Originally published 2021 – Revised 2023

What Lies Ahead After High School?

Many high school students, parents, and young adults ponder this question. What direction should I take? Follow everyone or go on a different path? Finding the right one can be the key to future financial and personal success. Thankfully, there are many choices.

Attending College right out of high school has historically been the path everyone has been encouraged to follow. The Higher Education Act of 1965 was a catalyst in moving a country to adopt the mindset. The expansion of student financial aid programming, the strengthening of veterans’ benefits, and the greater need for professional workers all came with the signature of President Johnson.

In 2023, new approaches to education and careers after high school are available. Today, conversations are shifting to embrace the needs of individuals and workforce needs. Affordability in higher education, gaps in our skilled workforce,  and the critical importance of supporting young minds who need a pause after twelve years are just a few of the pressing reasons.

Beginning as early as middle school, we must shift the narrative to the importance of introducing to young minds different roles, jobs, and professions for Today and Tomorrow. Parents must be encouraged to develop their students’ authentic educational and personal abilities and stop chasing prestige and vanity. Educators and thought leaders need to step back from the buzz of STEM and STEAM, which often forces students into boxes and fuels the competitiveness of higher education. Local, statewide, and national government leaders need to re-evaluate funding allocation. Businesses that generate enormous profits at the risk of students’ mental well-being need to recalibrate their so-called mission. Let’s celebrate lifelong learning as a catalyst for social and economic success.

Which Path Will Be Yours?

High school to 4-year College – yes, continuing the traditional route designed by our educational system is the path for 80% of a graduating class. Students work in high school, developing a range of academic proficiency and personal character to be ready. Meeting the demands of this path can be challenging, emotional, and competitive. For 20% who feel the social need to follow the herd, ultimately leaving after their first semester or year, we must proactively support and encourage different paths.

Technical to Skilled – students enrolled are traditionally on a skilled or specialized/ trade career path. Currently, qualified professionals are aging out of the workforce, so where will the next plumber, electrician, HVAC, and others come from to cover continued consumer and business demands? The absence of trained, skilled professionals will slow the economy and increase service costs. Apprenticeships and certification programs after high school allow individuals to pursue their interests to secure financially and personally successful careers.

Associates to Bachelors offers students who aspire to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree but need time to hit their academic and personal stride can succeed through a 2+2 program. Beginning at a community college can boost a student’s academic and personal readiness and provide a very affordable path to a four-year degree. Students start at Community College full-time and transfer to a four-year public or private institution upon completion.

Work, Earn, and Learn for many individuals allows them to pause, enter the workforce, earn a little, and get a feel for the future. The delay can be to start their career and pursue a college degree, associate, or bachelor’s degree. Joining a business and transitioning one’s technical and interpersonal skills can be a perfect way to benefit from employer-based tuition assistance programs.

 Military is for a select group of men or women willing to commit to serving their country in one of the many branches of the Armed Services. This calling sometimes begins as a member of the JROTC program via a military academy or post-high school. Individuals select from various Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), including communications, technology, cyber security, defense, engineering, infantry, and special operations.

A Gap Year today is no longer the idea of pack backing nationwide. Students who take a break can pursue volunteerism, job training, internships, or externships to explore and gain from different learning experiences. These include programs like Year Up and the Gloucester Biotechnology Academy.

Exploring and analyzing the various paths should be guided by an individual’s education to a career plan. A plan that considers all life-long learning opportunities now and in the future, financially affordable and unique to a student and their family.

As the parents of four, each who took a different path,  I understand how emotional and daunting advising one’s student can be. guiding and advising our children can be. Have questions, need to compare notes, schedule a time to talk.