Wondering what to do after high school? Many seniors transition straight from the halls of high school to the a college campus, this is one of many paths you can take — so don’t grab your shower caddy and head for the dorms just yet. There’s no law that says you have to go to college three months after you graduate from high school.
Considering a non-traditional post-graduation path can give you a better sense of purpose for whatever you decide you want to do in life. You can also defer most college acceptances for a year, so you won’t have to start from scratch when you return. If you’re not convinced though, or have no idea what you’d do with a whole year off, consider some of these alternate post-graduation paths.
Discover 9 things to do after high school that have nothing to do with college.
1. Travel Abroad
Graduation means freedom from classwork, exams, teachers, and extracurricular activities. It can be the opportune time in your life to see the world you have spent so much time learning about in textbooks, and put those foreign languages to use. Take it from Bailey Theado, who deferred her enrollment to university for a well-organized trip of travel and volunteer work.
Bailey’s adventure took her across Nepal, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos and Thailand, and then to Denmark and France. This included a photojournalism internship, a project on the Akha hill tribe, and volunteering in Tibet.
Bailey said she wanted to have a year to find out exactly what she was interested in, and what she liked in order to make sure her four years in college would be worth the tuition. “I think the year after high school is the sweet spot to find out what you’re really passionate about,” she said. Be aware that a decision like this, if done right, isn’t spontaneous. Bailey saved up $7,000 for her trip from two years of working as an archivist, digitizing family albums, and as a part-time nanny in her neighborhood. It also took careful planning, Googling, and scheduling before takeoff.
2. Do Charity Work
While you may have put in some hours after school to volunteer, taking time after high school to really dedicate yourself to a cause is something you should carefully contemplate. Research organizations that are doing important work in the areas you care most about. Spending a significant amount of time fighting for that cause, and being surrounded by professionals in the field can help give you more direction as you think about your future. Interested in helping at-risk youth? Hoping to help more women get access to free healthcare? Want to see what you can do to protect the environment at a local level? With the elections coming up, this may be the time for you to try on your political hat and see if that is an avenue worth exploring. Get involved in your community and see where it takes you.
3. Save Money
College is expensive. Beyond the day-to-day living costs, students find themselves paying off debt for years. Instead of heading straight to school, consider a year of work to save up for this pricey academic adventure. We’re not saying to set your eyes on your dream job, but starting off small will pay off in the near future when you do set out for school.
Hit up your favorite local shops and retail stores to see if they’re hiring or ask around to see if people in your neighborhood need a long-term babysitter or tutor. These kinds of jobs can lead to important personal connections in the future, or a more involved, paid project. You can also search for paid internships that offer openings for students who have deferred college for a year. While it may not be glamorous, this experience could be an important lesson in managing your finances. When you’re done, you’ll be better prepared for college, and not only because you’ll have money in your pocket, but because you’ll be armed with the basic principles of financial responsibility.
4. Concentrate on Your Passion
Are you a talented painter, but school always had you reaching for pens over paint brushes? Always had an eye for photography but never the opportunity to use it? Instead of rushing to college, which will have you equally as bound to your textbooks, consider allowing yourself time for a skill you really want to cultivate.
Enter your email to get Teen Vogue’s newsletter
The summer before starting her BFA program at Elon University, Blaine Morris was contacted about an internship on the writing team of the U.S. version of the poplar U.K. teen drama Skins. After spending time in their writers’ room, she was asked to become a permanent teen consultant. The creator eventually pulled Blaine aside to tell her the part she had given so much feedback about, lesbian cheerleader Tea, was written for her. “I was utterly dumbfounded; this was not part of the life plan. This opportunity created an incredibly tough decision for me to make — start school at a top rated BFA program and follow my life long dream of being on Broadway, or play a character that I loved and helped create, on a TV show with no clear outcome.”
Blaine had spent her entire high school career focused on following the traditional path toward college, but says, “I knew that if I left the opportunity behind, it would be one of my biggest regrets.” Two weeks after moving into Elon, Blaine packed her bags and flew to Toronto to film Skins. She gave up going straight to college for an experience and opportunity she couldn’t refuse, and one she had started to create for herself before graduating. Plus, when her experience on Skins wrapped, she was still able to go to college, and she’s now pursuing producing, writing, and directing classes at Columbia University in New York.
5. Go After a Fellowship
If you are confident you have a great idea, see if there are other people out there who agree. While it’s still smart to keep your sights set on college, seek out fellowships that may offer an alternative route. These are competitive, but that’s how you know if someone is willing to invest in you and your idea. The time after graduation may be the moment to take off with your vision — and with the support of a fellowship, you will have the financial backup, and often the mentorship, necessary to succeed.
“The fellowship gave me the financial and social capital to develop myself and my ideas in a setting like Silicon Valley and New York City, where optimists are celebrated,” says John Marbach, a 2011 Thiel Fellowship recipient. “I feel that taking time to vigorously pursue my interests outside of school was one of the best decisions I ever made. I learned a lot about the dedication and exceptional skill required to build amazing software products, but I learned even more about myself, my relationships, and the way I want to impact the world.”
6. Become an Online Entrepreneur
Getting a fellowship isn’t the only path to entrepreneurial success. You can bootstrap your own business, and there are limitless online business opportunities. Have a knack for fashion and marketing? Consider starting an online store with Shopify, or creating an eBay empire.
Are you artistic or crafty? You can make your own wares and sell them on Etsy. Are you an amazing writer with a lot of opinions? You could start a blog and monetize it with ads. Or, you could start a YouTube channel to showcase any passion you have — who says you can’t be the next big YouTube star?
7. Intern with Projects Abroad
Projects Abroad is an offshoot of the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps isn’t an option for high school graduates, given that their programs require a bachelor’s degree. With Projects Abroad, however, anyone age 16 or over can join.
Projects Abroad offers short-term internships in countries around the world. You’ll be able to get hands-on experience in fields including business, international development, journalism, law, human rights, medicine, healthcare, microfinance, social work, veterinary medicine and animal care. By participating in an internship like this, you might learn more about the college and career path you eventually want to take.
8. Join the Military
Joining the military is another option for what to do after high school. You’ll gain valuable experience during your years in service and enter the work force with plenty of real world accomplishments to add to your resume. Joining the military, of course, is a major commitment: you’ll serve a minimum of five to eight years, no matter which branch you choose. If military service is something you’re interested in, take the time to research each of the branches thoroughly and find out which is right for you. As an added bonus, if you do decide you want to eventually go the college route, the military offers sizable scholarships and tuition assistance.
9. Learn a Trade
College isn’t the only place to further your education. Trade and vocational schools offer a unique opportunity to learn a valuable trade — for a fraction of the price in significantly less time. At the end of your program, you’ll earn a certificate of completion and you’ll be ready to get a career in your chosen field. This can be a substitute for college, or it can also be a way to get a better paying job while attending college after trade school. There are dozens of fields of study in fields including: graphic design, bridal consulting, cosmetology, surgical technology, personal training, massage therapy, dental hygiene, video game design and much more.
By Amanda Randone and Kristi Kellogg