Post-High School Planning for Graduates Who are Not College-Bound

By Heather Robertson

A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighting a high school honors student who did not want to attend college proposed that, after decades of declining vocational education enrollment, high-schools are beginning to “re-emphasize vocational education, rebranded as career and technical education” (Belkin, 2018, para. 11). Concern for mounting college debt is one reason cited for students choosing to not attend college. Yet there are other factors that influence decisions to not attend college, including financial (e.g. insufficient aid), academic (e.g. poor preparation), social (e.g. no desire to continue schooling), cultural (e.g. family expectations of working), and others. However with all of the focus on college preparation in high schools, students who are not college-bound may go unnoticed. In New York State, an average of 80% of graduates go on to 2-year or 4-year colleges (NYSDOE, 2018), leaving 20% of graduates with “other” plans. While many schools promote the military as a post-graduate option, in New York State, only 1-2% of graduates elect to join the military. How are schools preparing the remaining graduates for the world of work? While most school counselors would agree that this population warrants attention, they may lack the time, resources, and strategies to offer it.


Presenting and Promoting Non-College Options
School counselors have shared that encouraging anything other than college may be considered “taboo” for some administrators. However with data to support the need, counselors are more likely to garner administration support. It’s recommended that counselors begin by examining the data for their school and determining the percentage of students not attending college post-graduation. It may also help if counselors obtain the data on first-year college completion rates for their school, as many students return home within their first year, and do not persist in college.

It’s important that students, parents, and administrators be educated about all options. Post graduate options may include employment, apprenticeship programs, technical/trade schools, military, service year programs, and gap year programs. For example, counselors may use the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH, n.d.) to search for careers with the greatest number of new jobs that are expected to grow the fastest from 2016-2026. This will yield a list of 18 jobs. Eight of those jobs (44%) require a high school diploma or less. Counselors may need to explain to students and parents that while some of these jobs may pay less, they are stable, growing occupations in high demand. Some of these jobs, such as plumbers and pipefitters, require an apprenticeship and pay quite well. Others like medical secretaries, require on-the-job training, and yield good salaries.

Apprenticeships are an under-promoted opportunity for students. According to the Department of Labor, an apprenticeship “is an arrangement that includes a paid-work component and an educational or instructional component, wherein an individual obtains workplace-relevant knowledge and skills” (n.d., para. 1). In many states, union apprenticeships are posted publicly. Counselors can partner with other schools to offer an “apprenticeship fair” focusing on these careers. Similarly, counselors could conduct a job fair focused on the fastest growing jobs in their region. Counselors can use data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, n.d.) to learn which occupations and industries are growing in their region, educate students, parents, and administrators, and create events that focus on growing employment trends. Much like college presentations and college visits, consider inviting area employers to present at the school, or host a visit at their job site to explain jobs and hiring processes. Create timelines for students, much like the college application timeline, for students considering non-college options. Provide resources on service year programs, such as AmeriCorps and Job Corps, and provide opportunities for students to learn about these options.

Much of the work required to prepare students for the career search, including career inventories, job seeking skills, resume writing, interviewing, and networking, is already integrated into the curriculum, presented concurrently to students planning to attend college. The new objective is to present other post-graduation options early and often for students. In newsletters, websites, bulletin boards, announcements, and other publications, employment and other information could be presented alongside college options.


Partnering to Create Buy-in for Other Options
School counselors have increasing demands, and adding services pertaining to career planning may appear unattainable. Counselors are encouraged to partner with teachers, area business, local universities, and alumni to support these career programs. Teachers may be able to supplement their courses with work-related content, such as understanding benefits, insurance, and financial readiness, which would benefit all students. There are many industries and employers, including banks and insurance companies, who would be willing to provide a lesson on these concepts. Many businesses have a community or philanthropic mission and would welcome opportunities to collaborate with local schools. Consider asking the local Chamber of Commerce leaders to present ideas on career readiness for students. Utilize graduates from high school who have been successful without college to participate in a panel, workshop, or mentoring program. Additionally, many universities have a mission to serve the surrounding community, and would be willing to explore partnerships for career planning.


Looking to the Future
It’s important to remind students, parents, and administrators that college is still an option – if the student desires – at a later date. Not attending college immediately after graduation may allow time for a student to gain a clearer direction when attending college in the future. The graduate who chooses productive work or other meaningful experiences post-graduation is likely to have a more interesting and meaningful college admissions essay, if and when that time comes.



Belkin, D. (2018, March 5). Why an honors student wants to skip college and go to trade school. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/college-or-trade-school-its-a-tough-call-for-many-teens-1520245800?mod=e2fb

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d). State and metro area employment, hours and earnings. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/sae/

New York State Department of Education. (2018). New York State Education at a Glance: New York State School Report Card Data [2016 – 2017]. Retrieved from https://data.nysed.gov/

Occupational Outlook Handbook (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/

U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). Frequently asked questions about the apprenticeship program. Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/featured/apprenticeship/faqs


Heather RobertsonDr. Heather Robertson is an Associate Professor of Counselor Education at St. John’s University, teaching graduate students in School Counseling and Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is the program coordinator for the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program, a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC), a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC), Approved Clinical Supervisor (ACS), a Distance Credentialed Counselor (DCC), and a formerly-certified NYS School Counselor. Dr. Robertson’s research and publication interests include Career Development, Midlife Career Change, Career Transition, Military/Veteran Issues, College Student Success, and Substance Use. Dr. Robertson served as the past-president of the American Counseling Association of New York (ACA-NY), and current president of the New York State Career Development Association. Her research and advocacy efforts include Career Transition, Professional Counselor Identity, Counseling Services for Military and Veterans, and Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse. She is the advisor for Chi Sigma Iota (CSI) at St. John’s University. Dr. Heather Robertson can be reached at robertsh@stjohns.edu.

Printer-Friendly Version


Charles Lehman   on Wednesday 05/02/2018 at 10:21 AM

Good article on how to address the career needs of an often neglected population

Tonya Whitaker   on Wednesday 05/09/2018 at 11:15 AM

It is a pity that non-college options after graduation are "taboo." Apprenticeships are underappreciated.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.