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  • Stephanie Haynes

Do you know ALL the post-high school options available to your teen?

Most of us believe that getting a 4-year degree right after high school is the best pathway to success for all teens. That isn’t true and that conformist thinking is limiting the true success ALL teens can have.



In my latest post I shared three of my top four ways to equip teens to build a successful future for themselves on their own terms. That foundation is essential in understanding how to effectively navigate post-graduation planning.


But, if we do not understand the benefits and drawbacks of ALL the options available to teens we run the risk of trying to make them fit a mold that isn’t suitable for them. We all want our teens to build successful futures and happy lives. Since all our teens are different, with varying strengths, abilities, and talents, it stands to reason that their post-graduation pathways to success should be as unique as each of them.


Our culture has done a brilliant job convincing all of us that the 4-year college is the best option and at stigmatizing all the other options. Ask any teen how they feel about going to a community college or trades training program instead of a university after high school and most of them will indicate it feels “second-best” to the 4-year college option.


This is a shame because all careers are valuable to the success of our country, which also means that all options have equal value. Stakeholders can free teens from this limiting mindset by helping them learn how each option can help them achieve their dream of a successful life.


I have detailed these options at length in my book, College Is Not Mandatory: A Parent’s Guide to Navigating All the Options Available to Our Kids After High School, and several blog posts, which I will link to below, but as an overview, today I am sharing my fourth way to help every teen develop a successful post-graduation plan: Help teens learn about all the post-graduation options available to them. (All heading titles are linked to previous blog posts I have written about that option.)


4-Year College:

  • Degrees Offered: Bachelor’s (Science and Arts), Master’s, PhD.

  • Costs: Vary greatly depending on type, location, size, length of time, financial aid, and scholarships. Check this resource for current averages by type

  • Timeline: between 4-6 years for an undergraduate degree. More for advanced degrees (varies). Some students can qualify for Dual Enrollment courses (taking college courses that also count for high school credit) or Advanced Placement credits, as early as sophomore year of high school which may reduce the amount of time needed to achieve a degree or certification.

  • Financial Aid and Scholarships: Available.

  • Athletics: Available. Sports supported varies.

  • Career Outlook: Check specific institutions for their job placement rate. However, results vary widely from unemployable to high-level white collar, depending on the growth rate of the industry they are interested in. Blue collar job training is typically not supported by these institutions.

  • Examples of types of careers a 4-year college degree supports: Professional, white-collar level: Registered Nurse, Educator, Graphic Designer, Engineer, etc. as well as advanced degrees for Lawyers, Doctors, and VP/C-suite level in business.


2-Year College (Community and Technical Colleges)

  • Degrees Offered: Associates (Science and Arts) and Skills Certifications.

  • Costs: Vary greatly depending on type, location, size, length of time, financial aid, and scholarships. Check this resource for current averages by type.

  • Timeline: Usually 2 years for a transferable degree. Certifications can occur in as little as 12 months. Some students can qualify for Dual Enrollment courses (taking college courses that also count for high school credit) as early as sophomore year of high school which may reduce the amount of time needed to achieve a degree or certification.

  • Financial Aid and Scholarships: Available.

  • Athletics: Available. Sports supported varies.

  • Career Outlook: Check specific institutions for their job placement rate. However, those who graduate from a Community College are more likely to secure gainful employment soon after graduation as these institutions focus on specific skill development targeted to several industrious, including the trades.

  • Examples of types of careers a Community College degree or certification supports: Professional white- and blue-collar: Dietician, Chef, Graphic Designer (certification), Nurse, Ultrasound Technician, Veterinary Technician, Sound Producer, Construction (management and planning).


Trade Schools and Apprenticeship Programs:

  • Degrees Offered: Skills Certifications.

  • Costs: Vary by institution but ~$33,000 total.

  • Timeline: 18-24 months (does not include potential apprenticeship time). Students can start apprenticeships in high school, usually as early as 16 and so may be eligible for employment as soon as high school graduation. (Note: many apprenticeships still require students to compete their high school courses in addition to working in the apprenticeship and possibly taking college courses)

  • Financial Aid and Scholarships: May be available.

  • Athletics: Not available.

  • Career Outlook: Check specific institutions for their job placement rate. However, those who graduate Trades or Apprenticeship programs are usually immediately hired in gainful employment as these training institutions focus on specific skill development targeted to several growing industries.

  • Examples of types of careers a Trade School or Apprenticeship Program supports: Professional blue-collar: Cosmetologist, Chef, Plumber, Electrician, Cyber-Security, IT, Carpentry, Automotive and Aeronautical Maintenance, Phlebotomist, EMT.


Military

  • Degrees Offered:

  • Military Academies: Bachelor’s, Masters, PhD.

  • Enlisted: Depends on willingness of participant to pursue higher education (Paid for by the GI bill).

  • Special Note: Military training is the most advanced on-the-job training available today. While a specific degree may not be offered, skill development and experience is taken into account for veterans seeking civilian employment.

  • Costs:

  • Service Academies: Varies by institution.

  • Enlisted: Free.

  • Timeline:

  • Service Academies and ROTC programs: Typically 4 years, then a minimum of 4-8 year contracted time in a military branch.

  • Enlisted: Minimum 4 year contract.

  • Financial Aid and Scholarships: Financial Aid: Yes. Tuition for Service Academies and ROTC programs is free with a post-graduation military commitment, though entrance is highly competitive. Check with each individual program for details.

  • Athletics:

  • Service Academies and ROTC: Available. Sports supported varies.

  • Enlisted: Unavailable formally, though intramurals are popular.

  • Career Outlook: Undefinable. Entering the military guarantees an opportunity for a life-long career within the chosen branch. Veterans enjoy a higher job placement rate than non-veterans. If a degree is secured, either in or out of the military, employability rises.

  • Examples of types of careers the Military supports: Any career in the civilian world is prepared for with state-of-the-art training which leads to unmeasurable employment opportunities (yes, there are cosmetologists, veterinarians, plumbers, mechanics, administrators, and even chefs.)


Gap Season:

  • Degrees Offered: Skills Certifications.

  • Costs: Varies by type of program.

  • Timeline: Anywhere from 3 months to a full year.

  • Financial Aid and Scholarships: May be available.

  • Athletics: Not formally, but may be available as part of the experience.

  • Career Outlook: Depends greatly on the type of program and the desired future career.

  • Examples of types of careers a Gap Season experience supports: Varies greatly. Use this sample list of program types to learn more.


Combining Pathways

  • There is no rule that states teens have to choose only one pathway and stick to it. In fact, teens can save money and gain a much more comprehensive perspective of a future career and how they might fit by combining multiple pathways. The pathways of combining options can be as varied as each teen.

  • Here are a few examples:

  • High school Apprenticeship Program + Trade School Program.

  • Community College Associate’s degree or 2 + 2 program ( a program where students have a full 4-year plan with a partner university that partners with the community college. They complete 2 years at a community college (earning an Associate’s degree) then are guaranteed entrance into the partner university program.)

  • Military Enlistment (4 year minimum, free) + 4-year college (paid for).

  • Post-high school summer immersion program (Gap Season) + 4-Year College on ROTC Scholarship + Military Service as a Translator.


Planning for a successful future after high school is complicated. That’s why the teens we know need us to be willing to help them clarify what’s important to them, teach them to identify potential careers based on their interests, and equip them to explore all their options.


For more on this, please check out the other blogs I have written as well as my latest book, College Is Not Mandatory: A Parent’s Guide to Navigating All the Options Available to Our Kids After High School.


Don’t want to do this alone? Check out the custom post-graduation experiences I offer for teens and educators.