Exploring Postsecondary Options and Choosing What’s Best for You

Have you ever wondered what to do after high school? If so, you’ll know that sometimes it’s difficult to decide because you don’t know what would be a good fit for you and people keep suggesting different postsecondary options. By the beginning of my senior year, all of my teachers were showing me different paths I could take. Even though it all seemed so interesting to me, I didn’t know which one would be the right one for me. So, what do you do?

Although many people have found success by just going with the safest and most common choice, i.e. going to college, there are a few things you should consider before you decide to go with this option.

Hello there, my name is Enilorac Archeval Rivera (Eni for short). I am a senior at Tilden High School and an intern at Education Systems Center at NIU through a program called Urban Alliance. In this post, I will show you my postsecondary decision, including all the options and the pros and cons of each I had to consider before making my final decision.

Exploring a Gap Year

At the beginning of my senior year, I was thinking about doing a gap year as my postsecondary choice. A gap year is a semester or full year of experiential learning typically taken between high school graduation and college enrollment that is intended to give students a break from academics to discover themselves and consider what kind of education and career they want to pursue. You could join a gap year program or get a job to get experience with what you intend to pursue or just experiment to see what you like. For my gap year, I wanted to join City Year because in my freshman year we had a group from City Year and I really liked how they worked and I thought it would help me with my education career since I want to become a teacher, one of the pros. After some research, I found that their pay wouldn’t meet my financial needs and to join I’d have to be at least 18. I am 17 and won’t be 18 until November. Since the cons outweigh the pros I decided to not pursue this decision and I moved on to my other options.

Exploring a Trades Program

My second choice was joining a trade. There was a fair at my school where different trade program representatives came together to try and get high school students to join or at least consider trade as a postsecondary option. I took interest in a CNA (certified nursing assistant) program, because it seemed like a good opportunity, we’d be done in around six weeks or so, and it was free of charge. I also took interest in the program because, out of all the trades there, this was the only one who accepted individuals 16 years old and over so I would be able to join right after high school. Even though it does have some good pros and it really interested me, I decided not to proceed with it because, as it turned out, the program entry was $1,000 and I wouldn’t be able to come up with that with my financial status, so I moved on to my next choice for what to do after high school.

Exploring College Options

My next choice was going to college. I knew I wanted to do college but was stuck between doing community college for the first two years or just going straight into a four-year. For community college, I chose Harry S. Truman College since it had my major, which is Early Childhood Education. It also seemed affordable since I’d apply for financial aid and the Star Scholarship, which would cover my tuition.

There’s also the option of going to a four-year institution. I was between Northern Illinois University (NIU) and Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) as my choices. In the spring of 2022, I was able to go on a tour of NEIU and I really enjoyed it. The campus was a small campus, not like other colleges, making it easy to get to your classes from wherever you are and the dorms had their own key for each bedroom in a shared unit which gives you a sense of privacy. NEIU also offers scholarships which could help you pay for all of your expenses while you attend their college. Overall, NEIU has a very welcoming aura to it and even the students I spoke to said great things about it. NEIU is also a teacher’s college. Most of my teachers attended NEIU and they have such great stories from their time there. Even though NEIU is such a great school, I chose to not attend because I am not comfortable yet with the commitment to a four-year institution but I’ll still consider it as a possible school I can transfer to after I complete my associate degree at Truman.

There’s also NIU, which I was able to tour at the end of April. NIU is a great school, it has very nice scenery and a welcoming environment, but it is way too big and the buildings are too far apart so it would take you around 10 minutes to travel from building to building if you’re walking. I also didn’t enjoy the dorms because they seem too small for two people to be able to live there and there’s barely any closet space, so it wouldn’t be good for people who have many clothes. NIU does have a bus service which you have access to as a student and it could take you to stores and other places outside of the campus if you don’t have a car. It also has ESports (multiplayer video games played competitively) which, if I remember correctly, counts for college credits as an elective. Since I didn’t enjoy my experience at NIU and I wasn’t ready to commit to NEIU, I decided to just stay with Truman and do the first two years of my degree there and then possibly transfer to a four-year institution. I’ve already registered for classes at Truman as of May 19, 2022 and I’m just waiting for my financial aid package.

My Advice

To all other seniors who are thinking through all their options after high school, here are three things that helped me as I was figured that out:

1. Make a decision that fits within your budget and is in line with your potential future earnings.

If your final decision is college, I suggest you get as many scholarships as you possibly can to take the financial pressure off your shoulders. Also, think of your financial situation and how this decision could impact your finances over time. How long will it take you to pay off your education? What will be your monthly budget with student loans after you graduate? If you end up paying more than you will make in the long run, then this decision may not be the best for you and you should consider something else.

2. Identify your overall goal and make sure your choice is helping you towards that goal.

What helped me become really clear about the option I wanted was the idea I had for what I wanted my future to look like. I want to become a daycare teacher and to make this possible I have to go to college and get my bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. At first, I was thinking of taking a break from school and just working so that I’d have some money saved for college. But I want to be done with my education as soon as I possibly can, so I decided to just work during my free time while working towards my degree.

3. Start early and do your research!

I wish I would’ve known of all the choices possible for after high school since freshman year. Thinking of what to choose when you’re barely a year away from finishing high school can be very stressful and you could regret it later on since it’s a rushed decision. I’m not implying that you’ll definitely regret it nor am I saying that I regret my decision, but start early so that you don’t end up stuck doing something you don’t want to and or wasting time.

Once you’ve considered your personal finances and goals and have done your research, my advice to you is to go with the one you’re most comfortable with overall. If you trust your gut and go with the decision that feels the best for you then you’ll certainly be fine.

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