How to Decide What to Do After High School

How to Decide What to Do After High School

Group sitting around table talking

How to Decide What to Do After High School

by Boys & Girls Clubs of America

Navigating the transition from high school begins even before crossing the graduation stage. As teens enter their junior and senior years, they begin to wonder “What’s next?” When young people identify their passions, they are better able to map out what they enjoy doing to the wide array of options after high school.

At Boys & Girls Clubs, kids and teens often get a head-start on thinking about careers, college and other post-high school opportunities. Club members explore interests along with potential careers and postsecondary education such as college or trade school that could be a good fit for their future. Every day, caring mentors guide Club members as they identify aspirations, create a post-secondary plan and take steps like completing financial aid applications.

Workforce readiness at Boys & Girls Clubs supports kids and teens in thinking big about what’s next. In fact, more than two-thirds of 12th grade Club members expect to attend a 4-year college, compared to 48% of their peers nationally.

Whether you’re a Club member or not, there are lots of ways to explore what’s next after high school – from exploring what’s important to you to deciding on next steps to achieve your goals and dreams. Young people who report working tirelessly to achieve their goals are more likely to have excellent financial health, according to a national study of young adults ages 18-35 conducted by Navient and Ipsos.


What should I do with my life after high school?

There are many ways to find success after high school — but where, how and at what cost? When thinking about college and career, it’s important to start by identifying your interests and how you can realistically live out your interests and passions.

Parents, friends, and mentors can be valuable conversation partners to point out a young person’s special talents, activities that energize them and where they most often succeed. Ask someone in your life, “What do you see me getting excited about? What are my strengths?”

Self-examination is another important step to identify passions. High school students can answer these questions (and others) to find their passion and start matching it to a great future.


  • If I could teach people about one thing, it would be…
  • I don’t mind waking up early if it’s so that I can…
  • If I won first place in something, it would be for…
  • My friends always ask my advice about…
  • If money or school didn’t matter, I would spend my time…
  • I feel most alive and happy when I am…
  • I lose track of time whenever I am…


Let these conversations and answers help you identify the interests you care most about, and then start researching jobs and opportunities related to those interests.


Should I go to college? How do I pick a college?

Deciding on the right education pathway can be aided by creating a pros and cons list. You can create a pros and cons list by doing research on a particular career that may be of interest and exploring how to gain those skills to reach that career.

Many careers require a degree, so doing research is important on your potential career choice to further understand their employability skills and requirements. Select the education option that gives you the degree or training for the career you are most interested in right now. It’s also helpful to select a secondary option that could work for you. U.S. military colleges are generally four-year institutions and are a great option to consider.

Are you unsure of careers you’re interested in but know that you want to pursue a degree? Consider your passions and explore college options that have programs and degrees aligned with your interests. Many of these programs provide lists of the types of careers graduates of the program go into, which will help you decide if those programs make sense for you.

Consider taking a tour of the colleges you are interested in or virtual campus tours and envisioning yourself there. You can also speak with an admissions counselor or school representative during a tour or college fair. Consider your budget, scholarships, and application criteria to help narrow down selections.

Resist falling in love with just one school. It’s important to keep your options open until you know what kind of financial aid you might receive and get a realistic picture of your total out-of-pocket costs to earn your desired degree.


If I’m not pursuing college, what should I do?

In addition to a four-year university, there are numerous ways to continue your education after high school. Community college, trade, or vocational school—whether in-person or online –offer a wide selection of degrees, courses, and trainings in specific fields.

Some companies offer apprenticeships or on-the-job training programs to attract people for certain careers. Getting an entry-level job is another option that provides more time to develop practical skills while building a personal career development plan. Others might consider enlisting in the military.

Some people find benefit in taking a gap year to work, travel or consider next steps in their education.


How to figure out your future career

The good news is no one expects you to know your career when you’re a teenager—and your career can evolve over your working life. This is the time to explore, discover and wonder about the possibilities.

To figure out careers that might interest you, continue exploring career options that match with your passion and interests. Remember to think outside the box. Love sports? There are many careers in the sports industry beyond becoming a professional athlete. Love writing but aren’t sure you can make a living as a novelist? Know that there are diverse jobs that apply writing skills across all industries.

There are lots of online tools that support career exploration. In addition to in-person guidance and mentorship, Boys & Girls Clubs members can access Roadmap to Careers, an online career interest assessment and video library that illustrates how people got started in various industries.

The Minnesota Career Fields, Clusters and Pathways chart is another tool that organizes industries and job types, some of which may not have crossed your mind before or you may not have heard of. If you select your top career choices, then you can search for firsthand experiences like talking with a professional in the field or working an internship.

With many exciting possibilities for life after high school, remember the starting point is to identify your passion. You will be on your way to a great future.

Since 2021, Navient has partnered with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to launch a new career explorations tool, Roadmap to Careers, and develop six interactive digital resources on how to pay for college as part of the Diplomas to Degrees curriculum.