What to Do After High School If College Isn't for You

If you don't think college is right for you, don't panic!

With high school graduation comes a whole series of exciting new options. Many students will be headed off to four-year colleges or universities. Some will head into the workforce. Others will travel or volunteer.

And some will feel a little lost. With all those choices, what’s the best thing to do?

If it feels like the pressure is on and you’re scared to make the wrong choice, take a step back. There are many different ways to transition from the world of mandatory school into the world of higher education—whether that education comes in a classroom or in more hands-on settings.

Remember that the whole point of your education post-high school is to narrow your focus. You should find what lights up your eyes and figure out how to study it in greater depth. Then, you should refine your skills and start to shape a picture of what you would like to do in the world.

There is no one right answer. There is only what makes sense for your circumstance, and what will be a good fit for your talents, interests, resources, and desires.

Career Path?

Not all students need college to prepare them for their chosen career paths. I used to work with a very bright high school student I’ll call Devon. By the time he was a senior, he had already logged thousands of hours working in various aspects of his family’s cattle business, from repairing machinery to buying animals at auction. His high school had a career program that allowed him to spend some hours of the school day on the ranch, getting class credit for taking care of business and learning hands-on skills.

Devon was on a career path. He knew exactly where he was going after graduation. He had a job lined up that was steering (ha, ha) him toward a career he was passionate about.

For Devon, attending a traditional four-year college would have been a hindrance, especially since classroom learning was not his optimal learning modality—he was very kinesthetic and learned best by doing. Devon’s situation, though, is not the norm. He had several advantages that allowed him to bypass college:

  • He was mature and focused
  • He was positive about the career he wanted to enter
  • He already had years of experience in many different aspects of his chosen field and he had developed and demonstrated his skill
  • The business he was going to work for was owned by his family and his job was guaranteed
  • His father was willing to teach him and be patient as Devon continued to learn
  • His parents were on-board with him continuing to live at home

Internship?

Not every family has a built-in apprentice program. But if you already have a lot of quality experience in the field you want to enter, you might thrive in a structured internship. You don't want to end up getting coffee and picking up dry cleaning, so look for an internship program that will provide you with valuable training in exchange for your time and effort. You might start at Uncollege, where students complete intensive internships as part of a guided program of study.

Before considering jumping directly into a career, you need to ask yourself some important questions:

  • Are you going into a field where you can advance without a college degree?
  • Are you happy with the kind of living can you expect to make in this career?
  • Are you really passionate about this field? Can you imagine it being your life’s work?
  • What further advantages would you gain from attending college? Would you gain an edge and have more opportunities in your chosen career?
  • What kind of degree or certification program do the top earners in this field have?
  • Do you have a job(s) lined up right after graduation?

Certification Program or Technical School?

When you hear “technical school”, if you think “back-up plan” or “VCR repair” it’s time to get to know the new breed of "tech" schools out there.

The whole point of a technical school is that it has a narrow focus on a set of practical skills that you can apply right away to a career. And maybe it used to mean that you were going to have limited career options, due to that whole narrow focus bit. But not anymore. In places like Silicon Valley, any major player in the tech industry will expect applicants to have not only know-how but also on-the-ground experience and the portfolio to back it up.

In a landscape that changes as quickly as tech does, four years may be too long to spend getting your education: by the time you earn your degree, your skills could be obsolete!

Check out the options for certification programs designed specifically for software design and engineering: 

Choose what's right for you!

While bypassing college and jumping straight into work experience or career-specific training sounds thrilling and very "real-world," it's important to take your time with this decision.

One of the pieces you'll be missing out on is the opportunity to discover your strengths and find your passions. If you are unsure of what you love and what you want to make your life's work, these options could make you feel limited.

But if you've always loved a certain field "in theory" but never had a chance to work in it, an internship could be a good way to find out whether it is worth pursuing.

Maybe you don't see yourself in any of these options. Maybe you're ready to jump into volunteer work or service. Or maybe you know that college is right for you, but you want to be smart about which kind of school will give you what you need.