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What’s Next for You After High School? Explore Programs and Career Options

Mar 21, 2023

Are you feeling anxious about what to do after high school? It’s daunting to decide on a career path and figure out the steps needed to pursue it. With so many options available, from college degrees and vocational programs to apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Most of all, being informed is the best place to begin. Read on to explore the many paths available after high school and find one that fits your individual needs.



Going directly to college after high school is often a wise decision for students, as it provides a seamless transition and a significant opportunity to grow academically, personally, and professionally. By continuing your education without interruption, you are likely to retain your study habits, remain focused, and stay engaged in the learning process. Also, attending college straight away allows students to capitalize on the support networks they have developed in high school, be it encouraging teachers, mentors, or classmates. WGU gives students an option to go into college very seamlessly after they finish high school.

Some colleges even provide students with supportive structures, like WGU Academy, to help them overcome potential barriers to success. WGU Academy courses are specifically designed to address knowledge gaps, strengthen foundational skills, and boost students' confidence in their abilities. As a result, you experience improved academic performance and are less likely to feel overwhelmed or disheartened by challenging material.

The Trades

Trade and technical programs offer students a specialized curriculum, allowing them to further develop skills such as engineering, construction, finance, and more. These programs can be taken at vocational schools, community colleges, technical schools, and universities. In some cases, credits earned in technical or trade education can even be used as a foundation for university degrees.

These programs provide an intense focus on specialized skills that can be immediately used after high school. For those not sure what they would like to study after high school, trade programs may offer a great opportunity to explore different career paths while learning marketable skills. Students also benefit from networking opportunities with professionals already working in their respective industries, allowing them to gain insight into potential career options. 

The Military

High school graduation marks a time for many students to devote their energy towards pursuing a college degree or joining the workforce. However, there is another option that may be appealing to students after high school: joining the military. Military service can provide a wide range of educational and professional benefits. For instance, many branches of the military offer tuition assistance programs or even provide full tuition payments in some cases, meaning that students can receive compensation while they pursue their higher education. Furthermore, military training can teach valuable skills related to management, logistics, engineering and computing technology, making those who serve highly marketable when it comes time to look for a job.

Volunteerism/Community Service

Taking a year off to do volunteer work is an incredibly beneficial experience for students after graduating high school. A gap year not only provides students with the opportunity to give back but also provides invaluable life experience. This time can be used to strengthen leadership skills, hone problem-solving and communication abilities, gain empathy and perspective, and discover passions. Also, volunteering enhances résumés and applications for college or a job, as many universities and employers find this type of selflessness attractive in an employee or student. A gap year can be the key ingredient that motivates many students to find success in college and beyond.


Going right into the work field after high school is another great option for many students looking to pursue their career goals. It allows students to gain real-world experience and insight into the industry they chose to enter; something four-year colleges may not be able to provide. Additionally, this path often reduces the cost of tuition, as well as licenses, certifications, and supplementary materials you may need to enter the workforce. Working right out of high school can give you a chance to get an early start in your profession and set you up for success further down the line.

Alternative Programs

High school graduation can be an exciting time for many students, but they may find themselves uncertain of what the future holds. Year Up is a great opportunity to help these students acquire the skills they'll need to succeed after high school. Year Up provides access to college classes and internships with major companies that offer practical job-specific experience and opportunities for growth. Students learn a range of hands-on skills that include technical training, professional development, and networking in order to build their résumés. Through mentorship and support from staff advisors, Year Up gives students the confidence and resources necessary to pursue their ambitions and to make positive changes in their lives.

Delayed Degrees

Delaying a degree can be the best choice for students who are unsure of their plans. With additional time, youthful curiosity can be channeled into research and exploration of different academic areas and interests. This can help students make better-informed decisions about graduation requirements and other specific educational paths that align with their goals. Furthermore, a purposeful pause gives students the chance to pursue internships or gain real-world experience that could open invaluable doors down the line. Taking some time away from college classes can ultimately result in a more rewarding educational journey and set the foundation for successful long-term career prospects.

Other Things to Keep in Mind after High School

Preparing for life changes after high school can be a daunting task, but with the right tools and an optimistic outlook, it doesn't have to be. Taking time to research and explore what options may fit best into your lifestyle, as well as creating a budget and beginning to save money, are all helpful. Talking with family and friends can provide insight into what steps you should take going into adult life, whether that's enrolling in college, joining the military, or entering the job market. Self-reflection can also assist in determining which path best suits your passions, interests, and long-term goals. Finally, drawing from personal resources and reaching out for professional help when necessary will make the transition much smoother.

Note: This piece was adapted from “What Career Paths Can Students Explore After High School” by Nancy Barile.   

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