Deciding on the next step: It’s all about the right fit

What’s next for me? 

It’s the question that keeps high school seniors up at night as they approach graduation. Sure, there’s the straight and narrow path of pursuing a four-year degree, but there are other quality options out there if that doesn’t seem right. From national service to the military to technical school, there are more opportunities than ever for young people transitioning from high school to the real world. What’s important is finding the right fit. 

Four-year college or university 

Nearly 14 million students enroll in four-year institutions every year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). It’s the required first step in becoming a teacher, physician, lawyer, engineer, accountant and a large variety of professional fields. If you choose four-year college, Louisiana institutions like Louisiana State University, Southern University and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette offer affordable tuition to in-state residents. But there are countless other colleges and universities across the country that offer merit aid to exemplary students, and depending on family income, need-based financial aid. 

Community or technical college 

Two-year degrees and professional certifications are a winning option for a growing number of students. Six million students enroll in two-year community college programs nationwide, which are designed to dovetail with available jobs in the community. Baton Rouge Community College offers excellent programs that prepare students for regional careers in allied health, process technology, the film industry, automotive and aviation technology, welding, HVAC maintenance, the culinary arts and more.

National service 

National service programs across Louisiana and the U.S. give young people an opportunity to work with children, improve national parks, address hunger, community health and more.  Participants can enroll with a high school degree. They complete a year or two of service in exchange for a living stipend and an education award that can be used for tuition or student loans. Baton Rouge-based programs, which include Serve Louisiana and City Year, provide gratifying experiences that help build leadership skills and social awareness. They are also seen as positive resumé builders by both employers and college admissions officers.

The military  

The United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard all offer opportunities for high school graduates to enlist. The U.S. Armed Forces can be the perfect opportunity for a young person looking for exposure to new skills, discipline, travel and the chance to serve. The branches of the military also offer Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs at thousands of colleges across the country, which enable students to earn scholarship funds in exchange for a military service commitment after college graduation. 

The workforce

For a variety of reasons, some graduating seniors find that going straight to work is the best fit for now. Perhaps they’re burned out on school, or truly can’t afford another option. For these individuals, it’s important to look for opportunities that will not only provide a paycheck but will yield personal growth and advancement. Look for jobs that provide the flexibility to take classes, or that will invest in your skills with additional training.  

— MAGGIE HEYN RICHARDSON

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