For many, winter means cozy mittens and cute snowmen. However, for many seniors winter means they’re halfway through their final year in high school, and by now most will have already chosen their next steps. In order for juniors heading into their senior year to choose the best post-secondary path, they need to understand all of the options available and how to make the best decision based on their needs. So, grab a hot chocolate and let’s think about the future!
Questions to Consider When Making Post-Secondary Decisions
Before you figure out where to go after high school, it’s best to figure out where you are now in terms of your career, academic, personal, and financial needs. To help, consider the following questions:
- What do you want to do for a living? If you’re not ready to choose a major or you know that you can achieve your career goals without an undergraduate degree (i.e. associate degree, vocational school, full time job), then you may want to choose a gap year to gain experience and clarity or skip college altogether in favor of alternative options.
- How good of a student are you? If your high school academic record and standardized test scores are poor, then attending community college may be a good place for you to start your post-secondary education.
- What’s your budget? Without the savings or financial aid to pay for college, or pay for college without creating a significant burden of debt, lower budget options like community college, military, or a vocational school may be worthwhile paths.
- What are your educational and personal needs? If you have a disability (physical, learning) or mental health issue, pursuing a traditional college education might be a challenge without guaranteed support. Alternatively, if you are a caregiver to a family member or are a parent, post-secondary options that are local and flexible could be more suitable.
A Closer Look at After High School Alternatives
Keeping in mind your career goals, academic ability and motivation, budget, and personal needs, it’s time to explore the pros and cons of the most common post-secondary options.
- Community College. You can save money on tuition and living expenses by completing prerequisites and other general education courses for two years before transferring to a traditional college or university. There’s also less pressure to declare a major, so you have time to figure out what you want. Living at home can be a plus if you’re not yet ready to leave the nest or have other reasons for needing to be close to family support. There are a few downsides of community colleges. A big one is that community colleges may not have the same resources as a university (e.g. extracurricular activities, academic support, internships, etc.). You may also regret missing out on the college experience, especially if you keep in touch with your high school friends who are now in college. Living at home may save you money, but it also means you’ll have to live by many of the same rules you had to follow in high school.
- University or Four-Year College. Students who graduate college with an undergraduate degree have better employment opportunities not only because of what that degree represents but also because of the networking and other resources available. If you attend college, you have access to a variety of extracurricular activities and campus resources. You will also make life-long friendships and get a taste of independence. Unfortunately, college is expensive. Without a substantial college fund or generous scholarships, you could graduate with some student debt that could take a long time to repay. If you choose a major or career that either isn’t a good fit or ultimately doesn’t provide good prospects, college may not be a good investment.
- Vocational or Trade School. If you know that intensive academic study is not for you and prefer more hands-on learning to prepare for skilled jobs (e.g. cosmetology, plumbing, construction, nursing, etc.), then a vocational school could be the best option. It’s also a good choice for students who want to save money on tuition and like the idea of entering the workforce in two years rather than four. Vocational schools are easier to get into, too. Sounds great, right? The trade off is that once you’ve chosen a trade, it can be difficult to switch to a different one if it turns out it’s a poor fit. You’ll also miss out on the variety of courses and activities offered at a college or university.
- Military. On the one hand, serving in any branch of the military in any one of a variety of roles, including combat and non-combat positions, will pay for college education in your future and expose you to valuable experiences from leadership roles to travel. On the other hand, joining the military is a big commitment (often a minimum of four years). Once you sign, it is difficult to back out. Serving in the military, including training and active duty roles, can be challenging mentally and physically, so you must be prepared for hard work and sacrifice. You also have to be okay with having little to no say in where you are stationed, if you’re sent overseas, and what job you’re assigned. Only join the military if you are confident it’s right for you.
- Gap Year. By taking a year off from school to expose yourself to more real world experiences, such as working, volunteering, or traveling, you can start college with a clearer picture of what you want for your future. Knowing what you want can save you money because rather than wasting money on expensive college courses you may not need, you can choose the college, major, or other post-secondary option that best meets your needs. Unfortunately, gap years can also be a gigantic waste of time. If you aren’t mature enough and independent enough to plan ahead and hold yourself accountable for following through with those plans, then it’s not worth it. Not only can you lose momentum, or even worse, regress as academic skills you worked hard to develop begin to atrophy, you will also be out of step with most of your peers.
- Work. Any college degree or vocational degree will cost money, so if it would be difficult to pay for post-secondary education, then heading straight to work could be appealing. Working may also be a better path for those who have an immediate financial need to support themselves or their families. You can save up and attend a college or vocational school when you’re ready. Plus, if you’ve already been working during high school and can use those experiences to advance to leadership positions offering more money, benefits, and career prospects, then work offers even more opportunities. Some careers do not require a degree (e.g. acting) or training can be done on the job (e.g. tattoo artist). If you have the motivation and drive to pursue those sorts of careers, working could be the best option. Don’t choose work, however, if there is a way for you to pay for college and you’re pretty sure any career dreams you have will require a college education.
What’s Next and How A+ Can Help
When it comes to a student’s future, it’s best to be proactive. The better prepared you are and the stronger you are academically, the more options you will have because you will have the grades, scores, and skills that will earn you acceptance to a wider variety of schools and programs as well as earn you more potential financial aid. At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, students can receive academic tutoring in a range of subjects as well as test prep tutoring for the ACT and SAT. College application essay writing help is also available. In addition, students can benefit from executive function coaching whether they plan to go to an Ivy League university or attend a trade school. So, don’t wait until the snow starts to melt and graduation nears to prepare for the future. Get help from A+ tutors today!
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Director Joelle Faucette can be reached at 215-886-9188.