What Should You do After High School? Explore!

High school is coming to or has come to an end. What next? Do not feel bad. There are a lot of people that are in your shoes. Not everyone knows what they want to do after high school. Plenty of people are unsure of the path they want to take.

Exploring your options is a smart way to decide what you want to do after high school. If you invest a little time doing your research, you can move with confidence into the future.

Off to College?

A four-year university is an option that many high school students decide is right for them. If you have always dreamed of being a criminal defense lawyer, a four-year university is the place to get started on that path.

Auto accident attorneys, corporate attorneys, and other types of attorneys have to get a four-year degree, apply to law school, spend another two years in law school, then pass the BAR to become an attorney. For some people, the process may seem daunting; for other people, if that is what you always wanted, the time is well spent.

Of course, a four-year university is not only for people that want to become a lawyer, but there is also a wide range of professions that require at least a four-year degree. College is a great time to explore different fields to find the one that fits you.

You do not have to go to college “with a plan” for your future. College is meant to be a time for exploration. College can be the place where you find yourself and discover what you want to spend your career life doing.

Of course, a four-year program is not the only college option. Community colleges typically offer a wide range of vocational options. Community colleges sometimes referred to as “junior colleges,” offer training programs, certificate programs, and associate degree programs. For example, if you consider a future with LPN jobs, you can become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) through a community college program.

What if College Is Not For You?

Before exploring what you can do if college is not something you are interested in, you should know that college is not anything like high school. It is in some ways like you have to do classwork and take tests, but it is a very different experience.

In college you have much more control not only over what subjects you study but your schedule. Not a morning person? You do not have to take morning classes. You can take evening classes, and you can set your schedule up to only have classes on certain days of the week. College is a much more flexible environment.

All the It companies to work for expect that their employees have some formal education. While some companies are getting a lot more flexible, there is still an element of formal education that is needed when it comes to the type of degree they require. For example, IBM, the computing giant, has relaxed its requirements for a four-year degree. They hire people with a two-year degree (associates) to fill a wide range of positions.

If you feel like dedicating two or four years to more schooling is not something you want to do, the good news is, there are certificate programs that can help you to get your foot in the door of other careers. For example, if being a plumber is something that you are interested in, you can enroll in a certificate program, learn about water heater servicing, pipe fitting, plumbing repair, HVAC repair, and more. You will still have to work as an apprentice for a while, but you will not have to wait four years to finish a degree.

Trade schools are an excellent opportunity to learn what you need to know about a “hands-on profession” in typically a short amount of time. Trade schools are not only for “trade jobs” like roof work, electrician training, or carpentry. They also can offer things like:

  • Medical office assistant training, nurse’s aide training, phlebotomy training.
  • Cosmetology, Veterinarian assistant training.
  • Lab assistant certification and other trades.

Trade schools or vocational schools typically offer a wide range of training programs across a large field of occupations. The training is typically short, and the schools are very affordable.

Learning a trade from office administration to auto repair is a great way to spend your time after high school. You can choose a career path that suits your lifestyle. You can dedicate a shorter amount of time than you would have to in a university setting, and in most cases, you do not have to take a bunch of classes that are not career-specific.

A Gap Year

What if you are just not ready to hit the books again in college after high school? What if you really are not that crazy about school in the first place? Take a “gap year” and explore career opportunities. A “gap year” is popular with many recent graduates. When you take the year after high school off to travel, make decisions about what you want to do with the rest of your life, and explore, that is a gap year.

A gap year does not mean you get to sit around and binge on Netflix. It means you are working toward a goal. It is a time for reflection and to make some life decisions about what you are going to do with the rest of your life.

Taking a gap year usually means you will go to college in a year. Start an apprentice program with a roof repair company or another company right after school while you decide what to do with your future. You plan on working in a few different areas to decide which one is right for you. Sometimes it means you are backpacking through Europe, but it never means you are not doing anything to further your future.

During your gap year, you can work at different jobs to find your calling. For example, if you think working with large animals is the path for you, why not work at a farm or a ranch? You may have to do a lot of grunt work because of your inexperience, like preparing bedding for horse stalls, cleaning up the muck in a cow barn, watering and feeding, but you will get a feel for being around the animals and what it takes to care for them.

Use the year right after high school (if college is not on the agenda) to find out more about yourself and decide what it is that you want to do. For example, if the idea of working a 9-5 behind a desk for the rest of your life makes your skin crawl, consider working with a landscaping company doing the land clearing. Perhaps, being outside all day will help you decide what direction you want to take.


If none of the above sounds like it is something that is right for you, there is another option for exploring your possibilities. Consider volunteering. Devoting your time to a worthy organization can turn into a career path.

Non-profit organizations are always looking for volunteers. For example, Habitat for Humanity builds homes for low-income families and works strictly on a volunteer basis. If you are interested in the building trade but are on the fence about whether you want to take the plunge, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and get familiar with what it takes to build a home.

Other volunteer options include:

  • Working with a crisis response group. Clearing water damage after a hurricane or responding to earthquake victims can open up doors to several different career paths.
  • Volunteering with animal rescue groups. Maybe working with animals is on your radar as a potential career field; working with an animal shelter or rescue group can help you to decide whether this field is for you.
  • Volunteering at your local hospital. If you imagine a career working in a medical setting, consider doing some volunteer hours at your local hospital to become familiar with processes.

There is a world of opportunity working as a volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to dip your toes in the pool of career options without having to make a firm commitment. Of course, volunteering also offers a tremendous networking opportunity.

As a volunteer, you will rub elbows with professionals in the career field you are interested in. You can pick their brains to learn more about what it takes to do the job full time. It is a great way to familiarize yourself with different career options while you are doing some good.

Get To Work

Some people that graduate high school have no other choice because of financial obligations but to go right to work. Do not think that because you have to get a job right out of high school, your options are limited.

Plenty of corporations want their employees to grow while they are with them and offer things like tuition assistance and other programs to encourage continued growth. If you have to get a job immediately out of high school, choose to work for a company that wants you to succeed and offers added value benefits.

Here are some tips for how you can continue to explore your options even while you work full time:

  • Choose a company to work for that promotes from within. While it may be harder now than 25 years ago to find a company that promotes from within, it is still possible. Upward mobility programs are a good option for anyone that is coming right out of high school.
  • Choose a company that will pay for your schooling. A lot of companies offer in-house training programs, and some even offer college tuition assistance. It is okay to start on the bottom rung of the ladder as long as there is a plan in place to move on up.
  • Choose a company that has a mentor program in place. A lot of corporate entities have mentorship programs where an experienced employee will mentor a new employee. This can prove to be a great guiding force for your next career move.

Going right to work out of high school may seem a little unfair while all your cohorts are off on self-discovery journeys, but it does have some benefits. You start earning money right away, and you start on your career path right away. You have more time in the “real world” to network and meet people, which can give you a jumpstart.

Keep This In Mind

As you move forward in life after high school, keep in mind that nothing is permanent. If you go to college right out of high school and find that you do not want to become a lawyer even though you have talked about it for years, that is okay. You can change your mind. You can change career paths, and you can do it as much as you want within reason.

The point is as long as you are moving forward in a positive direction, the details are not as important as the moving forward part. You do not have to wear a suit and tie every day to earn a living, and likewise, you do not have to wield a pipe wrench because your father or mother did either. It is your life, and you get to choose what type of life you will live. You have the power to create your path in life.

Everyone may not like the choices you make for yourself for your career, but as long as you are acting responsibly, it is your choice how you choose to move forward. Good luck, and enjoy the journey.