Finding the Right Option

By Eric Kalenze on September 15, 2013
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The life that awaits you after high school is a lot like a shopping mall. It’s divided into distinct wings, and the concourses feature many different choices. Each storefront offers different products and appeals to different price ranges, leaving it to individuals to make the best decisions about whether to enter (and spend money, of course) or not. When you’re at the mall, you choose to buy from certain stores because they have the products you’re seeking at prices that work for you. So, just like at the mall, keep these simple rules in mind.

  • Know what you want. At the very least, you should make decisions about your life after high school with a general, in-the-neighborhood idea of what interests you and what your long-term career goals are. And the best time to work through these questions is in your early high school years. If you wait until your senior year (which should be spent finding the best possible place for your interests and your talents), you could run out of time to squeeze it all in. (TIP: If you haven’t figured this out yet, do not move on to #2. It’ll save you a lot of time, money, and heartache later.)
  • Know your financial limits. Just like at the mall, where you can buy pretty much anything you want, even from the stores with the hyper-expensive designer brands, most colleges can come up with ways to help you pay their price tags with a mix of grant, loan, and work-study moneys. So think hard while “shopping” your options.
  • Compare, compare, compare. Once you know for sure (or have a pretty good idea at least) who you are, what you’re looking for, and what you’re willing to spend, take the time to find the best deal for you. Just like at the mall, where you compare prices and products over several stores to get just the right item for the right money, so should you look carefully at that next step after high school.


1- Four-year private 

What’s inside - Most four-year private institutions offer Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degrees in the liberal arts, meaning that students receive a well-rounded course of study in addition to their chosen major area. Though pre-professional training majors (like pre-law, pre-med, etc.) are offered at these kinds of colleges, students must usually move on to a larger university to obtain their professional degrees.

Price range (averages from College Board, see note): average $26,273 annually

Notable Advantages - Smaller, so classes are more intimate and campus life has distinct “community” feel; many colleges with religious affiliations fall under this category, so a big plus for students with strong faith backgrounds.


2 Four-year public 

What’s Inside - Choices, choices, choices! Larger public institutions are most times classified as universities, which means that they offer several separate colleges of specialty, not simply academic departments. Plus, they usually graduate programs where you can complete your graduate studies built right on top if admitted. Though some find the size of public universities scary (enrollments can easily be in the dozens of thousands), others thrive on all the independence they allow.

Price range - average $7,020 annually

Notable Advantages - If you’ve always watched big-time college athletics and wanted to experience that atmosphere, you’ll find it at large universities; Greek life (fraternities and sororities) also plays a big part in the student culture of these institutions.

3- Two-year community college 

What’s inside - It’s actually tough to fit the wide range of study options available at community colleges in this space. Whether you’re looking for a price-friendly way to lay foundation credits toward a four-year education, brush up on some academic areas you’ve struggled with in order to improve your college applications, or take a look at some professional fields in ways usually not offered by four-year institutions, community colleges might just have what you’re looking for. If you’re not just looking for a stepping stone, though, community colleges have stand-alone degrees available at the Associate’s (AA) level.

Price range - average $2,544 annually

Notable Advantages - As they’re deeply familiar with students who are still searching for their best paths, community colleges often feature top-notch career counseling services; typical contacts to local businesses (who lend financial, technological, and knowledge support) can provide great networks for later job placement.


4- Two-year vocational, professional, technical training college 

What’s inside - Usually two years in length, professional training institutions offer focused degrees in areas that can send students straight into the workforce without all the surrounding liberal-arts coursework. Certificates earned through such institutions are typically awarded in one specialty area, like Information Technology, cosmetology, or automobile repair.

Price range - varies greatly by program, higher-tech programs can cost several thousand to complete, while ones relying on less technological resources can cost in the hundreds of dollars.


Notable Advantages - Students can concentrate solely on becoming skilled in their preferred career interest; once certified, students have qualifications to go straight into job market.


What’s Inside - Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs (ROTC) have been offered by the U.S. Military in conjunction with U.S. colleges and universities for nearly 150 years. At the same time you’re earning your college degree, you’re completing a program that will qualify you as a U.S. Military officer upon graduation. And, as the military picks up a large part, or all, in some cases, of your college tab, it’s great for your post-collegiate debt load. You’re then assured a job in the military after graduation.

Price Range - No financial cost to participants, but must exchange terms of military service for participation.


Notable Advantages - College tuition partially or entirely paid for in exchange for terms of military service; excellent opportunity to build leadership skills and discipline while also earning college-level academic credentials.



As each branch of the U.S. Military has unique features that make them more appealing over one another in the eyes of interested individuals, we won’t spend all kinds of time here discussing what’s offered in each branch. Rather, we’ll focus on the levels of enlistment available and discuss each. (For more information on individual military branches, see a general site like as a starting point. For more information on careers available through the military, see

6- Reserve Forces

What’s inside - A way to serve your country through the military and take advantage of its great educational and career-skills-building benefits without being a full-time enlisted soldier. Several categories to choose from, from the National Guard (which can give support during national and state emergencies like natural disasters) to military reserve units (which can be called into active duty and/or provide special forces backup).

Price range - No cost. Enlistees earn pay and benefits through U.S. government.


Notable Advantages - Access to great career-skills-building training and resources; chance to support communities in need and make a real difference; several branch options available to find best fit.

7- Active Duty 

What’s inside - This is full-time duty in active military service of the United States in any one of its branches. This option involves a period of basic training, then being stationed as needed at U.S. or overseas military bases. For your service, you draw a salary and benefits from the U.S. government. Great opportunities for advancement through ranks exist here, too, over time.

Price range - No cost. Enlistees earn salary and benefits.


Notable Advantages - Enlisted military personnel have great opportunities to build their career skills, personal career networks, and life experiences; can earn money toward future study through the government’s G.I. Bill.



If you’re too tired of books, due dates and teachers all day long to even consider going to more school and know you’re not the military type, you should make plans about how best to enter the world of work after high school. Though the work you do to start may not be exciting, a good work ethic and dependability will get you up the ladder in time.

8- Entry-level jobs 

What’s Inside - This is called “starting at the bottom”, meaning you’ll be doing the stuff that other employees of the company would simply rather not do; making copies, cleaning up, running errands, etc. Don’t fret, though, as even college degree-holders most times end up in such jobs to begin. Prove how valuable you are each day, though, and ask lots of questions to learn about how that workplace works, and you’ll see results in the forms of promotions and wage increases.

Price Range - No cost. Worker earns wages for time, services.


Notable Advantages - No studying and no pushups involved (unless, say, you take a job in the fitness industry); chances at advancement are built in, but are largely the responsibility of the worker.


9- Apprenticeships 

What’s Inside - Teaming up with an established professional, usually in a trade like carpentry or plumbing, to gain on-the-job knowledge of techniques and practices. Like entry-level positions, you’ll probably have to do some of the “grunt” work. Remember, though, that someday you’ll be able to assign it to an apprentice of your own!

Price Range - None, usually. Look for people who’d like to share their knowledge and take your grunt work in exchange for the teaching. (Many such people will pay you a little something, too.)


Notable Advantages - Teaches important skills, up-close and in-person, not out of a manual; once you complete your apprenticeship, you’ll have a solid, established professional (your mentor) as a contact and reference in your chosen industry.

About the Author

Eric Kalenze

Eric Kalenze

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