Postsecondary Opportunities for High School Students

Share & Bookmark, Press Enter to show all options, press Tab go to next option

happy high school graduateMaking Informed Decisions

To prepare Virginia’s students for postsecondary education or to meet employers’ expectations of candidates for entry-level jobs House Bill 1299 and Senate Bill 738 (2022 General Assembly) charged the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) with collecting information that assists high school students in making more informed decisions about their futures after graduating from high school. This ensures that such students are aware of the costs and benefits of different educational and certificate programs.

This page provides information on preparing, applying, and paying for college, as well as information on degrees and labor-market career projections. 

Preparing for Postsecondary Education

Is college worth the investment?

The benefits and positive outcomes for earning a postsecondary degree or credential have been well researched. The Key Facts About Higher Education through SCHEV provides you with valuable information on the value of college, including wages earned by college graduates and average student debt. Graduates with postsecondary education (degree or credential) have higher average earnings for each level of college degree, are more likely to have health insurance, pay taxes, vote and volunteer, and are less likely to receive unemployment benefits or need public assistance benefits. 

Median Wages, 10 Years Post-Graduation

Degree Level Wage
High School Diploma $27,223
Associate (Transfer) $45,000
Associate (Technical) $45,571
Bachelor’s $54,554

Sources: State Council for Higher Education EOM18: Exploration of Wages over time by Degree for degree wages, U.S. Census Personal Income tables.

When should I begin to prepare for college and career?

It is never too early to start your preparation for college and a career. We encourage you to start with the end in mind, which means always having a career in mind when making decisions on courses and activities in school. There are currently requirements in place for each student in Virginia to create an Academic and Career Plan Portfolio in elementary school and an Academic and Career Plan (ACP) in middle school. Engaging with your school counselor and teachers to really take the time to explore careers and create a meaningful ACP is very important. The ACP, which includes a course sequence and pathway to “life after high school,” should be your roadmap as you work with teachers and counselors to meet your goals. Refer to the College and Career Preparation Programs and Opportunities for Postsecondary Credit section of the Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia to see more. Also, additional information and resources on K-12 academic and career planning can be found on the VDOE Academic and Career Plan webpage.  

How can I make the best decision for me about postsecondary education?

As mentioned above, your Academic and Career Plan should be your roadmap and reflect decisions you have made about college and career based on your interests, values, and skills. Career Assessments through the Virginia Education Wizard are a great way to look at how careers fit into your personal strengths and attributes. Additional ways to make the best decisions are through an exploration of careers and college majors; identifying and enrolling in rigorous and/or advanced courses that complement your postsecondary plans; and gathering information about careers and the college admissions process. Be sure to share these college and career goals with your parents, counselors, and teachers. 

Can the Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses I have completed in high school help me in college and for a career?

Career and technical education (CTE) programs in Virginia public schools serve more than 640,000 students in one or more CTE courses in grades 6-12. These programs are designed to prepare you for productive futures while meeting workforce needs for well-trained and industry-certified technical workers. Data shows that about half of all CTE program completers are also 4-year college attendees, so don’t think that CTE courses are only for those NOT going to college. 

Take a moment to look at students who have graduated from CTE programs in Virginia and the amazing careers they have on the Student Profiles webpage.

How do I know if there will be jobs available when I graduate from college or a credentialing program?

Having labor market information may help you identify fields and occupations that fit your career goals. Take a look at high growth occupations in Virginia by educational attainment. This Job Outlook brochure lists a sampling of high-growth occupations by educational attainment and annual wages projected to 2024, as well as occupations that are projected to decline.

In addition, access the top 100 careers that are expected to grow the fastest over the coming decade across the United States.

How do I know if my degree or credentialing program will be of value in the labor market?

SCHEV has colleges and universities use data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) to demonstrate how their proposed programs align with existing employment opportunities in the Commonwealth.

Additionally, the Workforce Credential Grant Program was developed during the 2016 General Assembly Session to create and sustain a supply of credentialed workers to fill high-demand occupations in fields which support the state’s economy while making the attainment of these credentials more affordable. This grant program provides a pay-for-performance model for funding noncredit workforce training that leads to a credential in a high demand field.

Where can I find additional information on preparing for college?

The State Council of Higher Education in Virginia offers great resources for students, families and educators. Check out their Preparing for College webpage to get access to a free toolkit of resources.

Group of high school students working together on a laptop with the guidance of their teacherApplying for Postsecondary Education

College is not one-size-fits-all. In order to make the best decision for your goals, you should explore different schools and programs. ACT’s College Match and Fit Toolkit is a great way to find programs that are the best match for you in size, distance, and program availability. You are encouraged to meet with a school counselor or adviser in your school who can help you organize your college search and application process. Be sure to review your transcripts and update and maintain your Academic and Career Plans to help inform your planning. 

Ready to explore some higher education institutions (HEIs)? 

Use Virginia Student Loan Help’s College Explorer to compare institutions across the state or country. Gather information about a school’s profile, costs, student success, admissions, financial aid debt, and student body to help inform your postsecondary planning. 

Where can I find more information on applying for college?

The State Council of Higher Education in Virginia offers great resources for students, families, and educators. Check out their Applying for College webpage to get access to a free toolkit of resources. 

Paying for Postsecondary Education

How do I pay for college, and is there financial aid and scholarships available for me?

Think you can’t afford college? Think again! There are multiple ways to pay for college, including some free ones, making a higher education more affordable and leaving you with less student debt. SCHEV provides information on ways to pay for college and steps to apply for financial aid.

Virginia Student Loan Help is a service that assists students in making smart decisions about paying for college. It was created by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), the Commonwealth's coordinating body for higher education, and through a mandate of the Virginia state legislature to educate Virginians about borrowing for college. By completing short educational modules, you'll learn how college financing works, how to manage your loans, and where to turn if you need help.

Will I have the opportunity while in college to earn money through paid internships and/or externships in my area of study? 

Many colleges and universities offer a variety of internships and externships. Students should familiarize themselves with their college’s career center. 

In addition, the State Corporation Commission offers active college students the opportunity to gain valuable work experience through an internship program. 

Students who have completed a work experience in high school are encouraged to maintain relationships with employers and inquire about future internship/externship opportunities. 

How many years will it take me to complete college and how much money will I owe if I take out student loans?

Students can use the College Explorer on Virginia Student Loan Help to look at institutional profiles. Graduation rates and financial aid debt information can be found on each profile as available. Additional information can be found on SCHEV’s Institution Profile webpage. 

To look at the average years it takes to complete postsecondary education across types of institutions, please visit Time-to-Degree Scorecard.

How much money will I make after graduating from college?

Students can explore a variety of data about how much graduates earn 18 months following completion of a degree or certificate by using SCHEV’s Guide to the Post-Completion Wages of Graduates.

Where can I find additional information on paying for college?

The State Council of Higher Education in Virginia offers great resources for students, families, and educators. Check out the Paying for College webpage to get access to a free toolkit of resources.

Going to Postsecondary

Congratulations! Students who have prepared and applied for college can work through SCHEV’s Making Decisions About College webpage to start finalizing decisions. 

It is easy to be overwhelmed by all the information and opportunities available. Students are strongly encouraged to work with their educators, school counselors, and college and career advisers to finalize postsecondary plans.