Routes, Oh My! – Your Options After High School

Are you thinking about your future after high school? Does the abundance of options keep you up at night? Not to worry, this blog will help you explore possible routes to take post high school!

University (Bachelor's Degree, 4 years)

University is a great option for those who wish to pursue careers that require certain education such as nursing and engineering. Those who are interested in research and academia will also find the skills and network to do so at university. A bachelor’s degree can be completed in four years, but many students extend their degrees to five years. Furthermore, an undergraduate degree can also serve as a stepping stone for higher education such as a Master’s or PhD, in addition to professional schools such as medical school and law school. 

Deciding to go to university is a huge commitment, so it is important to do your research and ensure that attending university is something you really want to do. Below we have provided a non-exhaustive list of the pros and cons of attending university. 

  • Program Variety: If you can think of it, university probably has a class about it. The wide range of programs available allows students to explore their interests by which they can form their career path around. 
  • Diversity: Large research institutions such as universities tend to attract students from both across the country and the world. This can complement your education by joining student groups to find a network of people with similar interests and to expand your horizons and gain new perspectives.
  • Scholarships: Universities receive a lot of funding that goes to student scholarships and bursaries. These may be merit-based, need-based, or they may be available to students  in particular programs or who have particular interests. This funding may help you reduce the financial burden of attending university!
  • Financial Costs: University tuition alone is expensive, not to mention additional fees and supplies and that many students move out of home in order to live closer to their university. Tuition and living costs can certainly be a barrier to a university education, but keep in mind that there are many funding options available such as scholarships and government student loans. 
  • Time Costs: The length of an undergraduate degree can limit your earning potential while you’re in school. 
  • Theory-based Learning: With the exception of a few programs, university tends to provide a more theory-based education. While this is not inherently a con of attending university, it can make your future career path unclear. 

Some examples of common undergraduate degrees include computer science, engineering, political science, psychology, biological sciences, statistics, and music. 

A great source to check out university programs in Ontario is the Ontario Universities website. Programs at other schools can be found on their school website. 

Photo by Western University

College (Diploma, 2 years)

College is an excellent option for those who enjoy more hands-on, practical training in smaller classes. College tends to be more career-oriented, focusing on training students to be successful in a particular job. Diplomas tend to take two years to complete and students can additionally complete certification programs for certain technical skills. Colleges also offer pre-trades courses, apprenticeship programs, language training, and skills upgrading. 

Below is a non-exhaustive list of the pros and cons of attending college. 

  • Affordability: Colleges tend to be more cost-effective than university.
  • Hands-on Learning: College programs tend to provide students with experiential learning that translates to success in their future real-life career. 
  • Small Class Sizes: Classes at college tend to be small which allows students receive more personal instruction and assistance from their instructors.
  • Narrow Skillset: Many college programs prepare their students for particular careers. This can be quite advantageous for individuals who love their job for their entire life, but the narrow skillset you acquire isn’t easily transferred to other jobs if you wish to switch careers later on. 
  • Less Opportunity to Explore: Compared to university, college does not offer the same variety that university does. Students in college won’t have the same opportunity to explore new interests through their classes. 

Some examples of college programs include dental assisting, laboratory studies, and business administration. 

Check out programs at Ontario colleges on this website

Photo by the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Apprenticeship Programs

Apprenticeship programs combine on-the-job training, work experience, and technical training which yields a certification in one of over 150 trades! Depending on the employer and the job, 90% of apprenticeship training is done in the workplace. Apprentices also attend in-school sessions offered by colleges and unions. Once the education and on-the-job requirements have been met, apprentices will receive an apprenticeship certification. Apprentices in trades that have exams must pass them before they can receive their Certification of Qualification.

Check out these resources for more information on skilled trades or apprenticeship programs: Homepage – OYAP (oyappajo.com) and Skilled trades | ontario.ca

  • Gain Industry Experience: Apprentices jump head first into tackling projects with the support of their employer. By the time they complete their apprenticeship, they will have the skills and practical experience necessary to be successful in their trade. 
  • Paid Experience: Apprentices tend to be paid while they are learning as opposed to university and college students paying to learn. We think this point speaks for itself. 
  • Networking: Apprentices will have the opportunity to work with a variety of professionals in their field and their clients. This network is handy during the apprenticeship for guidance, but also in the future to potentially land new jobs or projects. 
  • They are Competitive: It can be very difficult to secure an apprenticeship due to high demand. 
  • Lower Pay: Though you are paid to learn, that isn’t to say that the pay is all that great. Salaries for apprentices are significantly lower than fully qualified professionals. 
  • You Could Limit your Options: By taking on an apprenticeship you also risk limiting yourself to one industry. You may later find that you have to later pursue post-secondary to move into a different industry. 

Check out these resources for more information on skilled trades or apprenticeship programs: Homepage – OYAP (oyappajo.com) and Skilled trades | ontario.ca

Photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

Joining the Workforce

Some students aren’t interested in pursuing post-secondary education at all and want to immediately enter the workforce. Landing your first job can be challenging, but organizations such as Employment Ontario, Canada Job Bank, the YMCA Youth Job Connection program and Employment Services, and job agencies can assist you in connecting with employers for entry-level positions. This route following high school allows you to start earning money and can possibly help you fund future higher education if you wish to do so! 

Photo by jacoblund/iStockphoto.com

Taking a Gap Year

Some students have no idea what they want to do after high school, and that is okay! Gap years are an opportunity for individuals to travel, explore, volunteer, and work as a means to experience personal growth. They can be used as a break before starting post-secondary, but also benefit those who are burnt out, don’t feel ready to take their next steps, lack direction in their life, want to explore the world, and overall want to develop autonomy and agency. Gap years provide the opportunity for individuals to learn about themselves and discover the route they wish to take in life. 

For more information about gap years, check out CanGap!

Conclusion

Deciding which route you want to take after high school can be scary and confusing. It is important to remember that there is not specific timeline that you must follow in order to be successful. What we suggest is to take your time, research your options, and figure out your passions and interests in order to create a path for yourself. FYI: It is completely okay to change your mind at any time and take a completely different path! 

Celina MacLeod
Author and Editor: Celina MacLeod

Author (not pictured): Akshita Sangha 

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