Life After High School: Consider All the Options

College Is a Good Choice, but It Isn't the Only One

A highschooler graduating.
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Graduating from high school is a momentous transition. Gone are the days of compulsory learning. Now that you have a basic education, you get to decide how to build on it. Your future is wide open! That, in and of itself, can be a stressful thought, though. With so many options, choosing one can feel scary.

Below are just a few of the many paths you can take. Whichever you choose, be prepared to put in some effort to make your adult years as productive, fulfilling, and comfortable as possible. 

Post-Secondary School

This includes university, college, or career training in a non-trade field. College, of course, takes you into more intensive, abstract study that often takes longer than non-trade study. Occupations you can take up with non-trade training include medical office assistant, ​legal assistant, dental assistant, corrections officer, and office assistant, to name just a few.

Is Post-Secondary Schooling Right for You?

If you're ready to select a career path, earned reasonably good grades in high school, and are able and ready to study and learn in a traditional setting, college or non-trade training might be a great choice.

But what if your grades in high school were less than stellar? No worries—you can still go. You’ll just have to take a slightly longer path in getting there. Typically, you'll have to take a few remedial or make-up courses and do well in placement tests. Your high school grades might be less important with regard to career training programs, but they could come into play when seeking financial aid for tuition. Check with the training center of your choice for details.

Speaking of tuition: The biggest hurdle faced by many people wanting to go on to post-secondary school is the cost. It's not limited to tuition, either; books and fees can add up. Good high school grades can help in getting full or partial scholarships and grants, but student loans are available even if you just squeaked by. Visit the registrar or financial aid office at the school you plan to attend to learn more about your funding options.

College, university, and vocational training aren't for everyone, though; you shouldn't feel bad if it doesn’t feel right for you. After all, not everyone learns well in the traditional academic model. If high school was a struggle for you academically, you may find this a frustrating choice.

Trade School

A trade school provides hands-on training that enables you to become an electrician, plumber, carpenter, master builder, mechanic, auto body technician, mason, drywaller, heating and refrigeration technician, or other trades- or craftsperson. Typically, you'll enter an apprenticeship program for a set period, after which you'll take written and practical tests to become a full journeyman in your field.

Is Trade School Right for You?

Trade school might be ideal for you if you fit any of the following:

  • You thrive in a hands-on learning environment.
  • You have an interest in a particular trade.
  • You've taken basic courses in a specific area already.
  • You enjoy physically demanding work that is also mentally challenging.

Many people who did not do well academically in high school choose trades, leading to the false perception that tradesmen are not “intellectuals.” This is just not true. Work in the trades is just as mentally challenging as that in fields such as law, business, journalism, and medicine. It's just a different ​kind of work. Trades work is by no stretch of the imagination simple or easy.

The labor market is very favorable in the trades, and blue-collar work is quickly becoming one of the better-paying career choices. You can work for a company, run your own business, or join a trade union.

Public Service Work

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

Is Public Service Work Right for You?

If you like helping people, work well under stress, are able to cope with the best and the worst that society has to offer, and adhere well to structure and rules, the public service sector might be a great choice for you. If you're up for an emotionally, physically, and mentally challenging job that is ultimately fulfilling, consider the public sector.

Police officers, paramedics, firefighters, and social workers often put their lives and safety at risk while on the job, and it takes a certain type of personality to do this type of work. Personality profiling and psychological workups are often part of the hiring process, and training varies according to the field. Some careers require university or college, while others do not. Many, such as police work, start with a paid training program and hands-on learning.

The Military

A career in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or National Guard is open to you at any time after you turn 18—right out of high school or after college or university. The ROTC (Registered Officer Training Program) pays your way through college or university, and, in return, you serve while in school and after graduation for a predetermined period of time.

Military life is ideal if you thrive in a strict and structured environment, enjoy helping people, and have a sense of adventure. ROTC is also a great way to pay for secondary schooling and ensure employment immediately after graduation.

Whether you are deployed to a recognized war zone or sent on a peacekeeping mission, a military career carries unusual risks—but it offers incredible benefits, too. You get to see places in the world that many people never do. You might get to help people in some of the most crisis-ridden places on Earth. You also get to learn crazy-fun skills you can't learn anywhere else without paying for it, like skydiving, scuba diving, piloting, and target shooting. You don’t just work in the military; it's a way of life.

Like public service, a military career is not for the faint of heart. It's not easy, but the pride, honor, and discipline you earn are invaluable.

Straight to Work

Another option is to join the workforce straight out of school. It can work well for you if need to earn money to pay for further schooling, are not sure what you want to do with your life yet, or have already had a job with growth opportunities that could turn into a lifelong career.

Regarding that last point: Consider whether the position is a career or a job. A career has two key components that a job does not: room to advance and increasing earning potential. In contrast, a job just pays the bills. Going straight to the workforce out of high school is a good choice if your work qualifies as a career; if not, think twice. Settling for a job rather than a career can send you to an unfulfilling dead end. While a job can provide extra spending money in high school, chances are it won't pay the bills as you enter adulthood.