7 Paths Teens Can Take After High School.

Did you know that there are 7 ways to continue your education after high school? Most people think there are two options: college or nothing.

The 7 options I cover in this article are all ways to continue education. These options don't include going straight away into work. Working is a choice, but I want to focus on the fact that there are 6 other ways of educating yourself after high school besides college.

Before we jump in, there are a few things I want you to know.



Let’s start with the most well-known. This is where a high school graduate goes to earn a bachelor's degree.

How long does it take?

Most people assume it takes 4 years to earn a bachelor's degree, but how common is that? Some do finish in less time, but the majority of undergraduate students take 5-6 years to complete their degrees. 

College vs. University

Many people think the terms University and College are interchangeable, but there are some key differences. Universities offer graduate degrees in addition to undergraduate (bachelor's) degrees. Colleges may or may not offer graduate degrees depending on a few different factors.

Public vs. Private

Public institutions receive some of their funds from the government and will have different tuition pricing based on your residence (in-state vs out-of-state). Private institutions do not receive public funding and do not have price differences based on your residence. Public in-state will be your least expensive option, and private will be your most expensive option. 


Some people think of a gap year as just a year off and wonder why I would include it in a list about continuing education.

Most of the high school graduates who take a gap year are engaging in experiential learning. Most gap year teens are participating in a program where they are doing some kind of service-learning project while also traveling, working, or figuring out what they want to major in.

This brings them a whole new set of skills, experiences, and networking connections that they would not have gotten had they continued directly on to school.

What happens after the gap year?

90% of teens who opt for a gap year go to University afterward with more insights. Most of the ones that don't go to university will go on to some other type of institution. 

Universities love gap year kids. Many will even allow them to defer their enrollment to take a gap year.


Only for low-grade students?

Most of us have heard of community college, but most teens I work with only think of community college as a way for kids with low grades to eventually get into university. That is one way that community college can be used to your benefit, but it’s not the only one.

Let’s talk about that for just a second, though. If you want to go to University but your grades do not qualify you for the university or degree of your choice, you can start at a community college, improve your grades and then transfer. 

A more cost-effective path to a bachelor's degree

Community college is also used as a more cost-effective path to a bachelor's degree. Half of your bachelor's degree will be spent on general education courses. Many people choose to spend their first two years taking general education courses at a community college.

At the end of those two years, you’ll be awarded a general associate's degree and then transfer to a university. When you finish your degree you will have a bachelor's from that university just the same as the people who spent 4 (or more) years there, but your degree costs much less. 

What most people don’t know about community colleges

What most people don’t know about community colleges is that they often also offer career-specific associates degrees. These are similar to a bachelor's degree in that you’ll take gen eds and degree-specific courses, but they don't take as long or cost as much. So make sure to take a look at your local community college to see what kind of career-specific associate degrees they offer. 


In any branch of the military, you will receive top-notch training in a variety of career options. Often this will even come with room and board. And one of the best parts is that if you do want to eventually go to college, your VA benefits will cover a good portion of your college costs. However, one can also have a long career with just a military education without additional schooling.

All three of the remaining options are pure alternatives to college or university and do not include or require a path to college. I’ll start with the more expensive options and end with the least expensive option. 


These programs last typically 9 months to a few years, and upon completion, you earn a diploma or a certificate. The educational environment here is different from college. Often the programs are more structured, and most of the time they are much more hands-on. I have noticed a lot of stigma against working in trades which is unfortunate for multiple reasons. Let’s get into this a little bit.

Aren’t those jobs dirty?

I’ve heard people say, “Aren’t those jobs dirty?” And my answer to that is “So?” Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. And even if they are, so what? If you want to keep squeaky clean while you work then don’t choose this path. But there are plenty of people out there that really don’t mind and that certainly doesn’t mean that they aren't capable.

The biggest argument against trades

The biggest argument against trades that I hear is that in the long run, you will make more in a profession than with a vocation. That’s not necessarily true; it depends on the job and the educational program. And even when it is true, that gap is closing.

There are some professions requiring a degree that have a lower average salary than that of many vocations, so the idea of a degree being a better return on investment is not necessarily true these days.

To get a better sense of your true ROI you’ve got to compare the average salary to the educational costs. Also take a look at how long you are in school, aka how soon you start earning instead of spending. The annual cost of a trade program is far less than a degree and you finish sooner which means you start earning sooner. People say, “well in the long run you’ll make more with a degree.” That was more true in past generations than it is now. With the skyrocketing cost of degrees and the increasing amount of educational debt, this gap is closing.

High demand for these skills

Another reason this gap is closing is that this stigma has put more people on the university path which means there is a large supply making it harder to find a job. The majority of tradesmen right now are baby boomers who are retiring. Jobs are being left vacant, so there is a high demand for people to fill these roles.

Because of that demand and the fact that these jobs are integral to the functioning of our society, there is a lot of job security here. So, if your teen is someone that doesn’t jibe with highly academic learning environments, if they prefer to learn by doing, don’t count this one out. Sit down and crunch the numbers. It might be better than you think.


For some people, the best investment in their future is with a business coach. Yes, you can get a business degree; however, let’s look at the investment for a moment.

A degree will likely cost $100,000 at least. Once the degree is completed, how much money is left over for investing in the business? If there’s enough leftover, then go for it. For some, putting 4-5 figures into a business coach leaves them with much more to invest in the business. And with a business coach, you will get one-on-one guidance specifically for your business/product.

This option is not for most

It is true that most 18 or 19-year-olds out there are not ready to start a business. This option is not for most. However, there are some out there that are ready for it. I’ve met 16-year-olds that have started a little business while still in high school. And don’t forget that hiring a business coach can be a great pairing with other things.

For example, tradesmen, those in real estate, creatives, can earn their diplomas and certificates, then get industry experience. When they are ready to increase their earning potential, they can hire an industry specific-business coach to help them grow. Again, this isn’t right for everyone, but if your teen is showing an inclination that they have a mind for it, then crunch the numbers. It could end up being a better investment.


The final option is an alternative to college that is the best return on your money, and it’s the best return on your money because you don’t have to put any money into it at all. This free educational opportunity is an APPRENTICESHIP.

Biggest ROI

I’ll go ahead and start this one with an example, Elevator Technicians. This apprenticeship program is about 5 years and the average salary for elevator technicians is $79,000. I've seen on the high end this profession earn 6 figures.

Apprenticeship programs do not cost money, and most of the time they pay you to learn. Every program is different, and it can last from several months to a few years. The program could be fully learned as you work, or they may also incorporate some study.

The pay will vary by the program as well. You may start out at 50% salary, or minimum wage, but as you progress through the program your pay will increase. Also, apprenticeships are more available than you may think. So, again, if your teen is a doer and would appreciate a different learning environment, don’t count this one out. You can find programs by visiting https://www.apprenticeship.gov/

So, that covers it. Seven possible ways to continue education and learning after high school. I know I threw a lot of information at you, and I tried to keep it somewhat short as it was already so long, but if you want any more information or have specific questions for you or your teen's situation, please feel free to contact me directly.