In most high schools, teachers; authority figures; parents; and even peers push students to have a concrete plan after high school. But reaching something “concrete” can be difficult, with college decisions, travel, and other possibilities clouding students’ minds. Not to mention, the constant feeling that there are limited options or resources available to students toward their individual goals. Trying to plan your future when so much is out of your control can feel like an uphill battle, but it’s important to explore your options as much as possible.
Krystal Toderick, a counselor at Franklin, comments on the importance of having a plan after high school. “I think it helps with your mental health actually … and so if you have an idea of what you want to do, I think you can reduce some of that stress and anxiety.” Toderick states that there is no one plan that’s better than all others, and that different plans work better for different people.
The most popular options often include: community college, attending a four-year college, joining the military, going to trade school or joining the workforce, taking a gap year, and studying abroad.
If you want something that gives you flexibility, consider community college. It’s free for all Oregon students. You can also receive vocational training to prepare you for the workforce and transfer the credits you earn to a larger college (though not in all cases). However, most community colleges offer a limited curriculum, and hold a more low-key campus life. Most community colleges don’t have any, or have a very small amount, of on campus housing. Many colleges also make it so you can take classes online.
Arguably the most traditional option for students after high school is going to a four year college or university. In our social and academic community, there is certainly more pressure to attend college than most other options. In a lot of cases, going away for college provides housing and connections, as well as an education. On college campuses, there are many work options for students, ranging from basic on-campus jobs, to work studies, to internships. Colleges tend to have a more social scene and many even host events for their student body. There are school-sanctioned opportunities to study abroad and travel in college, if that is a path you wish to pursue. The course variety is much wider and credits are almost always transferable.
Of course, college is expensive and it is unavoidable for many to accrue student loan debt. Going to another four years of school isn’t the right choice for everyone by any means. However, I strongly encourage it. It can open many doors, as well as give you valuable social experiences.
Going to a trade school has the benefits of lower costs and a faster timeline than traditional college. You can learn valuable skills and be in a career field with high demand, usually coming out of it with a solid, high-paying job. Unfortunately, there isn’t much flexibility within a lot of trades in terms of moving between the trades. The website toptrade.school has some excellent trade resources and schools.
For seniors looking for a multi-year plan, joining the military is a viable option, since you can join as early as seventeen. You can join the U.S. Navy, Army, Air Force, etc. There are many kinds of jobs available in the various branches of the military. You could be a cook, a nurse, a soldier, a teacher, and many other possible careers while serving. If you serve in the military, you are offered medical and dental benefits, and a college education can be paid for. You can join the military after college as an officer after attending officer school, or go to a military school, like the United States Military Academy at West Point or the United States Naval Academy. Of course, the downfalls are something to also consider. It’s a very physically demanding job, and one that causes you to be away from loved ones. It’s a big commitment and can be dangerous in certain positions.
Another option is going to school abroad. It can be significantly cheaper than most U.S. schools and you get the perk of traveling and getting new experiences at the same time. But you will be all on your own, and that can be very daunting. College culture tends to be fairly different in other countries compared to the U.S.. In America, partying is a priority at a lot of schools, the lack thereof in other countries may come as a culture shock. Schools abroad also have different curriculum and requirements to graduate. Also, your credits may not transfer to U.S. schools, and depending on where you study, there may be a language barrier.
Taking a gap year often frees up time for both travel and work, and nothing beats first hand experience. In taking a gap year, you can also find independence or a hidden passion you never knew you had. Waiting a year before making a serious decision about your future can often give students the chance to recharge and discover what they are enthusiastic about pursuing. For those looking to return to school after traveling, I warn you to not wait too long though, because it can make the transition back into academia more difficult and can cause feelings of falling behind. Gap years also require intensive planning and thinking ahead. But they give you ample time to do so, the choice is really up to you.
My previous plan was to attend Smith college in the fall on a full ride scholarship. I was extremely confident in my decision, however, this did not pan out. It’s okay to grieve whatever happens in the application process; it’s a valid part of the process of figuring your life out. Pressure is a part of life, and when applied correctly, can be healthy and motivating, but when applied unhealthily, can lead to poor choices and mental health. Friends and family who pressure you should have your best interests at heart and want to see you succeed, and sometimes that can mean pushing your limits.
However, it’s important to not let pressure overwhelm you. Serafina Sabatini, a graduating senior this year, describes the pressure her parents put on her to succeed academically. “My parents really won’t accept anything below an A, which I think is fine, and I think it’s unhealthy for sure, but it’s okay.” Sabatini says that the people in her friend groups have a wide variety of plans for post-graduation. “We all just support each other no matter what.” She says, “ I honestly don’t really believe that you should be leaving [high school] without at least knowing what interests you.” Sabatini says that she knew she wanted to work with kids, but wasn’t sure in what field until recently, finding that she wants to work as a pediatrician or emergency pediatric physician. “You should have a basis of what you like and explore it from there, and if it goes in a different direction, that’s fine.”
Don’t forget, your plan after high school is yours and no one else’s. You get to decide what path you take, whether that be one of the aforementioned ones or a completely new one. These are just a few of the most common plans, but yours could be a combination of a few or none at all.