There was a time when hardly any students looking to find out what to do after high school would end up going to college. College was the “impossible” dream for most students. It was an exclusive institution that meant huge potential gains for the student. Today it’s a little bit different.
College is the default option for students trying to make their after high school plans. Teachers and counselors almost exclusively recommend students go to college. It’s their automatic decision. If they know the student they might consider another option but if they don’t know the student they’ll almost always recommend college.
College is the easy choice. A counselor will never get reprimanded for recommending it. (Imagine a counselor recommending a student just delay college and get a job. Now imagine the screaming parent! Or… imagine the counselor recommending the military… Yikes! There will be some pretty angry parents.)
The reality is that there are countless good options for student’s graduating high school. The real available options vary from student to student. Every person has their own hiccups they need to manage but there are always good alternatives.
A Cautionary Point:
When I told my teachers and friends that I wasn’t planning on going straight to college, everyone said the same thing to me, “you’ll never go back!” Intellectually, I knew they were full of crap.
I’d studied it like crazy and I knew, if I wanted to go back to college, I’d be in a better position to go years after my graduation.
I didn’t have any scholarships pulling me into college. (This was partially before I learned how to boost my grades without working my ass off.)
I knew I’d have to get tons of high interest student loans because I was in the category of not-broke-enough-for-fafsa-but-no-financial support. I figured going back when my parents were off my fafsa would be better. I’d also have more cash saved up to actually pay.
Here is the fundamental problem with my logic. It makes sense and it worked out for me but there is one major caveat.
You can’t be overcommitted.
The reason most students that don’t go to college end up never going to college is because they overcommit to other aspects of their life. They get a kid or a mortgage or a car loan or anything that forces them to have a job.
If you’re considering ever going back to college then don’t overcommit yourself. Play it safe. Pay in cash if you can.
Don’t be stupid!
If you can do that then you will be in a better position than most college students.
Now that we’ve established that. Here are some of your major options:
Yes… I’m going to bring this up first because this is the one almost everyone around you is going to be terrified about after you finish high school.
If you haven’t committed to college then I can almost guarantee your parents have already had the conversation with each other: “What do we do if junior doesn’t go to college or get a job after high school!?”
Once you graduate from high school, if you have the right parents, you can end up doing nothing comfortably for a while. Of course, “do nothing” isn’t exactly what I would recommend.
Get a part time throwaway job and learn how much you hate working at it. (If you like the work then you’ll probably hate the people. If you like the people you’ll probably hate the work.)
Then just try stuff with your free time.
Do you want to travel? You can do that by saving effectively with a part time job. Do you want to try new things? Try em’. Do you want to learn something? Learn the heck out of it.
There is nothing wrong with having a limited plan. You’ve spent over a decade cooped up in a world that’s nothing like the real world. Don’t be scared to step into it slowly.
One of two things will happen:
- You’ll grow into someone more prepared for the real world.
- You’ll coddle yourself into a useless piece of mush. Fortunately, if you coddle yourself into a useless piece of mush I’m willing to bet you’d have done the same thing at college. You just saved yourself thousands in student loans.
Take your time but you need to be willing to push yourself into something you care about eventually.
This is one of the most efficient ways to spend your time after high school.
College is a huge commitment that costs a huge sum of money. There is no way around it.
If you go to college for 4 years to get a degree, it’s almost always the financially wise decision to just work at the job college trained you for. Technical educations tend to be a little cheaper and a whole lot more forgiving.
A technical education can include:
- Community college programs
- Military (but this includes major commitments.)
- Job training programs
- Jobs with low entry and high potential
- “Work training programs” which is job training without the job at the end of the tunnel.
You need to know what you’re getting into with any of these commitments. They tend to be low commitment because, when your time is up, it’s not a complete financial disaster if you forget you ever did it. You may get paid less or nothing (particularly early on) but considering the money you’re saving, it can pay of way faster.
That being said, they’re not “no commitment.” Think hard before signing up.
Learn A Skill
If you don’t go into a technical education then you might consider going even more specific and learning a skill that could help support your future.
Many skills are worth money. They won’t always get you a job but they’re are almost always people willing to pay you when you have the right skill.
I suggest learning a skill that has obvious financial value. It should be a skill that people regularly make money for freelancing. Some of the obvious choices might be: writing, web design, graphic design, sales, and programming. Of course, the more obvious the choice is, the less potential you’re going to have in the job long term.
Try to find a niche skill that hardly anyone understands. There are plenty of skills that sound completely impossible to understand but once you dig in, become surprisingly easy. These are skills that people want to hire a professional for but you could still learn.
Skills aren’t automatic money. You’ll often struggle if you try to turn these skills into a regular 9-5 job but they can be made into freelance careers if you’re disciplined enough.
They’re also pretty awesome backup plans for your future. I could lose my job and still make a good chunk of change freelancing until I find a new one (if I choose to find a new one.)
Work Your Way Around
I have limited experience with this myself but I’ve found it to be a fascinating concept.
If you’re wondering what to do after high school you might want to go straight for a full time job but not for the reason most people do.
Once you have a full time job you have the option to save money.
Saving is the key part to this strategy. Once you have a large savings stacked up it gets interesting.
Just travel. Spend your savings responsibly and travel to every place that your heart desires. Keep this in mind though: the more carefully you spend your money, the more places you’ll get to go.
This experience will teach you more than what 90% of people know about using money responsibly. You’ll know how to save. You’ll know how to spend. You’ll know the difference between wants and needs.
At any point during this trip you can stop and try to earn back some of your savings. When you want to stay someplace for a while, try staying there.
This is actually more practical than most people think. It’s easier when you already have a four year degree because they’ll be english teaching jobs everywhere around the world but it is possible without a college degree at all.
(I’ve personally spent significant time in Central America and Asia. It’s an amazing experience.)
Go Full Time
Then… there is this option.
There are plenty of jobs that are worth going full time into right after high school. If you have the chance at one of these jobs then it can make sense not to rush off to college. The thing is… that isn’t most jobs.
Most jobs that high school students can get are good temporary fixes but you can’t count on them as a long term investment. Your years in fast food will not improve your resume all that much. It’s better to keep it a footnote in relation to your education.
If you’re making minimum wage then the only reason I would recommend working full time is if you’re saving for something important (travel, family, college, investing, etc.)
Do not try to live the traditional life making this much because it’s always going to be an uphill battle.
It would be better to work part time for minimum wage to make the minimum amount of money you need not to starve to death and use that extra time to find a higher paying job.
If you’re making good money and there is some reasonable growth potential then there is nothing wrong with going straight to full time work after high school. Naturally, based on how good that potential is, you may always want to be looking out for better options.
Deciding what to do after high school shouldn’t be an easy decision. It’s tough for a reason. You’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for over a decade. The decisions you make now will make a long term impact on what you’re capable of doing.
If life were a race, graduating high school is the “GO!” Think about it like a marathon though.
Rushing into anything is a silly decision. It’s not about who starts fastest. It’s about who can maintain a good pace throughout the whole race while still having enough to push hard near the end.
Take your time and let yourself make soft commitments for awhile. If you’re motivated enough to be concerned what will happen then I can almost guarantee you’re motivated enough to handle this responsibility.
You will know what to do after high school. It may just take some time.
What are your thoughts on this?
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