Are you about to graduate high school or have already graduated but are considering further studies for better employment opportunities? If so, then you might have heard the term “post-secondary education” every now and then.
As the name goes, post-secondary education takes place after you finish high school. And while most people see it as a stepping stone towards better employment opportunities in the future, this isn’t always necessarily the case. Also, contrary to popular belief, post-secondary education isn’t limited to college, so if money is a hindering factor for taking post-secondary education, you might want to consider the other options aside from college.
In this article, we define post-secondary education, what it means, and the various options available for you after your graduate high school (or high school equivalent). And then we tackle whether or not taking a post-secondary education really is important in the career path you want to take.
What Is Post-Secondary Education?
Post-secondary education is also known as “higher education,” “third-level education,” or “tertiary education,” which all roughly mean the same thing. Its subtypes that don’t result in degrees like certificate programs and community college are also called “continuing education.” These refer to the educational programs you can take after graduating high school, get your GED, or anything similar to these in your country.
Unlike primary and secondary school that are mandatory for children under the age of 18, post-secondary education is completely optional. It is the final stage of formal learning and leads towards an academic degree. Post-secondary education is defined in the International Standard Classification of Education as levels 6 through 8. Post-secondary education also includes both undergraduate and postgraduate studies.
In the United States, plenty of high school students opt to take post-secondary education, with over 21 million students attending after high school. This is because many people see this as a ticket to economic security as having a higher education degree can be the key to opening more job opportunities in the market. While college is a type of post-secondary education, it is not the only form of tertiary education, though. And just because someone has completed their post-secondary education does not necessarily mean there will be job offers lined up for their choosing. Nor does it mean that they automatically earn more than a person who chose not to attend post-secondary education.
Secondary vs. Post-Secondary Education
Secondary education is more commonly known as high school, but it can also refer to people who have taken their GED (General Education Development) tests or any equivalent around the world. Unlike post-secondary education, students are required to attend secondary school (or at least they are, until they turn 18 and can opt to drop out).
There are a number of people who choose to drop out (around 527,000 people from October 2017 to October 2018). While it is possible for them to find work (around 47.2 percent of them), they cannot attend post-secondary education unless they finish high school or earn a secondary education diploma.
And while there are jobs available for those who didn’t get to finish secondary school or finished high school but opted not to attend post-secondary education, this closes some doors for them. For example, if you want to become a medical doctor, you cannot enter medical school until you earn a Bachelor’s degree by attending four years of college under an appropriate pre-med program. So, even if you got high grades in high school biology, no medical school is going to accept a student without a bachelor’s degree.
Contrary to popular belief, the term “post-secondary education” and its other similar terms aren’t limited to just earning a bachelor’s degree in high school. Colleges and universities are the most popular choice, but they may not be the most financially possible choice for everyone, especially if you consider that plenty of college graduates in the US are struggling to pay off student loan payments years after they’ve graduated college.
If you’re open to the idea of further education after high school but want to consider other options, here are your possible choices.
Also known as trade or tech schools, vocational schools teach it students on the technical side of certain crafts or skills of a specific job. Unlike colleges where its students receive academic training for careers in certain professional disciplines, vocational school students do job-specific training where certain physical skills are needed more than academic learning.
These are available in almost every country, though they may go by different names. In some countries, there may be both vocational schools run privately or public vocational school that are either fully or partially subsidized by the government for people who want to learn skills for better employment opportunities.
Some vocational courses include:
- Health care for nursing (for people who want to work as caregivers)
- Computer network management
- Word processing application (secretarial positions)
- Food and beverage management
- Fashion designing
- Commercial pilot
- Catering and hotel management
- Daycare management
- Hairstyling, cosmetics, and beautification
- Paralegal studies
- Massage therapy
- Pharmacy technician
- Travel agent
Take note that there are a lot more vocational courses than the ones provided, but not all vocational schools provide all types of courses. Some vocational schools may also specialize in certain industries, so it’s best to do your research on vocational schools in your area.
Completion of any of these courses provide you with a certificate that shows you have completed and trained for the skill of your choice. This gives you a competitive advantage in the job market compared to other high school graduates who do not have the same training for the skillset you have.
