Life After High School: 5 Alternative Path Choices

By: Zachary Arcivar

As we go through our high school careers, ideas begin popping into our heads about what we should do after graduation. For a lot of students, this can be a time of really deep thinking and uncertainty of the future. I know that for me, picking a major that I was supposed to stick with for four years seemed impossible. Once the dust in my head settled, I began my college career as a film major. Then, a few years down the road, I switched over to journalism, and now as a senior in college, I’m ending my career with a degree in creative writing.

What students of today need to understand is that you have plenty of options to help you down the right path. You don’t have to go directly to college and be locked down on one major for four years; in fact, most people that I know have changed majors at one point or another, and it’s a totally normal part of the college process. It can be the difference between enjoying your college experience and completely loathing it.

Some of you may not like the idea of college at all, and you may feel lost with everyone around you obsessing over what school they are going to commit to and what they will major in, and that’s perfectly alright! Let’s go over some of the things you can do to narrow down your choices.

1. Attend a Local Community College First

This is what I began with personally. I attended College of Dupage in Illinois my first two years of school and began chipping away at my gen-eds as well as some of my major requirements. What’s nice is that you don’t have to have a major picked out when entering any school, but entering a community college undecided can save huge amounts of money, because not only will many of the general education credits you take be transferable to other schools, but they will be available at a fraction of the cost of a state school or private school. Due to this affordability, students hold the freedom to explore various courses and subjects that they may not have explored if they were stuck paying for courses at a larger college.

Going to a community college also gives students the ability to look at schools that they may want to transfer to in the future based off of their desired major once they get an idea of what that may be. So, give community college a thought or two — it can save you a ton of money and give you the time needed to come up with a major that interests you without keeping you stagnant.

2. Take a Job or Two

For those of you who feel that jumping into college isn’t something that you want to do straight out of high school, or maybe it’s something that is not financially advisable at the time, there are options other than college that can get you on the right track. I think the most obvious one is to work right out of high school. Now, it isn’t likely that anyone can find a perfect job paying six figures at 18 years old, but finding a few part time positions can earn you a little extra money to put away for school while you take time to figure out what it is you would like to go to school for. You could also take online courses for very affordable costs while working to get a taste for college academics.

Of course, working anywhere creates networking opportunities between you and those around you, so talking to people in a new job environment can even be what sparks a bit of curiosity on one subject or one school. When I was attending COD, I was holding two jobs, one of which was in the school’s film department. It was during my time working there and talking to the teaching staff and fellow student coworkers that I learned not only did I want to make the transfer to Columbia College Chicago for certain, but that I no longer wanted to pursue film. So, when I did transfer to Columbia, I knew more about what I wanted to do than I would have had I not taken that job.

3. Consider Vocational School

Vocational schools are being mentioned less and less in today’s society, which I think is unfortunate. Going into a trade such as plumbing, carpentry, welding, or anything of the sort is an incredible step to take in life; however, in my opinion, these options aren’t presented to students as much as they should be.

When I was in high school, these options weren’t really mentioned as an option to post-high school life, and if they were, they were only talked about briefly. The idea of a four year school and the classic college experience is what they tried to push on my classmates and I, which I found off-putting and unfair to anyone that didn’t really feel comfortable with committing to a four year education. If your school is similar, then don’t be discouraged! The world always needs vocational workers, and joining a workforce union can be a great fit for plenty of people, so don’t be afraid to look into the options that vocational education presents.

4. Take a Gap Year

Gap years are becoming more and more popular with students in the U.S. and can provide an unforgettable learning experience to any student looking for a bit of adventure. If you’re unfamiliar with gap years, they’re a break between high school and college, where a student can travel internationally to increase their understanding of their passions in order to clarify the next step to take in life.

Based on your existing interests, you can immerse yourself in a new environment and learn naturally from your surroundings while also participating in work programs that continue to broaden your horizons. Many students choose gap years to address “academic burnout,” or essentially, being overworked from the constant strain of studying and standardized testing that schools are built upon these days.

If the idea of a gap year seems interesting to you, visit American Gap Association for more information on the subject, and you can also find some help on how to plan your trip.

5. Volunteer Programs

Volunteering for a few years after high school is in incredible way to build up your own character, discover passions, network with others, and give back to the community all at the same time. There are many incredible volunteer programs that are available to people with only high school diplomas that can give them a boost in the right direction.

AmeriCorps has a variety of programs that can suit anyone’s needs. AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) is a program that accepts people with only high school educations and offers residential programs for its workers that also allow you to earn education awards that can help with future college expenses. In NCCC, you serve within the U.S. working for 10 months to help with community service projects that span across a board of possibilities. Had I not gone right to COD, this would have been my next choice after high school, so if it’s something that interests you, don’t hold back, go for it! The amount that you can learn from an experience like traveling and community building is immeasurable, and can teach you lessons that you will carry with you for life.

The bottom line is, don’t fret if you feel like you’re a little lost on where to go once high school is over. The amount of resources and options available for students are practically infinite if you just look in the right places. Even if you enter a field that ends up being something you aren’t interested in, it can still make for a phenomenal learning experience, and at the end of the day, it can be really worth it.

So, give these examples a thought, and do your own research — you never know what you’ll find once you start digging, and hopefully you can discover an entrance to what could potentially be your future career!


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