How to Decide What to Do After Graduation

If you are like many of our students at the Bender Leadership Academy, you are wondering what you will do after graduation from high school. For some, the next step is clear, work or college. But what job will you do? What major or program should you select? Do you enroll in a four-year program or a technical school?

Here are some steps you can take to help make that decision.

Step 1: Make Lists

Write down all the things you like most, what you are best at, and the things you want to do in your life. Include your favorite school subjects and the classes you get the best grades in. Write down all of your activities and hobbies. Include in your list what books you read and what tv shows and movies you stream. Name where you like to shop or what you like to shop for. Consider what the top things are that you like to have time for every day, or during certain seasons. List the places you want to go and the places you have been that you enjoy – they can be close to home or far away. Write down your biggest dreams. List all the things you want, such as your own home, or a car. This process may take a few days to complete. If you are struggling, add a few things every day for several days.

Once you have a robust list, go back through, and circle those things that are most important to you or that you enjoy the most.

What do those things have in common?

Are they things you mainly do with others or on your own?

Do they have common themes, such as kids, animals, or technology?

Do they center around a certain location?

What else have you learned about what you value?

Step 2: Conduct Research

Consider the things you identified as values. Do searches to determine what types of careers involve things that matter to you. Start your search with “Careers for people who like ________” and fill in the blank with those things you identified as values.

For example, there are many types of jobs for people who like to travel. Whether it is a job with the U.S. State Department, teaching English, working on a cruise ship, or becoming a tour guide there are jobs for all types of education levels and skill types. What jobs do you see that seem interesting to you?

As you are conducting your research, remember there are many different types of jobs out there which might include the things you value. For example, if you are interested in a career working with animals, that doesn’t mean that you can only be a veterinarian. You could become an animal trainer, you could get a job that supports zoos or animal conservation parks, you could become a manager at a pet store, you could support office operations at a veterinarian clinic, or you could get a job working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. While you are doing research, cast your nets widely. You can narrow things down later.

Step 3: Refine Your Research

Once you have found out information about jobs and careers that align with your interests, look at what is necessary to have that job. Do you need education beyond high school? If so, what do you need to do? It may be that you need certification, training, or a higher-level degree. Maybe the job that appeals to you the most is one that you can’t get until you have experience. What types of experiences do you need to have to get that job? What things can you do to get experience that would prepare you for that job? If you need additional education but cannot afford it right after high school, what can you do to earn money for school that might also help you learn skills for that job?

For example, maybe you want to become a counselor for kids with disabilities. What are some jobs you can get working with children until you are ready to go to school or while you are attending college?

Step 4: Test the Waters

Many people don’t end their careers in the first job they ever wanted. You can begin testing the waters for possible career paths in high school through doing volunteer work, getting after school, holiday, summer, or weekend jobs, or taking classes in other areas while in college.

For example, if you are interested in working for a restaurant as a cook, you could look for a job as a busser, dishwasher, or host as a way to get started. If you want to work in health care, you could volunteer at a nursing home, independent living center, or hospital. You could get a part-time job working in the gift shop at a hospital or as a clerk at a doctor’s office. You can also explore opportunities for summer internships with local hospital systems to learn about health care careers.

Taking the time to explore different options allows you to learn more about what options you have available to you. Remember, there are more types of jobs out there than you can think to name. As you grow, work hard, and keep setting new goals, you will find the path that best matches your values and interests. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t know all the answers yet. Graduation from high school is a beginning – just remember you get to decide what pathway to take next. We know you will be awesome!