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Build A Career Plan in High School to Save Time, Money and Fast Forward Your Future

September 1st, 2022
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Did you know what you wanted to be when you started junior high school? How about high school? Lots of people don’t want to think about it until after graduation. However, considering the huge investment that college is, it may be time for us to reconsider when and where we decide on a future career. 

Admittedly, times have changed. Post-pandemic life has brought some new challenges —one that we are all facing is inflation. It’s getting harder and harder to pay for essentials like housing, food, transportation, and cell phones, to name a few. Managing to pay for basic needs can be a challenge, never mind college —but avoiding planning for the future isn’t an option either, ignoring the future is like trying to avoid taxes.  

The Need for a Career Plan 

The cost of higher education is huge. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of attending a four-year public institution for the 1964–65 academic year was $932 in today’s dollars. In the 2015–16 school year, the cost was $19,189. 

Most students today cannot afford to “find their way” through to the right career during college where the stakes are high. For this reason, career exploration while in high school should be considered a necessity. Young adults need to figure out what career they want to pursue earlier so they can avoid wasting money after high school, especially because there is more than one post-secondary education option available. Students may find their career choice doesn’t require a four-year degree. They may choose a path that requires vocational training rather than a formal college education. 

Benefits of Early Career Exploration

Early career exploration will not only save young adults huge amounts of money, it will also let them get into their careers earlier and start generating an income sooner. A number of careers and trades allow adults to make a livable income and don’t require a Bachelor’s Degree. For those that make the right moves, they can get significantly ahead of their peers without taking on unnecessary school workloads or getting into unmanageable debt. 

Exploring Your Options

Earlier career exploration can happen through programs and opportunities that are available for high school students. These programs help them figure out what field they connect with best. 

There are a number of ways to do early career exploration but it depends on what’s available locally. Some of the options that are generally available include: 

  • Career exploration through school elective offerings
  • Technical education innovative career and technical education (CTE) programs
  • Apprenticeships or Internships
  • Volunteering for career-related programs

Each program has different requirements and attendance is often mandatory. However, the greatest advantage for students who participate in these programs is that they are typically free or low-cost. 

School Elective Offerings

Every school offers different elective courses. At Grad Solutions, exploratory certificates allow students to learn about different careers or fields they may want to pursue. These include: 

  • Exploratory Art Appreciation Certificate
  • Exploratory Computers Sciences Certificate
  • Exploratory Social Services Certificate
  • Exploratory Information Technology Certificate
  • Exploratory Medical Services Certificate
  • Exploratory Health & Fitness Certificate
  • Exploratory Agriculture, Construction & Transportation Certificate
  • Exploratory Business Certificate
  • Exploratory Certificate in Family, Consumer Sciences & Social Service
  • Exploratory Certificate in Civic Service

The specific options will depend on the school, the district, or region. Students can find out what’s available to them by speaking with their school counselor.

Career and technical education (CTE) programs

In Arizona, the state offers Career and Technical Education so students can begin to explore career options while in high school through career and technical education opportunities. These are offered throughout the state based on location. These locations offer vocational training in areas such as accounting, automation and robotics, graphic design, nursing, veterinary assisting, welding technologies, and more.  

CTE programs have been shown to give the students who participate in them a head start on their careers. 84% of adult CTE concentrators went from CTE study to further education or employment within six months of completing their program1. The best thing about CTE programs is that they train students for high-growth industries where they are highly likely to have a job after they complete the CTE program.

Apprenticeships or Internships

Some individuals may decide to build their skills through apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are like job shadowing where the apprentice can gain hands-on experience. Traditionally, apprenticeship opportunities included trades like construction, plumbing, welding, electrical, and masonry but they have now expanded into other areas like pharmacy assisting and cybersecurity.

An apprenticeship builds real experience in a profession but you can do it while you’re in high school. This means when you graduate, you will be positioned to start making full-time pay as an experienced professional. Side note: students may need to work around their school schedule or attend an online school with flexibility

Volunteering for career-related programs

Lastly, as a volunteer, you can explore fields that interest you for free. There are numerous volunteer opportunities available in most cities. For example, if you’re interested in working in the medical field, you can volunteer at a hospital. If you’re interested in disaster relief or recovery, you can volunteer for an organization like the Red Cross or Samaritan’s Purse. If you want to work with children or be a teacher, you can volunteer at an after-school program. 

There are many volunteer opportunities that can give you life and career experience. Not only are these good for career exploration but they will also give you a sense of accomplishment for helping others. VolunteerMatch.org is a good tool for finding volunteer opportunities. 

As is stated in Success in the New Economy, “The key is to align your interests and abilities with your first career choice and the education and training you need to receive.” Although you may be in high school, you can start to build the knowledge, skills and abilities you need for your career now. 


1Source: AZ CTE Leadership Continuum: https://www.acteaz.org/ 

Apprenticeship Finder 

Average undergraduate tuition and fees and room and board rates charged for full-time students in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by level and control of institution: 1963-64 through 2015-16

AZ Career and Technical Education 

Career Planning for High Schoolers – BLS.GOV 

Explore the Career Technical Education Programs

Success in the New Economy – Citrus College 

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