A note from Dr. Evans: I often find myself discussing life plans with my patients. Some teens have no clue what to do after high school, others are set on going to medical school (eventually), some just want to work, and some think they may want to join the military. In this series, I’ve asked guest authors to talk a bit about some of the options available. This is not an all inclusive list at all and if readers have topics they’d like discussed, please add those ideas in the comments.

We’ll start with some general options in the first post, then go on to discuss more details about the different between university, college, and community college in the coming posts of this series.

Guest Author: Emily Winn – University of Washington School of Nursing

Transition after high school – What are our options?

As another school year is about to begin, you may find yourself living with a teen who will soon make the transition from high school to begin their adult life. Whether that means going to a college or university, volunteering, traveling, working full time or attending a technical school, there will undoubtedly be some challenges and surprises during that significant life change.

Even though everyone must make this transition to adulthood eventually, it can help to understand some of the challenges that will probably come up at some point in all the changes. Some common challenges in the post high school transition include:

  • Increasing numbers of high school students expect to go to college, but are not finishing their college degrees. This could mean that many are not prepared well enough for the academic rigor of college.
  • The cost of college is increasing and puts many young adults and their parents into life-long debt if they are not financially prepared.
  • Many students start degrees that do not align with a viable career and end up spending time and money to attend school longer than four or five years. These students may also graduate with a degree and have to find a job in an unrelated field, therefore not using their hard-earned degree.
  • International travel can be a wonderful use of time and offer valuable experiences, however it can cost a lot of money and be unsafe.

It is important to plan carefully and prepare for the next stage of life. For teens, asking questions like, “What do I want my life to look like after high school?” and “What are hobbies and skills that I am good at that can be a career?” can help them think about what they’ll need to do to get ready for the transition. There are lots of tools to help as well, such as the free workbook available at http://ruralinstitute.umt.edu/transition/articles/planningworkbook.pdf. Putting thoughtful preparation into what steps will be needed after high school to achieve career goals, what to will study, what training will be needed or where your teen may want to live will enable them to make choices that allow them success in choosing the life they want as an adult and reduce the risk of wasting time and money.

There are also other tips to help make the transition to college or work life after high school no matter what path is choosen. If your teen is a sophomore or junior in high school, they may be able enroll dual classes in high school that offer college-level rigor and credit to prepare for the level of work that is expected in a university setting. Technical classes can provde entry-level technology and computer skills that most workplaces and colleges require. Search and apply for scholarships and grants to help cover the increasing cost of college. Research safe companies that allow to travel and volunteering at the same time if your teen is interested in spending time internationally.

No matter what your teen chooses, make sure they have a strong network of people who can offer advice, guidance, share experiences, and who can help them through this exciting life transition!


Cline, C and Williams, E. Transitioning out of high school: a quick stats fact sheet. National High School Center. 2007. Accessed at http://www.isbe.state.il.us/spec-ed/pdfs/NHSC_TransitionsOutFactSheet.pdf.