Considering Your Options

Figuring out what to do after high school is often a challenging task. This might be the first time in your life that you are required to make a major decision for yourself. You’ve probably been thinking about and starting preparations for this next stage of your life for a few years now, but it’s likely you still have some questions as to what’s best for you. This article reviews the full range of postsecondary (after high school) options that are available to you, and will hopefully help you with your decision.

Depending on your career goals, college might be the best option for you after high school. It’s certainly the next step for a lot of high school graduates and can lead to many opportunities, but you have to make sure you’re ready for it (for more on this, read Are You Ready For College?). Also, there are a variety of college options from which to choose; for help with this, check out What’s Your Type?

Delayed Matriculation
Maybe you’ve already applied and gotten into a college but want to do something else for a little while before starting school. Many schools allow accepted students to delay matriculation (that is, not start school) for one or (rarely) more years. You can use this time to work, travel, complete required military service (if applicable), or pursue a special opportunity. There are, however, some rules and regulations around delayed matriculation, so make sure to check in with your school’s Office of Admissions before making any decisions.

Gap Year
Similar to (but different from) delayed matriculation is taking a gap year. You can pursue many of the same opportunities as you would if you were delaying matriculation (i.e., work, travel, volunteer, etc.) but the difference with a gap year is that you are not already enrolled at a college. Taking a gap year means taking a break from academics for a certain amount of time, and then applying to college if and when you’re ready. One thing to keep in mind – if you know you’ll be heading to college after your gap year and have already taken the SAT and/or ACT, be mindful of their expiration dates as these scores are only valid for a certain amount of time. Therefore, you should plan your gap year and entry into college accordingly so you won’t have to take these tests again! For more information on a gap year, check out this resource.

Work & College
For many people, working while also going to college is the best option. Oftentimes, people pursuing this option work full-time and attend community college. This can help you save money and also complete general education requirements in order to attend a four-year college if this is something you want to do.

Community Service Programs
These programs, such as AmeriCorps, provide a unique opportunity to those who are undecided about their next step or who already have an interest in community service. You can work at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country doing work in areas such as education, disaster relief, technology, and neighborhood revitalization. These programs typically last 9 to 12 months and you’re usually paid a monthly stipend and/or receive money toward your education. To learn more about AmeriCorps and the variety of options available, check out this resource.      

Another option after high school is to join the military. The United States military branches include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, and the National Guard. You can choose to enlist full-time after high school, or you can also join the military through college programs and after college as an officer. A big benefit to military service is that the US government will often pay for all or part of your postsecondary education before, during or after your service. To learn more about military options, contact your local recruiting office.

Full-Time Employment
After spending 13+ years in school, you may want to get out in the “real world” and start earning money. In addition to making money, full-time employment can also teach you how to support yourself (for example, live on your own and pay your own bills), help you figure out what you want to do, and it can also help you get your foot in the door in an industry of interest. Keep in mind, though, that additional training is often required to earn a better income, which may mean attending college in some shape or form in order to increase your earning potential.

As you can see, there are many options available to you after high school, and only you know what’s best for yourself. Of course, though, help is always available. Talk with your high school guidance counselor, teachers, coaches, your parents or other family members, leaders in your community, and trusted friends. They can help guide you to more resources and assist you in the search and self-exploration process. This is a big decision, so make sure you consider all of your options and get the help you may need in order to make the best decision for yourself.

Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.