Awareness of Postsecondary Options

MODULE GOALS: To provide students with an overview of the different educational and training options available after high school.


  1. To identify various postsecondary options
  2. To describe the range of options available
  3. To describe the advantages of each option
  4. To explain the importance of planning and preparing for postsecondary options


Completing high school is a big accomplishment and figuring out what to do after high school is often a challenging task. This may be the first time that you are required to make such major decisions regarding your own life. Hopefully, you have started thinking about different career or educational choices and are ready to begin exploring your options. Whether or not you have any idea of kinds of careers that are the best match for you, you probably have a lot of questions. This module is designed to answer your questions about educational and training options available after high school. By gaining a better understanding of possible next steps, it will become easier to make decisions about your future.


Several questions are important when thinking about college.

These are:

  1. If I want to go to college, what are my options?
  2. What are the advantages of each of these options?
  3. Do I have to attend college right after I graduate from high school?
  4. Do I have to go to college in order to make a lot of money?
  5. Do I have to have a high school diploma to attend college?
  6. Do I have to have a lot of money to go college?
  7. Are there specific college programs for students with disabilities?
  8. If I don’t want to go to college, what are my options?
  9. What are job training, career, vocational, or technical programs?
  10. What are apprenticeships?
  11. What are community service programs such as Americorps and City Year? Are they work or educational programs?
  12. Can I join the military right after high school?
  13. How do I learn more about all of these options?
  14. What are the benefits of entering the workforce after high school?
  15. How do I decide which option is best for me?
  16. When do I have to decide what I want to do after high school?
  17. What programs are available for students who earn a special education certificate?
  18. What programs are available if I am not sure about my career interests?
  19. Will I have an IEP in my postsecondary program?

If I want to go to college, what are my options?

Depending on your career path and educational needs, there are many different college options. All colleges offer some type of disability support, but it varies greatly. It is important to take your personal needs and wants into consideration and to investigate the levels of available support in each college setting. The following are some of the most common college options:

  • Four Year colleges or universities are educational institutions where you can earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. You can attend a public or private institution and each college offers different majors and fields of studies. Depending on the college, you can study almost anything ranging from psychology to business to health or technical sciences. The admissions criteria varies for each school and some are extremely competitive. College is a rewarding experience, but it is important to remember that being a college student requires a lot of self-discipline and personal responsibility. It is also important to note that although we are referring to these schools as four year colleges, many students take four and a half to five years to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
  • Two year colleges are schools that offer associate’s degrees, either Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degrees. There are public and private options and the admissions process is generally simpler than that of a four-year school. An Associate’s degree is a minimum requirement for some jobs and can prepare you for a career in two years. After two years, many students decide to continue with their studies and transfer to a four year college to earn a bachelor’s degree. Depending on the number of credits that transfer and your school’s requirements you may able to complete your bachelor’s degree in another two years. Public community colleges usually do not provide housing in dormitories, but they are widely accessible and often the cheapest option. Private junior colleges are similar to four-year colleges, but only award Associate’s degrees. Associate’s degrees are also available in a number of academic fields including accounting, business administration, criminal justice, and technical theater.
  • Continuing or adult education classes are available at most community colleges and some four-year colleges and universities. These courses or programs often have minimal pre-requisites (e.g. high school diploma or placement tests) and are offered in a variety of fields. Classes and certificate programs require registration and payment of registration fees. Some certificate programs at local community colleges include classes in fields such as marketing, health sciences, food management and technology.

What are the advantages of each of these options?

College gives you the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s or associate’s degree and can lead to more earning potential. College is also an opportunity to explore different fields of study to help you to figure out what you are good at doing and what you enjoy.

Each school offers its own academic program. It may be possible to focus on your area of interest at a variety of college settings and it is up to you to decide on the type of degree program and setting you would prefer. For example, if you are interested in Health Sciences, there are many programs from which you can choose. You can choose toget a BS degree from a 4 year college or university in fields such as Nursing, Health Information Systems, Health Education, or Exercise Science. Another choice could be to get an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in any of these areas. If you are looking for a shorter or less intense program, you could get a certificate in CPR, Basic First Aid or as a Nursing Assistant.

With college, often comes a greater sense of responsibility and independence. Whether you continue to live at home, in a dormitory, or an apartment, you will have more freedom with the classes you take and more decisions to make regarding how to spend your free time and accomplish all of your work.

Do I have to attend college right after I graduate from high school?

No. College programs are open to adults of all ages and sometimes even to high school students. In a typical four-year college setting the majority of students are recent high school graduates; however, at many two-year colleges many of the students are older. Lots of adults choose to work after high school and enroll in college later in life. Many adults also take college classes throughout their lives.

