Navigating Career Choices After High School

So, you’re about to graduate from high school – congratulations! This is a huge life milestone, and the first of many steps towards your adult life.

Now what?

This is very likely the question that everyone is asking you these days. It’s not an easy question for every teen to answer – not everyone knows by the end of high school what career path they want to follow. In fact, these days, there is less pressure or need to travel along only one path. The trick is to understand the options available to you, and how to access them all.

So, let’s explore what your life might look like after high school, and the jobs and salaries you can expect to find.

Education after high school – investing in your future choices

The good news for about-to-be-grads is that there are nearly limitless possibilities in terms of career choices these days – but most of them require some form of post-secondary education or training after high school.

More than ever, today’s job market demands the advanced degrees and specialized skills that come from higher learning. And university and college graduates earn more money on average than high school grads. A 2016 study from the University of Ottawa’s Education Policy Research Initiative  reported that higher education is linked to higher salaries across the career spectrum. In their study, university and college engineering grads earned the most (an average of $56,400 their first year out in the work world, and $99,600 eight years after graduating). But social science degree holders weren’t far behind, with average earnings of $36,300 immediately after graduation, growing to just under $62,000 eight years later. In comparison, the study notes that a coffee shop barista working full-time straight out of high school would likely earn about $22,000 a year – with little growth over time.

So though it’s likely worth your while to hold onto those backpacks and textbooks for a few years longer, new grads can feel good knowing there is a degree, diploma or specialized training program out there to match just about every interest, goal and talent. Taking some time to really think about what you like, are good at, and how long you want to continue in school will help you narrow down your education and career choices.

RESPs – a flexible education savings tool

Today, post-secondary education can mean university, community college, trade school, vocational school and religious schools. Part-time studies and online correspondence courses are also equally effective ways to get training and education, depending on the job or career you’re after.

You and your parents should be aware that as more post-secondary programs and schools have become available over the years, Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) have changed and have become more flexible.

RESPs are a smart, simple way to proactively save money towards higher education so that when a student is ready to study, the money is there to help pay for it. An RESP can be used for any post-secondary program that qualifies  under the Canadian Income Tax Act, as long as it is three consecutive weeks or more – including all the higher learning options listed above. (If you choose to study outside of Canada, any university program of three consecutive weeks or more is eligible; any other post-secondary program abroad must be 13 consecutive weeks or more.)

With this kind of flexibility and strategic saving, RESPs continue to be a win-win for parents and new grads.

Career options in the modern age

One of the biggest career differences facing new high school grads these days is the awareness and acceptance that people will likely have more than one job or career over their working lifetimes. Likewise, your educational choices to prepare for a diverse work life are growing and changing.

And the workplace itself has evolved: the 21st century career landscape includes many more self-employment and entrepreneurial options than ever before. Statistics Canada reports that in 2014 alone, more than 1.5 million Canadians were self-employed, accounting for 9% of the country’s total employment. How you choose to work is now just as much a part of your career decision making as choosing what you’re going to do. Navigating this type of open-ended possibility requires giving yourself a solid foundation in something you’re interested in.

A university degree is a great way to open up career choices for many young adults, especially if you are considering a specific profession such as engineering, medicine or law. But an undergraduate university degree in any field will also expand your mind, skills, friendships and horizons , while giving you the credentials to apply for many types of jobs, particularly at the management and executive levels. Likewise, universities offer advanced degrees in either Masters or Doctoral programs, where you can continue honing your specialized skills and education in just about anything from science to fine arts to teaching and more.

Colleges, technical institutes, and apprenticeships are your other perfectly viable education paths, offering an equally wide spectrum of programs to choose from. With their applied and practical approach to curriculum, graduates from colleges and technical institutes are richly supported with technology, equipment and hands-on training to be career-ready – usually in less time, and for a lower cost, than with a university degree. Everything from business administration to makeup artistry  to aviation and more is offered at colleges and technical institutes across Canada – and usually with a direct link to employment opportunities in local cities and surrounding regions.

Even better, transferring between college and university these days is more than possible – just like you don’t have to feel pressured to pick one job for life, you can rest assured that changing your mind about your educational path to meet your evolving career goals is equally common and straightforward.

Want more career information and ideas? Visit our Careers 2030 blog  for insight and inspiration.

Work hard, play hard – and bring your best self to both

The short story for navigating your life after high school is that education and work experience are key to well-paying and fulfilling careers. If you take the time to match your natural talents and interests to a post-secondary degree or diploma program, you’ll likely find you have the motivation and ability to succeed at your studies and resulting career pursuits.

Plus, keep in mind that there’s no substitute for a good work ethic and positive attitude when it comes to both your education and career. As you head into your adult life, you’ll find that working hard at school and in your job is easier when you also make time for yourself. A healthy work-life balance will always serve you well, and help you show up at school and work with an energy and attitude that will set you up for success and fulfillment no matter what career path, or paths, you choose to travel.

In other words, enjoy the experience of discovering what you want to be – the journey, as the saying goes, is as important as the destination.

Carmen Kinniburgh

Carmen Kinniburgh is a freelance writer and editor exploring topics and ideas about parenting and families, Canadian science and research, health and medicine, as well as travel and lifestyle. Born and raised in Alberta, Carmen has also lived in Southern Ontario and Manitoba, where she worked in professional communications for a university and a national health charity. Currently living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, she gets all her best ideas and insights for Parentwise from her own three delightfully precocious children.

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