For high school graduates who were planning to head off to college this August, but didn’t receive an acceptance letter, it’s time to move to Plan B.
“It’ll feel like the end of the world, but it isn’t,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor. “If you don’t get a college acceptance, don’t panic. Stay calm.”
Taking a gap year between high school and college can be beneficial to help identify potential areas of interest and gain valuable work experience. In fact, a gap year is common—and even encouraged—in many countries.
“The course of action will be different for every person, but if you’re committed to learning, you’ll be successful in your career path,” says Jennifer Grasz, vice president at CareerBuilder.
Experts suggest filling your time with a combination of work and classes so you can keep your toes in the studying waters. “Taking a full- or part-time job to see what the working world is like without a college education can be a great motivator to see what a college education is worth,” says Tara Sinclair, economist at career website Indeed. Spending time in the labor force can establish useful work habits that can translate into advantageous study habits for college.
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“The most successful people will take this opportunity and turn it around by evaluating what will work for them when it comes to education, work experience, and the skills they want to acquire,” says Dobroski.
Here’s what experts recommend high school grads do after graduation:
Attend Community College
At a community college, you can explore different courses and majors (for a fraction of the cost) and use it as a steppingstone to a four-year school, says Grasz.
“You can get a professor who teaches at a top-tier school or someone who’s going to teach at a top-tier school,” says Sinclair. Depending on how well you do, these professors may be able to provide recommendations for when you reapply to college.
Oftentimes, community colleges have open enrollment policies and some have arrangements with state schools for automatic admission to finish your bachelor’s degree.
In addition, attending community college for a year or two and then moving on to a four-year institution to finish up and get the degree can bring significant cost savings.
Find a Part-Time Job
Identify potential industries you are interested in having a career in and apply for part-time jobs, recommends Dobroski. Not only will the income help defray some future education costs, but it will give you real-world experience to help you focus your studies.
“You can get a sense of the aspects of the real world and the workplace that you like and don’t like and what parts of a business that you find interesting,” he says.
Consider jobs geared towards college students with a training component. “Just because you aren’t in a four-year college, you might still qualify for these jobs if you’re in community college,” says Sinclair. “Employers are expecting to hire someone who wants to learn.”
Don’t discount an entry-level retail or food service position since these can be a great starting point in your career. “We hear of those success stories where someone starts at the bottom and climbs up, but they have to know themselves to know they’ll take that job seriously,” says Sinclair. “You can’t climb up because you see other people advance but rather because you put in the hard work.”
Learn a Skill
“Some people want to experience college life, but if that’s not right for you, you can go right into the workforce and get a handsome salary before your peers,” says Dobroski. As the work landscape continues to change and evolve, look to align your interests with high-demand jobs in growing industries.
There are one-year software engineering coding programs that help you gain skills so you can start working earlier than your peers. And since computer programmers are in demand, you’ll likely get paid handsomely, says Dobroski. “If you enjoy this, you can go to school and get your BS in computer science.”
Try, Try Again, and Reapply to College
“It’s not too late for fall admissions at some schools,” says Katherine Cohen, LinkedIn’s higher education expert and founder of IvyWise.
“You want to take a look at the available schools to see if they’re a good fit— these schools stop taking applications when their spots are filled,” she adds. You can also apply to some schools for the winter or spring term on a probation basis to prove you can handle the work. Their deadlines are usually in late July or August.
Before applying to schools again, experts suggest contacting your high school guidance counselor, the college admissions offices at the schools that turned you down or an independent counselor to learn why you weren’t accepted.
There could be various reasons why your applications were rejected, says Cohen, like applying to out-of-reach schools, poor grades or test scores or having a weak application.
Consider whether retaking tests, completing a post-graduate year of high school to raise your grades or working will help to strengthen your application. If you don’t test well, Fairtest.org lists schools that don’t require standardized tests. You can also hire a tutor to help you prepare for the admissions test— a higher test score can open more doors for you, says Cohen.
Take an Aptitude Test
“If you didn’t get into college and are interested in a topic, an aptitude test can give guidance on what you can do and what can be fruitful for you, like available internships and education programs,” says Felix Ortiz, chief executive officer and founder of Viridis Learning.
These tests can help you focus on learning the right skills and obtaining the right education for the jobs you’d be better suited for based on what you find fun, enjoyable and challenging. “The goal of an aptitude test is to give you more direction in your career,” he adds.