Now what? Life after high school

Posted June 18, 2015, by Helen Isbister

After thirteen years of playground politics, study and discipline, the time has come to put your pen down in the final exam and stare down the barrel at the rest of your life. It’s scary, exhilarating and very confusing.

You’ve been to career fairs, had the compulsory chat with the school careers counsellor and been weighed down with leaflets, pamphlets and brochures. But between classes, study, free periods, exams, part-time work, relationship dramas and a busy Year 12 social life you (gasp) might not have had time to map out the rest of your life.

Luckily, you don’t have to lock in your entire destiny with only your HSC mark and a wad of career pamphlets. You do however have to take that first tentative step into either employment or further education – it’s all about finding out which one suits you best.

Go to university

University is a compulsory stepping stone to many careers. Professions such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, architecture, engineering and veterinary practice all require degrees. But vocational training is only half the story – universities have historically been places to indulge in further learning and expand the mind. Reading the works of great philosophers and memorising the history of 13th century Bulgaria might not lead to an obvious career, but will hopefully sharpen your thinking and give you a foot in the door at many companies.

University graduates tend to be more employable and earn more money in their starting salaries. But the ‘university experience’ isn’t just about attending lectures and writing essays. It is also a rite of passage. University is about social life, societies, political discussions, revues and just having a good time. It’s about finding yourself – what you are passionate about, what you want out of life and as a result what you might like to do as a career.

Go to TAFE

TAFE (Technical and Further Education) colleges generally offer an entirely different set of courses and career outcomes to university. Courses are a lot more industry focused and designed to equip you with what you need to do in any given job. If you are interested in jobs in trades, hospitality or hairdressing and beauty then TAFE is the best way to go about getting qualified. The types of courses are vast so if you want to get a qualification that will allow you to travel the high seas, you can. If you want to cook up a storm for the rest of your life in whatever exotic location you choose, a TAFE course is a great way to start.

There is also an overlap with qualifications that can also be obtained at university – look at the course aims, price and duration to see which one would work for you. In most cases the university option is more theoretical, while at TAFE the emphasis is on the practical. Often you can start a course at TAFE and decide to transfer to university to continue your education.

Do an apprenticeship

The beauty of an apprenticeship is that you can combine work and study. You will sign a contract with your employer who will pay part or all of your education costs for studying a VET course in the area of your apprenticeship. This is a good mixed option if you are interested in trade, administration or retail.

If working with your hands or working outdoors is something you love, an apprenticeship can give you the freedom to do just this. And qualified tradespeople in Australia are in huge demand in Australia and earning good money!

Private colleges

There are over 700 private colleges across Australia in all shapes and sizes that offer courses in community services, business, education, hospitality, tourism and IT. The benefits of private education providers are increased flexibility with the hours of classes and duration of courses. They are also very focused on the ‘real world’ which means they are committed to recruiting experienced, industry-aware teachers. Many courses also provide a good stepping stone into university degrees if you are interested in pursuing further study.

Get a job

Further education isn’t for everyone and lots of people decide to jump straight into the workforce after school. It might be more difficult to score the job of your dreams without further education behind you, but if you start out young you can build up some amazing experience (and dollars in your bank account) while your friends are still slogging it out over exam papers. Many of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs got started early! Tell everyone (friends, family, next-door neighbours) that you are looking for a job. They may be able to give you good advice, or even better, arrange for you to meet people who can help you out in certain industries. Keep a constant eye on job advertisements in newspapers and online. Be proactive. Think about where you would like to work, organise a resume and walk right in and introduce yourself.

Take a year off

After 13 years in a classroom, it’s not surprising that hoards of school leavers opt to take a break from books and whiteboards. Taking a year off before starting further education is known as a ‘gap year’ and you may use it to work and earn money, do volunteer work or travel.

Doing an international stint can also do wonders for your career options. Working in pub on London’s River Thames, being an Au Pair in Paris or teaching in China will give you a vast amount of invaluable life experience which most employers look upon highly. A break from the books will give you a fresh perspective on your life and what you want to do with it.

Helen Isbister

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