Graduation day. That day that feels like it’s a million years away until that last assignment is turned in and the commencement ceremony music starts. For most young adults, graduating high school is their first major life achievement. For four years, they have worked relentlessly on assignments, listened to teachers tell them “it won’t be like this when you’re in college,” and heard every SAT, ACT, and AP speech under the sun. Life after high school seems like the end-all-be-all, that key to the gateway of adulthood. And when that stage has been walked and life after high school really becomes clear, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of adulthood and college. Those four years are spent telling students what they should do for post high school (usually a four year university), however, people don’t spend much time telling them what they SHOULDN’T do.
The first thing you shouldn’t do post high school is think that college is the only option. A majority of high school is meant to prep students for college, and while it is a good path to take for some, there are many other options that can also help direct graduates in what they may be interested in as a career. During graduation celebrations, students often say what schools they are going to and what they plan to major in. It’s easy to look around at other students and see people who have their life all figured out going to their universities. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistic, about a third of students will change their declared major at least once in the first three years of college.
So if someone is uncertain about what they want to do and the college pipeline isn’t for them, what are some other options?
- Community college—The first two years of college are generally prerequisite classes that don’t actually pertain to a major itself. Community college is a great way to get those classes out of the way while figuring out majors or next career choices. They also offer honors societies like Pi Theta Kappa that can assist in scholarship opportunities, and some community colleges also offer trade school programs that can provide an affordable way to develop post high school careers.
- Trade schools—Trade schools are underappreciated programs that can provide lucrative careers that also give a financial and knowledge base should someone want to pursue additional education. Trade schools are considerably more affordable than university, and should someone do a trade and decide that it isn’t for them to work full time or they would like to specialize, they already have a background that puts them ahead of their peers both academically and financially.
- Volunteer—Volunteer work can help gain exposure to potential career opportunities by addressing an already acknowledged need. From assisting in foster care programs to teaching and tutoring to community management projects, there are always needs that can be addressed while gaining work experience and being able to see if a career path is the right one for you.
- Internships—While the stereotype of the intern is someone who just fetches coffee for the boss, internships offer valuable opportunities to grow work skills, knowledge, and networking in fields of interest before committing to pursuing either a degree or working up the corporate ladder (and yes, there are also paid internships out there too). Nonprofits like Projects Abroad can even offer the opportunity to work in other countries and see the world all while learning valuable work skills.
- Online classes—Online classes and mentorship programs have become a widely recognized advancement opportunity during the pandemic, and even more so now, those classes have really shown their value. From Udemy to edX to Launch’s Real World of Work program, the option to learn new skills at an affordable cost is now readily available. These programs help advance previous skills as well as learn new ones and are perfect for people just graduated high school and want to get exposure to all the options available to them.
The other thing you should not do after high school is compare yourself to those around you. Don’t feel like you are off track just because your friends are going to a four-year university. The worst kept secret of adulthood is this: everyone is making it up as they go along. Focus on you and what you want and how you want to get there. You will be so much more satisfied when you are where you want to be rather than trying to get to where you think you should be because of the people around you. Keep your mind wide open, and while success can’t be guaranteed, opportunities will present themselves that would not be present when focus is narrowed on only one possible outcome.
Graduation day is exciting and life after high school even more so. There are so many opportunities that new graduates have that wasn’t available to other generations. New graduates do not have to be stuck following the college pipeline, especially directly after high school. And in a world of endless possibilities, sometimes knowing what not to do can create more clarity than what to do.