What to do After High School – College, Learn a Trade, Get Started

In life there are many options a person can purse to better educate themselves and earn a higher standard of living. Some of the options are more practical than others given life goals, we will touch on several that could help you make your next right step in career and education.


“In your path and your pursuit, ThinkRich” – thinkrichthinkpoor.com

Think Rich mindset focuses on the understanding that there are at all times many options available, even if they are not known at first. The key to achieving anything is to simply get started – with some research and forethought into the future you can make an informed decision about how to move forward. There is no promise that you won’t meet hazards and hurdles, but a ThinkRich mindset will rise to the challenges and let nothing stand in their way. A ThinkRich mindset understands you will have to make yourself valuable by learning skills and acquiring knowledge before you are able to make that six figure salary that so many dream about, but very few want to put the effort and time to earn.


The Think Poor mindset focuses on limitations and assumes their life is already scripted with no options available to change the outcome for the better. It focuses on the negative at each turn and constantly looks at the advantages others have over them, while ignoring the blessings and advantages they have over others. A negative outlook is a self fulfilling prophecy.

Options Ahead of You

Keeping true to the Think Rich mindset, there are an array of options available for a pursuit toward a career or further education. It may be tough at the beginning but it will be to your advantage to think about your long term passions and goals in life while determining your next short term step.

College and Degree Choice

Depending on your career aspirations a college or university degree may be required to attain the desired job. Know that if the decision is made to pursue a degree there are several different options offered.

What is the difference between a College and a University? Sometimes used interchangeably in conversation, there is a difference between a College and a University, a college offers undergraduate education while a university offers both undergraduate and graduate course work. There are a few exceptions, but generally speaking, that is the distinction between the two.

  • Associate Degree: Two-year degree, focuses students on entry-level work skills. An Associate degree is 60 credit hours (about 20 classes) and can be achieved at either a Community College or a Four-Year College/University. This is a great avenue to pursue for those who are unsure if they want to commit 4 years or more to education. The Associate Degree gives options in that there are many career choices after achieving this degree, as well as the option to continue to a Bachelor’s Degree.
    • Three types of Associate Degrees:
      • Associate in Arts (AA)
      • Associate in Science (AS)
      • Associate in Applied Science (AAS)
    • Top 3 high paying jobs that only require an Associate Degree, with Average Annual Salary and Projected jobs through 2022:
      • Air Traffic Controller: Average Annual: $125,000 Projected jobs: 11,000
      • Nuclear Technician: Average Annual: $80,000 Projected Jobs: 7,000
      • Dental hygienist: Average Annual: $70,000 Projected Jobs: 114,000
      • Bachelor Degree: Four-year degree, offered considered the minimum degree to work in many fields. A Bachelor Degree is 120 credit hours (about 40 classes) and degree majors vary greatly, from Bakery Science to Advanced Mathematics. A Bachelor Degree could be the next right step for people knowing what career they want to move into and that have already weighted the financial aspects of pursuing a bachelor degree.
    • Three Types of Bachelor Degrees:
      • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
      • Bachelor of Science (BS)
      • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
    • Top 3 high paying jobs that only require an Bachelor Degree, with Average Annual Salary and Projected jobs through 2022:
      • Corporate Executive: Average Annual: $200,000 Projected jobs: 58,000
      • Architecture Engineer Manager: $140,000 Projected jobs: 60,000
      • Sales Manager: $120,000 Projected jobs: 110,000

Learn a Trade

There are literally millions of jobs out there that do not require a college degree and pay very well compared to recent four-year college graduates. Many of these jobs can be obtained by a year’s worth of trade school or apprenticeship. Trade, or vocational schools are focused on job training programs that get you out in the workforce in a little as a year. Apprenticeships are a little less formal than a trade school and provide on the job training while being paid.

  • Both Trade Schools and Apprenticeships prepare you for a career in:
    • Plumbing
    • Electrical
    • Carpentry
    • Ironwork
    • Landscaping
    • Construction

Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs speaks about the skill gap in the US and “of the 5.6 million jobs that exist, 75% do not require a four-year degree.” Couple that with the mounting costs of college education and the realization that these “blue collar” jobs would be very hard to outsource, makes learning a trade a good option for many people.

There are many certificates or licenses that can be throughout these careers that will help add credibility to your resume. Learning a trade can give you future options as you look to the future; many times, after learning a trade people end up starting their own business.

Start a Business

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 15 million people, 10% of the US population are self-employed. This is one of my favorite topics, for some the thought of running their own business is terrifying and for others, it’s a breath of fresh air.

There are risks to starting your own business, but in this day and age with computers and the internet, it has never been easier. It is no longer a required to have a large sum of money to rent a building, buy inventory, and hire employees to start a business. You can start your own business for less than $100 while sitting on your couch watching sports.

To get inspired, just look at this list of people who started a business without a four-year degree:

  • Steve Jobs
  • Henry Ford
  • Walt Disney
  • Bill Gates
  • Milton Hershey

Join the Military

Joining the military can be a great option for someone who wants to serve their country, get real world experience, great benefits and an early retirement. Joining the military also has options because you can join right after high school or join at a higher rank after obtaining a degree. There are several branches of the military: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corp, and Navy.

Benefits include:

  • Free health care for you and family
  • Low out of pocket living costs
  • Travel the world
  • Tuition reimbursement while in military and GI Bill once service is complete
  • A month of vacation time
  • Early retirement, typically after 20 years of service

From Janitor to CEO

There are many stories out there around people who have started as mail room clerks, warehouse employees, and/or janitors and have climbed their way up into the CEO role. Taking a job right out of high school where you can see yourself working there for a while and possibly moving up the corporate ladder could be a good option. Most companies offer some sort of financial aid if you ever decide to pursue a college degree in the future, so keep that in mind!

Look to Provide Value as Priority

The most important advice I can give to those who are venturing out into the workforce is this:

Nothing is owed to you simply because you have a diploma, degree, or certificate. Nothing is owed to you simply for showing up.

If you want to the best chances of financial success, look for ways to provide value. This can be done in an infinite number of ways, but don’t expect anything if you don’t provide value to others, whether it be your employer or your customers. Be sure that you aren’t just showing up for a paycheck.

Be productive. You can improve your productivity in 2 ways, education and simply experience. The more value you can provide to others the more potential you will have to earn more money.

Get Started!

No matter what you do, a first step must be taken if you want to improve your life and take advantage of the most limited resource on earth, time.

You can follow any number of paths, simply getting a minimum skills job is a path, but no matter what you do, do it with enthusiasm and willingness to learn and progress. Understand that if you want to make more, you have to provide more value. That means acquiring and learning new skills and knowledge that increase your productivity and the value of your work.

No matter the path you take, making the first step is the most important!