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Ohio Life

Deciding What to Do After High School

The journey begins with a single step forward and a flexible plan that allows you to explore, experience and learn about what comes next.

The decision as to “what’s next” after high school can feel like a complicated map of roadways without directions. Planning for postsecondary education is a daunting process for many students and families, and every journey is different. 

“There are lots of paths to choose,” emphasizes Dr. Cheryl Rice, vice chancellor, higher education workforce alignment at the Ohio Department of Higher Education. “I always say, the next step is what matters. It’s important to have a next step to keep you on a journey of learning, and it’s OK if it turns left or right. Just have that next step.”

Students routinely have a lot of questions. How will I pay for my education? Is a four-year college, community college, career/technical program or hands-on certificate right for me? The key is to begin the process as early as possible but also realize that it is never too late to plan for education beyond high school. Be sure to ask plenty of questions along the way.

“I remember as a first-generation college student, I didn’t want to appear like I didn’t know what was going on,” says Becky Harr, director of College Credit Plus, the state’s dual-enrollment program that lets students in grades 7 through 12 earn college and high school credits at the same time. “I tell my students, I went to college not knowing what the word ‘registrar’ meant. There is a lingo and language in higher education that was not familiar to me at all.” 

Take One Step at a Time

“A four-year education is not for everyone,” says Rice, adding that students should first consider their interests and strengths. What in-demand jobs are available in the market, and how might that impact your decision about education? For example, if technology is your strong suit, knowing that cybersecurity is a hot field with thousands of job openings in Ohio alone could help you narrow your educational focus. 

Also, consider what you want to achieve in a postsecondary program.

“Do you want a technical career where you can go to work, or do you want to go off to college to explore options?” Rice asks, adding that community colleges offer a way to test the waters and about 75% of students attending them live at home. “That way they can save for next steps, and if you are undecided on your pathway, it’s a great place to explore because you could start in a business track and end up in information technology, science or health care.”

Technical programs and hands-on certificates can help you get into the workforce more quickly.

“The four-year option can always come later,” Rice adds. “When you are choosing an educational-training pathway, it just means, what are you going to do next?”

Test the Waters … for Free 

From health-care courses to general education classes like advanced English and math, College Credit Plus lets students explore subjects while earning college credits in high school — for free. Participating community colleges and universities across Ohio offer these courses. Because some high school teachers are also adjunct professors, students can often pursue these credits at their high school.

“We often answer questions like, ‘Do these courses transfer?’ because parents want to know if it will save a student money, and typically the answer is, ‘yes.’ ” Harr explains. “If it’s an Ohio public institution that is participating, because we have such a large transfer network, most courses will transfer.”

High schools also offer Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests that can translate to college credits. Both types of courses require obtaining a certain score on exams. College Credit Plus is different because students are taking college courses and earning credits.

Students in grades 7 to 12 can take College Credit Plus courses while also fulfilling high school graduation requirements. Some students have completed an associate degree and can move on to pursuing a four-year education after high school or go directly into the workforce.

“Take advantage of opportunities,” Harr says. “Whether it’s a tech credit or College Credit Plus — anything that is an articulated credit gives you a head start on your postsecondary education.”

Access Money for College

Every student should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (referred to as the FAFSA), which unlocks federal, state and institutional grants and scholarships. Because funds are distributed on a first come, first served basis, the sooner you complete it, the better. Organizations like the Ohio Association of State and Financial Aid Administrators and the Ohio Department of Higher Education offer no-cost FAFSA workshops for students and parents. The application and guidance can be found at (The application opens Oct. 1, 2022, and closes June 30, 2024, for the 2023-2024 school year.)

“Even for students who are unclear about whether they will pursue a four-year degree or technical program, they should still complete the FAFSA,” says Tamika Braswell, director of financial aid at the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

Also seek out scholarship and grant opportunities through local organizations and community groups. Stay organized by keeping a list of scholarships and deadlines.

“If the student or parent is in a club, see if there are scholarships available. A parent’s job might offer tuition assistance for their dependents,” Braswell advises. “Look at those options early on.”

Put Yourself Out There 

Harr says during her own college search, she initially thought she wanted to go to a large university in an urban center. She had her sights set on The Ohio State University and envisioned what she thought the experience would be like.

“I had the scores and GPA to be accepted, yet when I visited campus, I realized that a large campus was not the place for me,” she says. “Had I not been able to visit OSU’s campus as a high school junior, I do not know if I would have made an informed decision.”

Harr ended up staying closer to home, earning her degree at Shawnee State University.

“It’s so important that a student ‘see themselves’ on that college campus,” she says. “Many of my former students were able to make informed decisions because they stepped on various campuses for tours and presentations.”

Talk to guidance counselors about campus visits and attend college and career fairs. Even if a college fair is geared toward juniors and seniors, Harr says freshmen and sophomores shouldn’t be bashful about taking 10 minutes from their lunch period to talk to representatives from the schools. 

“Take advantage of career advisers and counselors,” Harr adds. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.” 

This story ran in the Winter-Spring 2023 issue of College 101.