A Student’s Guide to Post-Secondary Education Options and Success

Post-secondary education refers to any education pursued after high school graduation. This includes college, university, vocational school, trade school, and other programs that offer credentials and skills to prepare students for careers. Post-secondary education has become increasingly necessary for gainful employment and financial stability. This guide covers key aspects of post-secondary education and considerations for students exploring their options after high school.

Types of Post-Secondary Education

There are several main types of post-secondary education programs:

  • College – Colleges offer 2-year associate’s degrees and 4-year bachelor’s degrees in a variety of subjects. Community and junior colleges focus on associate’s degrees and preparing students to transfer to 4-year colleges.
  • University – Universities provide bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Research universities emphasize scientific research in addition to education.
  • Vocational school – Vocational schools, also known as trade schools, provide career and technical education to prepare students for specific occupations. Programs typically last 1-2 years.
  • Certification programs – Some post-secondary programs lead to a certificate or professional certification rather than a degree. These are common in healthcare, technology, and skilled trades.

Considering Costs and ROI

The costs of post-secondary education vary widely depending on the type of program. Public state schools tend to have lower tuition than private universities. Vocational programs are often more affordable than traditional 2-4 year degrees.

When evaluating options, consider the potential return on investment (ROI) and average salaries for graduates. Fields like engineering, healthcare, and information technology often lead to high-paying jobs that make the costs worthwhile. Research outcomes for specific programs you’re interested in.

Many students utilize financial aid including grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans to help cover costs. Explore all available resources to make post-secondary education more affordable.

Application Process

Applying to colleges and other post-secondary programs involves:

  • Submitting applications and paying application fees
  • Sending official high school transcripts
  • Taking standardized tests like the SAT or ACT
  • Writing application essays
  • Securing letters of recommendation
  • Filling out financial aid forms

Submission deadlines, testing requirements, and other specifics vary between programs. Thoroughly research requirements for schools you plan to apply to.

Choosing the Right Program

Consider the following when deciding which post-secondary program is the best fit:

  • Field of interest – Match programs to your academic and career interests.
  • Program outcomes – Research careers, salaries, and employment rates for graduates.
  • Costs – Compare tuition and financial aid options.
  • Admission requirements – Confirm you can meet test score, GPA, and other standards.
  • Location – Decide if you prefer to stay near home or move elsewhere.
  • Campus culture – Make sure the student body, activities, and housing meet your needs.
  • Program duration – Choose between short-term certificates and 2-4 year degrees.

Visiting campuses can help inform your decision. Be sure to choose an option providing the skills, experiences, and credentials to further your goals.

Preparing for Post-Secondary Success

To set yourself up for success after high school:

  • Maintain a strong GPA
  • Take rigorous coursework including honors and AP classes
  • Participate in extracurricular activities related to your interests
  • Develop strong time management and study skills
  • Complete college admissions tests like the SAT and ACT
  • Explore scholarship opportunities
  • Apply for financial aid by completing the FAFSA
  • Research post-secondary programs and application requirements
  • Create college lists and visit top choices

With proper planning and preparation, you can pursue engaging and rewarding post-secondary education opportunities after graduation.


What are the main types of post-secondary education programs?

The main types are college (2-year and 4-year degrees), university (bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral degrees), vocational/trade school, and certification programs. Each leads to different credentials and career outcomes.

How can you make post-secondary education more affordable?

Affordability options include choosing lower-cost public schools, earning scholarships and grants, participating in work-study programs, looking for schools with good financial aid, and taking advantage of student loans if needed.

What should you research when comparing post-secondary programs?

Important factors to research are the cost of attendance, job and salary outcomes for graduates, admission requirements, graduation and retention rates, campus culture, location, and the duration and curriculum of degree programs you’re interested in.

What can high school students do to prepare for post-secondary success?

Recommended preparation tips include maintaining a strong GPA, taking honors/AP classes, participating in extracurriculars, developing study skills, completing admissions tests, researching schools and programs, creating college lists, and applying for scholarships and financial aid.

What does the post-secondary application process involve?

The application process typically includes submitting applications and fees, sending transcripts, taking standardized tests, writing admission essays, acquiring recommendation letters, and completing financial aid forms prior to admission deadlines.

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