Do I have to go to college in order to make a lot of money?

No. Often the higher degree that you obtain, the more money you will earn. Many jobs that pay well do require additional training beyond high school, but they do not necessarily require a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. When determining salary, a more telling factor is usually your field of work. Although money is important, you need to remember that you will be working for most of your life and you want to find a job that you enjoy.

Do I have to have a high school diploma to attend college?

Most degree bearing programs including 2 year associates degrees and 4 year bachelor’s degrees require a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED) for enrollment. However, there are many certificate or life skills programs located on college campuses that do not require a high school diploma or GED.

Do I have to have a lot of money to go college?

No. College is an expensive option, but earning a degree will increase your earning potential in the future. Most students do not have enough money to pay for college and there are many opportunities for financial aid including support from vocational rehabilitation services, loans, grants, and scholarships.

Are there specific college programs for students with disabilities?

Yes. Colleges have various levels of support for individuals with disabilities. The most common support is through academic accommodations and tutoring through the school’s office of disability support services. It is up to the student to self-identify and to approach the disability support services offices and work with counselors to obtain the needed accommodations. Some schools offer specific academic or life skills programs to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. These programs also vary in their level of support and are available for students with various disabilities including learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities. For example, Landmark College is a school designed for students with learning disabilities and AD/HD.Therefore, you must have a learning disability in order to attend this school. Other schools, such as Montgomery College offer a specific program, such as College Access Program (CAP) that is also designed only for students with learning disabilities. However, this program is on a community college campus and helps students to develop language skills in order to then complete anassociate’s degree at Montgomery College or to transfer to a 4-yearc ollege or university.

If I don’t want to go to college, what are my options?

College is not the best choice for everyone. Besides college, there are many other training programs available or the opportunity to get a job.You can attend career/vocational/technical training programs, enter the workforce or participate in community service programs.

What are job training, career, vocational, or technical programs?

Many students have a strong interest in a particular occupation and want to start working as soon as possible. In these situations, job training programs which can last anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of years are great options. Programs provide training for a variety of careers ranging from cosmetology to computer technicians to veterinary assistants to culinary arts. When looking into specific schools and programs it is important to verify the school’s certification and accreditation. It is also important to consider the financial costs and if any types of disability support will be available.

What are apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships are opportunities to experience on the job training while also attending school and getting paid. These intensive programs are often focused on training individuals for careers as electricians, plumbers, painters, brick layers, auto mechanics, welders and other hands-on skills based jobs. The qualifications for these programs vary, but typically, you must be 18 years old, in good physical shape, have a high school diploma or GED and take a placement test. The apprenticeship programs are often 1 to 4 years in length and involve working full time with an experienced journeyman while attending classes. From the beginning of the program you are getting paid atraining salary and receiving benefits. The application deadlines vary depending on the trade and program. These programs are quite intensive and it is necessary to be aware of all of the physical and academic requirements and the availability of accommodations.

What are community service programs such as Americorps and City Year? Are they work or educational programs?

For some students who are undecided about the next step or who already have an interest in serving their community, community service programs provide unique learning opportunity. It is important to note that these are not programs for people who cannot attend college or cannot work.You will be working full time and learning a lot of new skills. Americorps has various programs where you can work with community organizations. In order to apply to the State and National programs you must be at least 17 years of age and the NCCC program you must be between the ages 18-24. The applications are similar to college applications and most programs last between 9-12 months. City Year is another Americorps program that has sites in 16 cities in the United States and one in South Africa. Corps members, ages 17-24, work together for 10 months to develop and support community projects. Participants are paid a monthly stipend and receive an educational award at the completion of the program. To find additional programs,you can contact national or international service organizations in your field of interest such as the Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity to see if they have any long term community service programs.

Can I join the military right after high school?

Yes. The minimal age for enlisting in the military is 17. However, there are also other requirements including a diploma or GED, physical requirements and placement tests. You may enlist in one of the branches of the military immediately after high school and there are also opportunities to join the military through college programs and after college as an officer. It is important to note that uniformed personnel branches of the military are not covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),which guarantee rights and reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. The United States Military’s branches include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, and the National Guard. To learn more about military options, contact a local recruiting office.

How do I learn more about all of these options?

A great place to begin is by talking with your guidance counselor, transition coordinator or visiting your school’s career center. They can often direct you to local resources and assist you in the search process. The internet is also great resource; however, you need to be careful to find reliable and resourceful websites. For helpful post-secondary websites, check out the list of Internet resources at the end of this section. Local and school libraries are also full of career information and access to free Internet services.

What are the benefits of entering the workforce after high school?

