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    Thinking About College? Consider All the Options First

    Posted February 9, 2024, 2:00 pm by The Experts at TeenLife
    Considering College? Don’t Forget These Other Options

    When my son was a high school senior, he had no idea what he wanted to do after graduation. An average student, he didn't think college was an option. Because he'd participated in Junior ROTC in high school, he opted for the military instead. When he left for boot camp after graduation, he felt confident he'd made the right decision.

    My daughter, on the other hand, knew she wanted to go to college — and where she wanted to go. In August, she left for her freshman year excited about her post-high school path.

    My children each chose a different path — but the right one for them. I’m glad I let them decide for themselves and didn’t push them into a singular direction because it was "expected."

    A Choice for Everyone

    When it's time to have those post-high school conversations with your children, keep an open mind and encourage them to consider all the options available after they earn their high school diploma.

    The military

    The military offers students a strong purpose, discipline, and the opportunity to see more of the world. Enlisted soldiers receive training for a career that's often transferrable to the civilian marketplace. Those who serve also can take advantage of the Montgomery G.I. Bill to pay for their college education once they've fulfilled their military obligation.

    All branches of service offers different skills and opportunities. Another option? Attending a military college and receiving an officer's commission after graduation in the service branch of your choice.

    If your student participated in Junior ROTC, they can also explore colleges with Navy ROTC, Airforce ROTC, and Army ROTC programs.

    Community college

    If your high school student isn't sure what they want to do for a career, consider community college. These schools offer a more cost-effective path for studying the basics and fundamentals — and exploring all the options. Once your student chooses a major, they can complete their associate's degree or transfer to a four-year college and apply their community college credits towards earning a bachelor's degree.

    Tuition at state-funded public community colleges averages under $4,000 a year nationally. Compare that cost to the average tuition at a public college or university, and you can realize considerable savings, especially for someone who isn't quite sure what they want to do "when they grow up."

    Traditional four-year College

    If your student is motivated, focused, and determined to attend a four-year college, you've got some research to do. Some key factors to find the perfect fit include:

    • Academics: Does the college offer a strong program in your student's intended major or area of interest? Is the school's academic reputation and course difficulty align with your student's strengths and goals?
    • Learning environment: Does your student gravitate more toward a large research university with a diverse student body or a smaller liberal arts college with a close-knit community?
    • Cost and financial aid: What are the financial packages offered by the college? Are there scholarships, grants, or work-study opportunities? Look beyond the price tag and consider the college's graduation employment rate and average starting salary for graduates in your student's field.
    • Campus culture: Does the college offer a vibrant social scene? Does it prioritize athletics or Greek life? What environment would best fit your student's personality and interests?

    This process takes time (and patience!), but taking time to explore all the options path can provide your student with an education that leads toward a future career after graduation. The U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard might be a good place to start.

    Technical college or trade school

    While many high school graduates opt to attend a traditional college or university, other graduates may have different career goals, interests, and strengths that would be best served by attending a technical college or trade school.

    These post-high school schools prepare students to enter the workforce with marketable skills once they complete their education. If you're exploring this option, consider the following questions:

    • Does your student enjoy learning by doing? Trade schools and technical colleges emphasize practical skills and offer programs focused on specific trades like mechanics, computer science/information technology, healthcare, and more.
    • Is your student interested in a specific trade or technical field? Research programs offered by different schools to ensure they align with your student's career aspirations.

    Once you've narrowed down your list of possible trade schools and technical colleges, you and your student have a bit more research to do.

    •  Check out the school's accreditation status and reputation of its specific program within the industry.
    • Look at the school's track record of placing graduates in jobs within their field.
    • Research the projected job growth for the specific trade your student is considering to get an idea of long-term value.
    • Investigate the average starting salary and potential career advancement opportunities for graduates in that field.
    • Read the instructor bios. Do they have real-world experience in their field?
    • Compare tuition, fees, and additional costs like equipment, tools, books, or certification testing.
    • Think about the length of the program, which is typically shorter compared to traditional universities, allowing students to enter the workforce sooner. See whether the school or program offers internships or apprenticeships.

    The National Association of Trade Schools offers a valuable resource for finding information on programs nationwide in several areas including building technology, CDL training, diesel technology, electrical technology, and HRVAC.

    Gap year

    The words "gap year" can strike fear into a parent's heart. What if, after taking a break, their student will decide to skip college — or any post-high school education — altogether? While sometimes seen as a delay tactic to college, about 90% of students participating in gap year programs do attend college within a year after the break.

    What's more:

    There are many gap year programs designed for students to work and even study abroad simultaneously. Students have opportunities to:

    • Explore their passions and interests beyond academics.
    • Build valuable life skills like independence, resourcefulness, problem-solving, and time management.
    • Reflect and help solidify their career aspirations before committing to a major or program.
    • Gain exposure to different cultures, broadening their perspective and fostering a global understanding.
    • Make a positive impact on a community and gain valuable cross-cultural experiences.
    • Save money to contribute to college expenses.
    • Earn scholarships that specifically target gap year participants.

    Our latest Gap Year guide offers more information to help explore the many opportunities and begin planning.

    Many Paths... Many Options

    There's no single "right" one-size-fits-all path after high school. The best choice depends on your student's individual interests, goals, and strengths. Whether it's the military, community college or a four-year university, trade school or a gap year, there's something for everyone to find a fulfilling future.

    The key is having open conversations, exploring all possibilities, and supporting your child as they navigate an exciting time in their life.

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    The Experts at TeenLife

    The Experts at TeenLife

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