What Should You Do After High School?

HS Seniors: Your Guide to Life After High School

This is it, your final year of high school. You feel as if you’ve accomplished a lot over the past few years and are excited about the future. The thing is, you are also a little uncertain about what your future holds or what your life will be like after high school.

Many of your friends might have plans to go to four year colleges and earn bachelor’s degrees. But the high price of a four year program has you feeling nervous, especially as paying for school might involve taking out large loans.

While your last year of high school can be one of uncertainty, it’s also a time to start laying the groundwork for the next chapter in your life. If you’re not fully convinced that a traditional four-year university is for you, it helps to weigh all your options before deciding your next steps.

Think About What You Want to Do

If you haven’t already, your senior year is an ideal time to begin seriously thinking about what you’d like to do with your life. The answer might be obvious to you, or you might need some assistance, in the form of reflective contemplation, career assessments, or a combination of the two.

Although it might seem like a big undertaking to figure out what you want to do, remember that you aren’t committing yourself to a lifetime in any one career. While there aren’t concrete facts or figures to describe how frequently people change careers during their lives[1], rest assured that it is fairly common for people to switch paths or decide that they want to do something new after a few years in one career.

Once you’ve considered your interests and have found a career that seems like a good fit, learn more about the training requirements or expectations for that career. It might be that you need to earn a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, but it could also be the case that you can get started in the field with a career certificate, which you can complete in less time.

Visit Schools

Whether you’re contemplating a gap year or plan on going right to college after high school graduation, it’s a good idea to visit as many schools as you can, either before or during the application process. Some schools require you to visit them before you apply or after applying, to interview with an admissions officer.

Even if a visit isn’t required, checking out a school in person before you decide to go there (or not) is worthwhile. When you see the school up close and in real life, you get a better idea of its environment and atmosphere. You might visit a school you weren’t particularly interested in and realize that it’s the perfect pick for you. On the other hand, you might visit a school that you thought was the “one” and decide that it wasn’t right, after all.

Weigh the Differences Between a 4-Year College and a Career Certificate Program

After figuring out their career interests, one of the biggest questions high school seniors face is: Enroll in a two-year or four-year degree program or jump into a career certificate program. For a while, the assumption was that it was preferable to get a four-year degree rather than a certificate.

But that’s not the case anymore. Between 2014 and 2024, it’s estimated that the number of available jobs that require a post-secondary non-degree award (such as a career certificate) will grow by 11.5%[3]. Job growth for positions that require a bachelor’s degree is expected to be around 8.5%.

In many cases, it’s possible to get started in a career with a certificate, then decide to pursue additional education, such as an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, later on. When deciding which option is worth pursuing at the moment, it helps to look at the overall cost of the program, the type of work you’ll be prepared to do after earning your certificate or degree, the expected salary and the likelihood of finding a job after you finish your program.

Talk to People

Still feeling unsure about what to do next? Talk to people who have gone before you and listen to what they have to say.

Whether you sit down with your high school guidance counselor, one of your favorite teachers, an older sibling, or an older friend, you’re sure to get plenty of good advice and recommendations. If you’re talking to an older sibling or friend, ask them to tell you honestly whether they think they made the right decision or what they wish they had done differently.

Orange Technical College has five campuses across Orange County, offering a variety of career certificate programs, many of which can be completed in one year or less. If you’re a high school senior who is wondering what to do next, schedule a visit to one of our campuses, meet with an admissions counselor, and learn more about how Orange Technical College can help you start your life after high school.


  1. Frequently Asked Questions, Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 12, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/nls/nlsfaqs.htm#anch43
  2. Join Americorps, National Service, https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps
  3. 37 percent of May 2016 employment in occupations typically requiring postsecondary education, Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 28, 2017, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/37-percent-of-may-2016-employment-in-occupations-typically-requiring-postsecondary-education.htm