The immediate benefits that come to mind are the opportunities to start earning money and gaining work experience. After attending school for at least 13 years, many students want to get out in the ‘real world’ and make money. While it is nice to be making money, it is important to remember that additional training is often required to earn more money.

How do I decide which option is best for me?

This is a challenging personal question that most of us struggle with at some point. Deciding what to do and what career path to pursue is difficult for many individuals. There are a number of people who know what they want to do and what they are going to do to get there. For the rest of us, deciding on which program to attend or what job to choose involves lots of self-exploration, as well as taking the time to research and try various careers and programs. Through volunteer, work, and educational experiences you can gain more knowledge about your interests and aptitudes.

When do I have to decide what I want to do after high school?

It is never too early to start planning. On that same note, don’t worry if you still haven’t decided what you want to do when you grow up, most adults are still figuring that out. Decision making is an ongoing and challenging process. Often the process of deciding what to do after high school depends on your own personal interests. Many students develop their academic and leisure interests throughout their elementary and secondary years and by 10thgrade are starting to think about post-high school options. It is important to start this process early as possible in order to ensure that you are taking the appropriate courses to meet requirements for future school or work.

What programs are available for students who earn a special education certificate?

Work, community service programs, job training and college programs can all be options for students who earn a high school certificate. Each job or educational program has its own requirements that may or may not include a diploma. It is important to be aware of your own strengths and needs and to be able to identify how you could be successful at particular job or program. Although degree-bearing programs at colleges may require a high school diploma, you can still take classes at colleges. You need to be aware of the various types of supports and accommodations that are available at different schools and work environments.

What programs are available if I am not sure about my career interests?

Although it is helpful to have an idea of what you want to do when you are older, many high school graduates are unsure. Colleges and other educational institutions give you the opportunity to study different fields and entering the workforce allows you to develop some idea of where and what you want to do. The option of doing some type of community service or training program allows you to increase your skills and gain experience while doing meaningful work. The most important thing is to continue to gain work experiences and explore possible vocations.

Will I have an IEP in my postsecondary program?

No, your IEP does not go with you after high school. Hopefully, you have been an active member of your IEP team throughout your high school career and have learned how to set personal goals and understand your strengths and needs. Although you will no longer have an IEP, it is important to have documentation of your disability and a good understanding of your needs and accommodations. The documentation should include your summary of performance report and must include up-to-date diagnostic evaluations that will be used to document your disability. If you are entering a post-secondary educational institution, it should have an office designed to help you get your accommodations. It will be YOUR responsibility to disclose your disability and speak up for yourself. The workplace presents additional challenges, but legally you have the right to reasonable accommodations and once again it will be YOUR responsibility to talk with your employer and know what you need.


Four-Year College or University

  • Description: A public or private educational institution where you can earn a bachelors degree. These schools vary in size, admissions criteria, academic standards, course offerings, student population, location, and cost. In most colleges or university programs, you are expected to sample a variety of courses during the first two years and then focus on your major in the last two years. Requirements for graduation differ, although most colleges require a certain number of credits in English and foreign languages.

Public Community College

  1. Ability to live at home while adjusting to college classes
  2. Simpler admissions requirements (High School Diploma or GED, Registration, Placement Test)
  3. Opportunity to sample college classes
  4. A chance to build a better academic record
  5. Lower tuition and other costs than at a typical four-year college

Private Junior College

  1. An opportunity to live away from home in a supportive environment
  2. Small classes with opportunities to improve academic skills
  3. Easier entrance requirements than a typical four-year college or university

 Continuing Education Classes

  1. Provides a way to explore subject areas
  2. Opportunity to build academic study skills without worrying about grades
  3. Allows students to experience and explore college as an option

Life Skills Training Programs

  1. Learn necessary daily living skills
  2. Practice independent living
  3. Be part of a college or university


  1. Begin working immediately
  2. Receive training on the job and take classes
  3. Earn money and benefits when you work
  4. Learn skills that will make you employable anywhere

Career, Vocational, or Technical Education

  1. Minimal admissions requirement (high school graduation may or may not be required)
  2. All classes relate to skills needed for jobs in a particular occupational area
  3. Learn marketable skills

Job Corps

  1. Vocational, academic and social skills training
  2. Room, board and stipend
  3. Job/ college support after leaving Job Corps

 City Year and Americorps

  1. Monthly stipend
  2. Educational Award of $4725 for a complete year of service
  3. Opportunity to gain job skills and work experience


  1. Learn valuable job skills
  2. Earn money for future education
  1. Army:,
  2. Navy:,
  3. Airforce:,
  4. Coast Guard:,
  5. Marines:,
  6. National Guard:




