Thinking about life after graduation can be daunting. First, there’s having to accept that your baby is all grown up and moving forward in life (sorry, we’ll stop now). And then, it can be particularly daunting if your child doesn’t know what they want to do yet.

A select few students knew what they wanted to be they we grew up since career day in kindergarten. If that’s your student, that’s awesome! If not, you’re really not alone.

In fact, only 45 percent of high school students feel fully confident and ready in attending college. That means the majority of students aren’t so sure what they want to do.

Today, there are more viable avenues than you might have even had for finding a solid career. Of course, your child would benefit from receiving some sort of specialized training, as it means higher salaries and lower unemployment rates than those with just a high school diploma.

While a university is a great choice, it’s no longer the only option. To help our undecided students, we talked to a few of our own College and Career Specialists and gathered some important information on your options and making a decision.

The most common types of post-secondary institutions

A Four-Year Public University

Let’s get this one out of the way since most of us know about it. A public university in Southern California includes San Diego State University, University of Southern California and the many Universities of California, just to name a few. A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete and costs about $7,000 annually, not including books and dorms and meal plans.


  • Average income of $46,000 annually
  • Opportunities to climb in your career
  • Ability to earn a master’s for a potential $61,000 average annual income
  • Jobs often follow a Monday–Friday work schedule


  • Takes the most time to earn a degree. Four years on average.
  • High tuition costs with a national average total of $94,000.

A Four-Year Private University

A private university is very similar to public universities. The curriculum may include religious or other elements, depending on the type of private university. Or, it could be an Ivy League university that’s more difficult to get accepted into. It’s also oftentimes known to be more expensive, although it depends on the university. Tuition alone on average costs about $21,000 annually.


  • Highest average income of $50,000 annually
  • Opportunities to climb in your career
  • Ability to earn a master’s for a potential $61,000 average income
  • Jobs often follow a Monday–Friday only schedule


  • Highest average tuition cost of $120,000 in total.
  • Takes the most time to earn a degree. Four years on average.

A Community College

A community college allows students to earn an associate degree. This only takes two years to complete, but the average income is $36,000, about 20% less than those with a bachelor’s degree. On the plus side, community college costs about $1,636 in California annually.


  • Tuition cost is an average of $3,272 total
  • Opportunities to climb in your career
  • Ability to earn a bachelor’s for a potential $46,000 average income
  • Only takes about two years to complete


  • Average income is $32,000 for those with an associate degree.

A Trade School

Trade schools are often overlooked in the options, but it’s certainly worth considering. By attending a trade school, students graduate with a certificate in a specialized field. These are for those interested in mechanics, repairs, construction or sometimes even IT and healthcare. Trade school takes two years to complete with an income of $40,000, compared to a bachelor’s income of $46,000. The cost, on the other hand, is $33,000 in total.


  • Tuition cost is an average of $33,000 total
  • Certificate only takes two years to earn
  • Quickly receive a higher income of $40,000


  • The pay is slightly lower. After 10 years in the workforce, trade school graduates make about $1,347 less annually than college graduates.
  • The work schedule can be more varied, with night hours or weekends required.
  • More physical labor is generally required (which might not be a con for your student).

Things to consider when making your decision

According to our faculty staff and advisors, there are three major things to consider in when helping your child make a decision:

Academic Prowess

A four-year university is known to be rigorous with large class sizes. For a lot of our independent, homeschool and flex students, staying on task and discipline isn’t a hard task since it’s a skill already learned.

If you know your child needs more personalized support from teachers, a community college could be a better route. It’s not easier, as can be a common misconception, but it’s much cheaper with much smaller class sizes.


A mythology that surrounds Community college is that it does not have rigorous as a university, however, this notion could not be further from the truth. Many Universities have pathway programs that allow students to take their first two years, including 200 level courses, at a community college, before starting the last two years of a four-year degree at a university. This means that those universities consider the academic prowess of community college courses equal to what they offer at a university level for the first two years.” – Ms. Meghan Freeman


You may qualify for financial aid and there can be several scholarships available. But it’s important to consider how much each path will cost. We’ve broken it down already, but here are the average costs of schools:

  • Four-year private university: $120,000
  • Four-year public university: $94,000
  • Trade school: $33,000
  • Community college: $3,272

On average, the cost for yearly tuition at a community college is $1,636 versus $7,000 a year at a University level. However, there are other costs to consider. If a student is living with their parents, then the cost of living might free up monies to attend a university from the beginning of a degree path. However, a student who does not live at home, has to consider the cost of food, rent, internet, and phone whether or not they are living on campus (university- Often have additional living fees such as internet and food cards) or off-campus (Community college- most do not have on-campus living) in addition to the cost of the courses they need to take. Scholarships, grants, college savings, and family contributions are also factors students need to take into consideration when choosing between a community college and a university. Creating a cost of living budget will help all students to choose the route they should take. – Ms. Freeman


Have your child think about what they want their life to look like. Are they more of a homebody, or are they counting down the days until they can move out? Would they like smaller interactions, or do they enjoy being in a large crowd? All these factors can make an impact on which route they choose.

For many students, socialization is a deciding factor between universities and community college routes. Not all community colleges have the sports teams or the variety of clubs that universities do. Smaller colleges and community colleges, however, do have smaller class sizes that allow students to get to know their teachers and their peers.  Students who are concerned about the socialization factor of college should conduct research into what the colleges around them offer in terms of class size, clubs, online courses, sports or other activities they may be interested in. – Ms. Freeman

The CTE ACADEMY: Earn a trade certificate while in high school

Your student doesn’t have to wait until graduation to start career training.

If you know they enjoy working with their hands, or maybe they want an early start in healthcare, Elite’s Career Technical Education Program is a great option. Students can use remaining educational funds toward real-world learning skills. A few of the programs offered include:

  • Fashion
  • Welding
  • Carpentry
  • Healthcare
  • Computer Science
  • Finance
  • Criminal Justice
  • Marketing
  • Psychology

To learn more, head here.

Still not sure? Ask an Elite advisor!

As you move along in this process, remember, your Elite advisors are here to help you! A big part of their job is to help you plan out your student’s life after high school.

In fact, our faculty and advisors are experts in the fields of financial aid, college costs and earning scholarships. They know the pros and cons of every route, even if your student wants to jump into a career or join the military.

Don’t forget to reach out to them. 🙂