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Comparing Options After High School

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The options for education and training after high school can be confusing. Here is a comparison of the most common routes for recent high school graduates.

Keep in mind that these routes are not permanent or exclusive, and choosing one route doesn’t rule out other options if a student would like to pursue an additional or different path later.

infographic, all content below
  Workforce Military Short-Term Education Apprenticeship Public Four-Year College Private Four-Year College
Description Full-time employment directly after high school Before or instead of pursuing a college education; Military academies Short professional programs; Certificate programs; 9-month, one-year, two-year college programs Up to six-year programs Rely on government funding as well as tuition and fees from students Rely on tuition, fees and private sources for funding
Average Cost $100–$1,000 $0 $5,000–$25,000 $0 $58,000–$100,000 $80,000–$150,000
Potential Earnings Starting: $23,662; Mid-career: $34,380 Starting: $20,171; Mid-career: $59,774 Starting: $30,336; Mid-career: $45,504 Starting: $27,302; Mid-career: $40,448 Starting: $40,448; Mid-career: $60,671 Starting: $40,448; Mid-career: $60,671
Required May need related job experience or certain skills ASVAB test; Fitness and health standards; Background check Requirements vary by program; Placement tests Requirements vary by program; May be minimum age; May require community college acceptance Minimum SAT/ACT score and GPA; Core high school classes; Application (sometimes with essay, interviews and letters of recommendation) Minimum SAT/ACT score and GPA; Core high school classes; Application (sometimes with essay, interviews and letters of recommendation)
Typical Jobs Accounting clerk' Animal caretakers; Childcare; Clerical, administrative, office clerk; Customer service representatives; Driver; Food services; Maintenance and janitorial; Retail worker Administration; Aviation; Combat officer; Construction; Engineering; Health care; Intelligence; Mechanical and maintenance; Public affairs and media relations Auto mechanic; Barber; Chef; Computer tech; Cosmetologist; Court reporter; Dental assistant; Fitness trainer; Nursing or home health aide; Pharmacy tech Carpenter; Electrician; HVAC installation and repair; Machinist; Mason; Pipefitter; Plumber; Sheet metal worker; Tool and die worker Airline pilot; Architect; Computer programmer; Educator; Engineer; Financial specialist; Graphic designer; Reporter or correspondent; Writer or editor Airline pilot; Architect; Computer programmer; Educator; Engineer; Financial specialist; Graphic designer; Reporter or correspondent; Writer or editor
Sources:
  • Average Cost of Workforce includes the cost of work clothes, transportation to interviews and printing resumes.
  • Average Cost of Public and Private Four-Year College are based on the 2018–2019 net lowest and highest cost of attendance (after discounts on the published costs) per year multiplied by four years.
  • All other Average Cost information is based on figures available online for Iowa programs.
  • Potential Earnings for Workforce are the 25th and 50th percentile salaries from U.S. Census Bureau 2017 PUMS data (1 year sample) – educational attainment up to high school diploma.
  • Potential Earnings for Military are private (E1) and first lieutenant (O2) from https://www.goarmy.com/benefits/money/basic-pay-active-duty-soldiers.html.
  • Potential Earnings for Short-Term Education are the 25th and 50th percentile salaries from U.S. Census Bureau 2017 PUMS data (1 year sample) – educational attainment of associate degree.
  • Potential Earnings for Apprenticeship are the 25th and 50th percentile salaries from U.S. Census Bureau 2017 PUMS data (1 year sample) – educational attainment of some college.
  • Potential Earnings for Public and Private Four-Year College are the 25th and 50th percentile salaries from U.S. Census Bureau 2017 PUMS data (1 year sample) – educational attainment of bachelor’s degree.

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