The end is in sight. High school was filled with experiences you’ll remember forever, from donning your FFA jacket to meeting lifelong friends, but now it’s time to put on your cap and gown. As your graduation date draws near, the daunting thought of life after high school occurs frequently.
The real world offers many paths to choose from, and it’s tough to know which is best for you. You may feel pressured from others to choose to attend a certain university or join the military, but it’s important to make the right decision for you. It’s never too early to start planning your future, whether you’re getting ready to accept your diploma or attending your first FFA meeting.
Let’s look at some of the options that are available to you in life after high school.
College or University
Most high school graduates choose the college or university path, deciding to further their education. How do you know if that’s the right path? Are you career-oriented? Can you spend the next four years in school? Are you in a good financial position to pursue higher education? College is a huge investment, not only in the financial sense, but also in time and effort.
Former FFA member Alyssa Bussell says that researching colleges before you graduate high school is imperative. “College will be your home away from home for at least four years, so it’s crucial to find one that is a good fit,” she says.
If you’ve decided college is your path, start by looking at different schools and what they have to offer.
“I knew that attending college was the most important thing I could do to help me reach my goals and full potential,” says Bussell. “Earning a college degree is vital to getting me where I want to be.”
When looking at schools, think about location, cost, campus life, courses of study and extracurricular activities. Most colleges offer four-year bachelor’s degrees. If you choose, you can continue on for an advanced degree in your field after four years.
If you like working with your hands and hate the idea of sitting behind a desk, technical school may be a better choice for you. Different from a four-year college, technical schooling teaches you a trade in a hands-on setting. This training prepares you for careers such as an electrician, cosmetologist, plumber, mechanic, carpenter and more.
Jason Scales, a welding education specialist at The Lincoln Electric Co. says technical programs offer education at a great value that develops employable skills quickly.
“You need to make sure that the program you choose teaches skills that are transferable to other programs. The job market changes and you need to be adaptable,” he says.
Technical schools are less expensive than colleges or universities, and the programs take less time, allowing you to find employment more quickly.
If this sounds like a good option, scope out careers that pique your interest as early as possible. Your FFA advisor and guidance counselor are great resources and can push you in the right direction for appropriate programs.
If you have strong pride for your country, you may want to look into joining the military after high school. The U.S. Armed Forces – including the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard – allow men and women to enlist after graduation – anytime after turning 18. You can also join after college, and the military will help pay for your tuition if you join the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Joining the ROTC means you’ve committed to limited service while in school and full-time service for a determined amount of time after school.
“The Army was a great option for me because it allowed me to pursue veterinary school without the burden of paying back expensive student loans,” says CPT Sarah Cudd, D.V.M., U.S. Army. “I also had a guaranteed job right after graduation. I was able to sit back and study for exams knowing that I had a job already lined up.”
Joining the military is a big commitment that’s not for everyone, so talk to your family and FFA advisor before making the decision. Ask yourself if you feel that America is worth dying for and if you could function in war. The military also has fitness requirements and a time commitment that you need to understand before enlisting. Learn more at www.military.com/join-armed-forces.
Some graduates enter the workforce immediately after high school. Perhaps you need to save money before continuing your education or you’d rather start getting a paycheck instead of spending time studying.
Obtaining a job directly after graduation may be a bit harder compared to those with a college degree, and you may make a lesser salary. However, you won’t have to deal with student loan debts, and you’ll have time to progress within a company while others are attending school.
You also have the opportunity to try out different jobs in different fields to find out which is the best fit for you. Most college students tend to change their minds about their major and what career they want, so it may be helpful to have real-world experience before committing to an area of study.
Talk to your guidance counselor, parents and FFA advisor about looking into your area’s job market. Check online job boards and reach out to any previous employers or friends that may be able to help you find something.
– Rachel Bertone