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Congrats, Grad! …Now What?

APEF: Solving the Financial Illiteracy Crisis

Graduation season is quickly approaching and with it, a host of questions: College? Career? Travel the World? Don't stress too much--multiple paths are available to you after graduating high school. Let’s take a look at a few.


Trade schools specialize in job-specific training that equips you with all of the practical knowledge you need for success in your chosen field. They provide practical education in high-demand fields like construction, healthcare, and cosmetology.


Pros of trade schools:

  • You’re able to develop specific skills needed for high-demand careers in skilled trades or specialized fields. (This means a higher level of certainty that you can quickly find a job once training is completed- and sometimes even before!)

  • Programs typically last one or two years, enabling you to enter the workforce sooner. 

  • Do you appreciate hands-on instruction? Trade schools allow you to develop practical abilities through internships and on-the-job training.

  • Tuition fees may be significantly less than traditional 4-year college programs. 


  • Training can focus exclusively on one trade, limiting flexibility should you decide to change careers in the future..

  • May not qualify for some positions: Certain jobs might require bachelor's degrees for employment.

  • Emphasis is put on developing practical skills as opposed to theory and research. If these are your passions, this might not be the path for you.


Two-year colleges (AKA community colleges) offer access to higher education and diverse academic possibilities at an accessible price.


Pros of Community Colleges:

  • Affordable tuition compared to 4-year universities. 

  • They can offer diverse programs such as associate degrees and certificate programs so you can explore different specialization options before making up your mind on one.

  • Many credits transfer directly to four-year universities should you pursue a bachelor's degree. This means you may be able to complete a bachelor's degree for a fraction of the typical cost.

  • Smaller class sizes mean more personalized attention from instructors.

  • Focus on career preparation: Many programs have strong ties with local employers and offer internship opportunities.


  • Not all offer bachelor's programs- this varies from state to state. 

  • Like trade schools, they may not offer extensive research opportunities. If research is important to you, consider attending a 4-year university instead. 

  • Are you a social butterfly? Compared with larger colleges and universities, social life might be less active at 2-year schools. 


Four-year colleges & Universities allow you to delve deeper into specific fields, culminating in bachelor's degrees. Selective admissions, which vary with each institution, ensure students meet certain academic benchmarks, creating a competitive learning environment.



  • You have more freedom to explore a wide variety of fields and specialize in your chosen area.

  • You may be able to participate in research projects which can give you invaluable experience in case you choose to pursue graduate studies. 

  • You’re able to engage with various clubs, organizations, and events on campus that contribute to a more lively social scene.

  • Highly ranked universities can come with prestige that can benefit your career. 

  • There are typically scholarship and financial aid opportunities to assist with cost. 


  • Tuition and fees tend to be considerably more costly than community colleges or trade schools.

  • Students may receive less individual attention from professors due to large class sizes.

  •  They require a greater time commitment as completion of a bachelor's degree takes four years. 


If a traditional classroom isn’t for you, you still have options! There are many paths to choose from, and not all of them are academic.


Apprenticeships: These programs allow hands-on learners to gain valuable skills alongside experienced professionals while simultaneously earning income. This earn-and-learn model provides you with specialized training for your field of choice - making you highly competitive in the job market while avoiding post-secondary loan debt.


Joining the Workforce Immediately (direct entry): Not everyone needs a formal degree to achieve success; transitioning directly into the workforce may provide more benefits than expected. You’ll be able to earn and gain experience while exploring various career options.


Specialized Colleges: Tackle music, technology, or culinary passions at institutions dedicated to nurturing your talent. Art schools, coding schools, and other programs exist if you know your specific passion and want to pursue it.


Gap Year: Take time off before returning to further education or employment by traveling, volunteering, and exploring personal interests.


Entrepreneurship: Convert your talents and passion into a business and be your own boss! Remember, starting young has its advantages!

Military Service: Strengthen discipline, leadership abilities, and gain invaluable training while serving your nation.


Creative Pursuits: Explore music, writing, or visual arts professionally to hone your skills and build your portfolio.


Remember: there's no "right" decision; instead take into account your interests, abilities, personality traits, financial situation and life goals when making this important choice.


As you look ahead, remember to explore different paths, talk to professionals, and visit schools or workplaces to get firsthand insight. Whatever you choose- be adaptable! Plans might change as life throws unexpected challenges at you - embrace each of them as part of your journey and use those experiences to propel yourself forward! Graduating is just the start of your remarkable adventure. Take hold of all its opportunities, explore your options, and choose the path that speaks to you. Trust yourself; you possess incredible potential that could take you far. No matter the path chosen, amazing things await.

Bonus Tip: Well ok, not exactly a tip...just keep in mind that these are big decisions and they may feel overwhelming. Know that just by considering your options now puts you way ahead of the pack (there are adults still trying to figure what they want to do- trust, I know some of them.) And in case no one has told you today, I'm proud of you! 

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