Here are some options your high schooler should consider as they think about what to do after graduation:
A four-year university
This is what many people think of when they hear “college,” and sure, it’s a great option for many kids. They'll study in their field of choice (and probably take a lot of interesting but unrelated courses, too). Plus, they'll have a ton of opportunities for extracurriculars, making friends, and gaining work and leadership experience. It’s also expensive, so if a bachelor’s degree is your high schooler’s goal, you’ll want to plan ahead.
A community or "junior" college
These are typically two-year programs that earn students an associate’s degree. They can be great options for students who don’t need a bachelor’s degree to qualify for the kind of work they hope to do. Most students who graduate with an associate’s degree will either join the workforce right away or transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree. (They won’t need to spend all four years taking courses, because they’ll already have credits that they can transfer over.)
A technical or vocational training program
In some fields, like automotive mechanics, computer technology, and medical assisting, there are training programs where students can build the specific skills they need for the kinds of jobs they want in the future. These programs tend to be hands-on and offer work experience while students are learning. Sometimes vocational training programs are standalone programs (varying in length and cost), but they can also be found within community colleges. Wherever they’re found, these can be great options for students who prefer to start earning an income as soon as possible.
An online degree program
Some schools, like Southern New Hampshire University, offer distance learning programs for students who want to fit their studies in around the rest of their lives—for example, while working or taking care of their family. These can be good options for students who aren’t looking to commit full-time to further education. Just make sure the program you sign up for is fully accredited, that you know exactly how much it’ll cost and how you’ll pay for it, and that you have the support you need to balance your studies with the rest of your work (because it can be especially challenging to complete college-level coursework while you’re busy juggling many other responsibilities).
Military service or training
Students interested in military careers have a few choices: They can enlist directly, or they can enroll in a program that will offer both a four-year degree and military instruction. Options include senior military colleges, military service academics, and maritime academies. These programs offer financial aid to students who qualify. Still another possibility is opting for a program like ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), where students attend a four-year university with a scholarship in exchange for committing to military service after graduation.
A "bridge" year
Some students aren’t ready yet to decide what they want to do—and that’s okay! While so-called “gap” years spent traveling or doing an unpaid internship are cost-prohibitive for many students, some newer programs offer a “bridge” year that provides funding and support to help students build college credits, improve their academic standing, and even get work experience before applying to college. These programs aren’t available everywhere, but it’s worth looking into if you have a teen who might benefit.