High school graduation may be just around the corner for your teen. You probably remember their 1st day of kindergarten and wonder where the years have gone. Has your teenager asked you, “What should I do after high school?” If so, you’ve got some work ahead of you to help them navigate life after high school.
Start by asking, “Who is my teen?” Have they always wanted to go to university? Maybe they have an interest in a trade, like a medical tech or a mechanic. Have they been asking questions about what it means to join the military?
The key to helping your teen decide what to do after high school is to spend time talking about it. Attending a university or a community college, joining the military, pursuing a vocational occupation, or (the ever-dreaded by parents) taking a gap year are some of the options available to your teenager.
The 4-year university option
The 1st thing parents ask when their teen shows an interest in going to college is, “How will we pay for this?” In fact, 38% of parents say the final decision about where their child will go to college is based on costs. As the price of college education continues to rise and the job market remains highly competitive, many students are looking at alternatives to attending college for 4 or more years.
The 1st thing a student asks is, “Will I be accepted to the university I want to attend?” It’s not just the job market that is so competitive. The race to be accepted to a university is so fierce that many students are completely burned out before they even set foot on campus.
Add to this the stress of student loan debt that can be $24,000 per year. Right now, the average amount of student loan debt is $39,000, which is more than a college graduate will typically earn at their 1st job.
There is no guarantee of stable employment with a college diploma, and this adds more pressure. As you talk with your teen about what to do after graduating high school, look at different jobs and what the salaries are. Money isn’t everything when a teen is trying to decide on a career, but it would help to know if they’ll earn enough to pay back their student loans.
What to do after high school without attending university?
1. Community college
Community college is a perfectly viable option for nearly every student. Many school districts have partnerships with their local community colleges to give high school students a head start on their associate degree through what’s known as a dual-enrollment program. Both of my daughters did this, and it saved our family $8,700.
At a relatively low cost and with many scholarships opportunities, community college is very affordable. For in-state students, the average annual cost of community college is $7,460, substantially less than the cost of a public university, which averages $35,720 per year.
Other pros include much smaller class sizes, easier access to tutors, and the ability to connect with instructors. These advantages can be especially beneficial for students who didn’t perform well academically during high school. Prep, or remedial courses, help with writing skills, math applications, and college-life readiness.
A community college experience offers many ways for students to engage in volunteer work and programs which benefit their campus and local neighborhoods. Having a presence in the area and networking with leaders provides many opportunities for finding a job.
2. Military service
A lot of teens consider the military an option after high school because it offers them a way to go to college at a lower cost or even free once they finish their term of service. The so-called G.I. Bill gives veterans benefits for tuition, books, and housing, and it can provide peace of mind as students may avoid student loan debt.
Many people believe that the military is where a “wayward child” can discover who they really are. While this is a noble thought, it shouldn’t be a determining factor for your teen when they consider what happens after high school. Becoming part of the military takes real commitment and discipline. If your teen is not fully on board with the decision, their likelihood of success decreases.
A good number of high school graduates choosing to join the military have specific goals in mind when they enlist, such as intelligence operations, diplomatic interpreting, and legal services for enlisted personnel and officers. Many parents fear that their child will be deployed to a front-line area, but the military offers a variety of careers within its branches, so many of those who enlisted never experience combat.
3. Vocational degree
America is lending money it doesn’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist. That’s nuts.— Mike Rowe, celebrity and founder of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation
This was once labeled as an “alternative” to a university degree or what a student does when they can’t cut it in college. However, there has been a rise in demand for vocationally trained workers. Truck drivers, plumbers, mechanics, and other blue-collar jobs require skilled workers to keep our society functioning.
A vocational education offers great access to careers if your student is more hands-on and doesn’t want to sit behind a desk all day. Vocational schools also provide more opportunities for students with special needs or those who may experience challenges in a traditional university setting.
As with community colleges, the average cost of pursuing a vocational degree is much lower than for a university degree, around $33,000 in total. Students who graduate with a vocational degree also have a much higher chance of employment right after graduation since their field of study can be one in high demand.
4. Gap year
For some parents, the thought of their teenager taking a year off, or a gap year, after graduating high school is terrifying. The images of their child as a vagabond wandering the streets of a foreign country while living in a hostel are just too much. For many students, though, especially those with the intrinsic motivation to get a degree, a gap year has benefits.
Real-world experience has a unique appeal to employers. Seeing a student’s exposure to different cultures or countries on a resume and hearing about their experiences can be very impressive at job interviews. Learning different communication styles and engaging with other cultures can give a gap-year student an advantage in the job application process.
Students who are motivated to go back to school after their gap year and earn a degree may lose a bit of academic momentum, but they may also gain some “street smarts” that can help them perform better academically. This type of short-term experience can also aid them in developing life skills that will benefit them during their college years.
A gap year doesn’t always mean a backpacking trip across Europe. Many students opt for a year off after high school in order to find a well-paying job and save money for their college education. This option comes with 2 benefits: ability to pay for college without resorting to student loans and job experience to add to the resume.
5. Dropping out of high school
Your family may be in a different situation, trying to help a teen decide what to do after dropping out of high school. The good news is that the overall dropout rate in the U.S. is at an all-time low, meaning more students are recognizing the value of finishing high school.
Many successful entrepreneurs don’t have a high school diploma although they do advocate for staying in school and getting one. A lot of them also went on to earn their GED (general education development) certificate. Some trade and post-secondary schools will accept students without a high school diploma or a GED.
Your teen can also opt for active job searching and decide to move forward in a career. Many jobs-like office assistant, patient care administrator, and restaurant manager-can start as an entry-level position and end up as a lucrative career.
Your teen is probably already thinking about what happens after high school. They have a number of options and opportunities available to choose from, and you can help them through this process. Learn all you can about the pros and cons of community college versus university, vocational training, joining the military, and taking a gap year. If your teen decides to drop out of high school, don’t assume they are automatically destined to fail in life.
I didn’t start college until I was 39, and it took me 4 years to finish my associate’s degree. Looking back, it was the best decision for me not to go to college after high school, but it’s not one I would suggest others make.
Helping your teen decide what’s next after high school is a really fun time. You will learn a lot about your teenager, their likes and dislikes, how they see themselves, and the fears they have. With your encouragement and all the information you present to them after doing your research, you can guide your teen successfully through this stage of their life.