POSTSECONDARY (related to colleges, universities, and/or employment) 


Job Accommodations

LD Online

Think College

The George Washington HEATH Resource Center 


What did you learn and how can it help you? Answer the following questions to review the information that you have read:


What can I do with all of this information? First, stop and realize that making decisions about post-secondary options is a big step for all high school students and everybody needs support. Getting to know yourself and your personal needs will take you far in this process. Answer the following questions as a planning guide to help you think about your next steps and who you will work with to support you throughout this process:

List 3 steps that will help you to reach your goal. Each goal must include the following information

You have completed the first step by thinking about and responding to these answers. However, in order to be successful, you need to continue thinking and working to obtain your post-secondary goals!

This document made possible in part by the support of The HSC Foundation , a Washington, DC-based foundation dedicated to expanding access and success in education beyond high school. HEATH is affiliated with The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The HSC Foundation. No official endorsement by the Foundation or of any product, commodity, service or enterprise mentioned in this publication is intended or should be inferred. Permission to use, copy, and distribute this document for non-commercial use and without fee, is hereby granted if appropriate credit to the HEATH Resource Center at the National Youth Transitions Center is included in all copies.



  • Description: Publicly funded community colleges can be found in most locations within a reasonable commuting distance. These schools have open admissions policies; however, most do require that students taking courses for credit have a high school diploma or GED. Placement tests are often required for admissions into credit bearing classes. Community colleges offer liberal arts subjects as well as training in specific occupations such as hotel management, auto mechanics, marketing, computer programming, or dental assisting.
  • Advantages:
  • Description: Most private junior colleges are small residential schools that prepare students for transfer to four-year liberal arts college. Some offer occupational training. Upon completion of the two-year program, an Associate of Arts (AA) degree is awarded.
  • Advantages:
  • Description: Most community colleges and many four-year colleges and universities offer classes through their continuing education departments. In most cases, a student does not have to be admitted to the college, but can take these courses just by signing up and paying the course fee. Some courses are academic in nature (like typical college courses), some are taken for continuing education credit to retain certification in a field (e.g., refresher courses for automotive technicians), and some classes are taken to pursue leisure and personal interest activities (e.g., scuba diving).
  • Advantages: No admissions requirements
  • Where to find additional information: Search university and community college websites for continuing education, adult education, or non-credit classes.
  • Description: Programs designed specifically for young people who need assistance in learning skills for independence. These programs are provided in a residential setting and often offer training in life skills, workplace literacy, social skills development, vocational and career exploration and training, time management, banking and budgeting. Some of these programs are available on college campuses and students participate in university life.
  • Advantages:
  • Description: One to four year work and educational program that teach students the skills of a specific trade. Apprenticeship programs combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Apprenticeships are common to industries such as construction, manufacturing, health care, and information technology.
  • Advantages:
  • Description: Professional training that leads to a marketable skill and a job future. Programs are offered in public and private institutions including community colleges, vocational technical centers, trade and business schools. These institutions teach skills in hundreds of occupational areas including agriculture, health, business, law enforcement, industry and marketing. Programs vary in length and students may earn either a certificate or an associate’s degree.
  • Advantages:
  • Description: A residential job training program that works with youth ages 16-24 to learn academic and vocational skills. Students must meet age and income requirements and complete an application. Training can last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years. While at Job Corps, students receive a daily living stipend and receive room and board. Job Corps trains students in a variety of occupations including auto mechanics, pharmacy technicians, construction, etc.
  • Advantages:
  • Description: City Year is an opportunity to participate in a year long service program. Participants work on teams with other youth ages 17-24 in cities throughout the United States. Working full time, corps members work with local non-profits, governmental agencies and schools to improve communities. Throughout their year long commitment, participants gain marketable skills and give back to their communities. Americorps also has the NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) and State and National programs where youth can serve their communities.
  • Advantages:
  • Where to find additional information:
  • Description: The highly structured, repetitive, and physically active regime of military life is perfect for some individuals. Upon graduating from high school and at age 17 individuals are eligible to enlist in the military. The branches include Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, and the National Guard.
  • Advantages:
  • Where to find additional information:
  1. List possible post-secondary options.
  2. What are the advantages of continuing with your education? 
  3. Will you be able to receive support if you continue with your education?
  4. What other options exist besides additional schooling?
  5. When is it important to begin planning for post-secondary options? 
  1. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  2. Where do you see yourself 1 year after graduation?
  3. After graduating what is your goal?
  4. How does this relate to your 5 year goal?
  1. The step.
  2. How you will complete the step?
  3. Deadline: When you will complete the step?
  4. Who will support you in this process?