for you?
This is for you if you thrive in a hands-on learning environment if you have an interest in a trade and/or have taken basic courses in a specific area while in high school, and if you enjoy physically demanding work that is also mentally challenging. Many people who do not do well in the academic part of high school choose a trade as a profession giving the incorrect impression that tradesmen are not “intellectuals.” This is just not true. Trades work is just as mentally challenging as fields like law, business, journalism, and medicine. Where it differs most from these professions is in how you are trained not in how smart you have to be to do the work. Trades work is by no stretch of the imagination simple work.

Training in trades is intensive and, in most trades, you are actually working in an apprenticeship position within 6 months to a year. Depending on the trade you choose and the program you enter into it can be a few years before you become a ticketed journeyman. A journeyman is considered an expert in a given trade and passing a journeyman’s exam is akin to passing the bar in law or completing a specialty in medicine. Right now there is a serious shortage in trades workers making it a competitively well-paid career choice. “Blue collar work” as trades work has been called is quickly becoming one of the better paying career choices in the job market. Trades workers with their tickets can choose to work for a company or can work for themselves making it an ideal career choice for people who work well in a structured environment as well as for people with an entrepreneurial spirit. As a trades worker, you can easily be self-employed if so inclined.

A Word to the Wise
Over the years, trades have been unfairly stigmatized as a fallback career for people who could not perform in an academic setting.

This is untrue and has led to a serious shortage in qualified trades workers. A career in a trade pays very well, is mentally stimulating, physically demanding and no one day on the job is ever the same as the last. If you are looking for a career that will never grow dull and that is always changing this may be the best choice for you, even if you were a straight-A student in high school.

Public Service Work

What is it?
Police officers, ambulance attendants, paramedics, firefighters, social workers, government employees, and politicians are some examples of public service workers.

Is it right for you?
This is for you if you like helping people, work well under very stressful circumstances, are able to cope with the best and the worst that society has to offer, and adhere well to structure and rules. This is not for you if you have problems with authority or if you do not handle stress well. All of these professions are very, very stressful. They are also very, very satisfying and stimulating. Being a public servant will be the most fulfilling and heartbreaking career choice you can make. It takes a certain type of personality to effectively do this type of work, which is why personality profiling and psychological workups are often part of the hiring process.

The type of training necessary to be a public servant varies according to which field you are interested in. Some of these careers require university or college while others do not. Some of these careers like police work, start with a paid training program and a hands-on learning approach. To find out the education or training requirements of a given field contact the agency itself to inquire.

A Word to the Wise
Public service work is not for the weak of heart. Police officers, paramedics, firefighters and social workers deal with some of the most terrible things that happen in our world. In some cases, you will routinely put your life and safety at risk while on the job. They are on the frontlines of life and life never really lets up. If you want to do this type of work be warned that it is emotionally, physically, and mentally challenging. It is also very fulfilling and important.

Military Life

What is it?
A career in the army, navy or air force. You can join the military at any time after you turn 18. You can join the military right out of high school or you can choose to join after college or university. ROTC (Registered Officer Training Program) is a tuition program in which the military will pay your way through college or university and in return you engage in limited military service while in school and full-time service after graduation for a predetermined period of time.

Is it right for you?
This is for you if you thrive in a strict and structured environment, like helping people, have a sense of adventure and want to travel. ROTC is also a great way to pay for university and ensure that you will have a job immediately after graduation.

Military life is not for everyone. Military service often puts you in high-risk situations and your life is often in danger even if you are not in a war zone. Depending on what type of service you choose even training can carry life-or-limb risks. Also, it is common for military service people to engage in peacekeeping missions that are anything but peaceful.

Whether you are deployed to a recognized war zone like the Middle East or are sent on a peacekeeping mission a military career carries unusual risks. It also has incredible benefits. You get to see the world because military life involves travel. You get to see places in the world that many people do not ever get to see and in ways that most people can’t imagine. You get to help people in some of the most crisis-laden places on earth. You also get to learn crazy-fun skills that can’t be learned anywhere else without you having to pay for it like; skydiving, scuba diving, piloting aircraft, driving heavy armored equipment, target shooting, to name a few. You don’t just work in the military, it is a way of life. As the commercials state, it really is the toughest job you will ever love.

A Word to the Wise

Like public service, a military career is not for the faint of heart. In many ways, service men and women are the police of the world. You put your life at risk when you are sent on deployment and depending on the type of military career you pursue your life can be put on the line during training as well. You will see some incredible things and there is a very real chance that you will see some terrible things as well. A military career is not an easy one on body, mind or soul.

Straight to Work

What is it?
You get a job right out of high school or you continue doing a job you had while in school, maybe moving to a full-time position instead of a part-time one.​

Is it right for you?
This is for you if you want to work to save for school, are not sure what you want to do with your life yet and need to keep busy while you sort it out, or if you have already had a job with growth opportunities that could make it a great life-long career. A career has three key components that a job does not; it offers room to grow and advance, it has increasing earning potential as time goes on and you gain experience, and it is something you take personal pride and satisfaction in doing. A job just pays the bills. If you are lucky enough to get on a real career path right out of high school that is great but if you are just a taking a job so that have something to do and as a way to earn some cash you may come to regret it.

People opt to work right out of school for a variety of reasons and for many people it is a good temporary choice but unless your job offers room for advancement it is not a career choice, it is just something to do. The only danger in choosing to work after school rather than seek specialized training is that you run the risk of waking up one day in a dead end job. Let’s put it this way; that job at the fast food joint may have been great while you were in high school and it may give you spending money while you live at home but it is not a solid career choice and is unlikely to offer you many opportunities for advancement. While it is a great short term thing to do while you plan your future if it is all you ever do you may become dissatisfied.

A Word to the Wise
While there is nothing wrong with jumping right into the workforce after high school, be wary of accepting just any old job in order to bring home a paycheck. While you are still young you have so many opportunities to take advantage of that working in a dead end job or accepting a seemingly high-paying position with no future is simply a waste. This is your life; make the best of it.