It is also possible to have multiple certificates for different courses if you think this will give you a further advantage, such as getting certified for Electrician, Plumber, and Carpentry courses if you intend to work in the construction industry. This also applies to college graduates who think they can get a leg up with both a college degree and a vocational school certificate on their resume.
There are two definitions of non-degree students. The first is a student who attends a college or university and attends undergraduate, master, or doctorate classes but not for the sake of earning a degree. These are people who may be interested in learning for specific classes and want to pursue academic interests but do not see the need to earn the full degree. These can be simply because they want to learn a certain field or who want to add to their resume that they took classes for a specific subject.
Another type of non-degree student are online or classroom programs on specific topics that can be used for resume-building skills or personal enrichment. You won’t earn a diploma, but you earn a certificate of completion. It’s similar to what you earn from tech school, but more academic than in terms of skill.
Community colleges are also known as “junior colleges” or “two-year colleges.” As its name goes, instead of earning a Bachelor’s degree after four years, community college students earn associate degrees after just two years. Some community colleges also offer non-degree certificates and vocational courses, though not all colleges do. Aside from academic classes, community colleges offer other programs for the community.
The reason why community colleges take half the time to earn a diploma is because it only offers the general education requirements taken by all college students. In regular colleges and universities, you spend four years studying: the first two years are dedicated to general education requirements, while the next two are for your specialized classes depending on your major.
Community college can be a step towards employment, but it can also be a step towards entering university. With the classes you’ve taken in community college, you can proceed to a university and major for two more years to work towards a bachelor’s degree. But if you think you don’t need one and intend to enter the workforce after attending community college, you’ll be given an associate’s degree after completion.
Colleges & Universities
The most popular choice for post-secondary education, colleges and universities not only provide bachelor’s degree for high school students, but also post-graduate degrees for college students. Some examples of post-graduate degrees that fall under this bracket include graduate school, law school, medical school, dental school, and business school.
Some people attend post-secondary education institutions like graduate school and business schools for a master’s degree that will give them a leg-up in the job market for higher-ranking positions. However, for other institutions like law school and medical school, you need to enter and finish your education if you want to achieve a certain job role. For example, paralegals may need certification or even a bachelor’s degree, depending on how competitive a paralegal position in a law firm is, but if you want to become a lawyer, you need to finish to law school and pass the bar exam in your jurisdiction.
It’s relatively the most expensive form of post-secondary education, but there are several options on how to get in. There are several scholarship and grant programs that can provide you with partial to full scholarships (some even provide stipends or allowances for expenses like food, books, and other necessities) without having to go into debt. However, a lot of scholarship programs are extremely competitive and are usually awarded to students who show a lot of academic or athletic promise or require the most financial aid.
Do I Need Post-Secondary Education for Work?
Getting post-secondary education is not necessary to land a job in the future, nor is there any assurance that getting further education will get you a job right after completing your education. If you feel like none of the options mentioned above can help you towards the career you want or see yourself doing in the future, then you don’t have to take any of them. Unlike elementary and secondary school in your younger years, post-secondary education isn’t mandatory – whether you attend school after high school or after the age of 18 is still your choice.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 70% of high school graduates in 2018 between the ages of 16 to 24 enrolled to colleges or universities. And out of the 20 to 29-year-olds who received a college diploma, around 72% were employed. However, 74% of high school graduates were in the labor force (meaning they were working or actively looking for work), while 42% of high school drop outs were working.
This means that regardless of your educational attainment, there will be a position in the job market that will suit your educational attainment. However, depending on what that is, the job market could be competitive.
Also, take note of the salary difference. One of the possible reasons why over half of high school graduates opt to attend post-secondary education is because the average annual salary of a college graduate is over half the average annual salary of a high school graduate – and the gap between the two educational attainments is only growing wider.
However, some people don’t work for the paycheck alone and work because it’s something they want to do or they’re content with their job and the salary they earn. There is nothing wrong with this, especially if this means they choose a career path or job that allows them to do what they want.
Whether or not you should pursue post-secondary education is ultimately up to you. If you want a career that doesn’t necessarily fall under the available institutions or you feel like continuing education will do little to help your career, then it’s OK to skip this altogether and pursue a career or track that you want. But if you want to pursue continuing education but feel like you can’t afford to take four years of college, then you know that you have other options available that may help you.