How to Find the Right Pathway for You

Not every young person’s postsecondary path will neatly fit into one of these five situations, so we recommend that you build a hybrid plan utilizing the information available.

Life is not a straight road, and your path may change, but hopefully, this guide will give you some insight on what to do next!

So, let’s begin.

 Step 1

Find postsecondary opportunities where you will thrive and institutions and academic activities that excite you.

 Step 2

Create a plan that provides you with enough time to consider your postsecondary adventure and to consult with your support team. Keep deadlines in mind.

 Step 3

Accept that the future might open unexpected opportunities. Keep your journey flexible and your eyes open to possibilities.

It’s never too early to start planning for your postsecondary future! As you’ll see below, there are many things you can start doing in middle school. Here are some strategies to get you started:

strategy one

Strategy: Begin building a life interest list

You can start thinking about your career goals and how to achieve them as early as the seventh and eighth-grades.

How to get started

Consider pursuing a postsecondary pathway that focuses on the things that excite you.
Match those interests with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in them.
Do your research – speak to your school counselor about opportunities to connect with those working in these areas and research them online to familiarize yourself with the profession(s).

Things to think about

What don’t you like to do or study?
What are you really good at?
What academic subjects interest you?
What in-school and/or community activities interest you?
What interests – academic and personal – would you like to explore?


Interest and career surveys available at your school.

Personality assessments such as Myers-Briggs.

Conversations with family and friends about their careers and career aspirations.

Now what

At this stage, keep your lists long and options as open as possible. Add and delete as your exploration leads you.

strategy two

Strategy: Explore academic course opportunities

Academic course opportunities are important for your future plans. Find the right balance of rigor in your schedule and the subject matter that supports the studies you are interested in, but don’t create a schedule that is overwhelming. Take advanced courses like Advanced Placement Calculus, if you can, as successful completion of these courses can earn college credits that will save you time and money when you enroll in college.

Build this academic plan (or plans) early on. Many important college prep courses offered in your later high school years require a level of competency obtained in the early years. Often the higher level of coursework will have limited openings so it is important that you work with your school counselors to map out a program.

How to get started

Create an academic plan that is a combination of foundational courses and those you are interested in learning more about.
At each stage of this plan, prepare for the highest possible next step. It is always better to be overprepared than underprepared!
Visit a sampling of college websites to check out their course requirements for admission. You can also meet with your school counselor to discuss the requirements and what may be a good fit.

Things to think about

What enhanced academic courses – AP, Regents, Honors – are available at your high school? How do you make sure you will be considered for them?
How can you best balance the rest of your life – home, extracurriculars, community, work – with a challenging academic program?
What colleges are you interested in and what are the course requirements for admission?


Your high school counselors.
Community organization college/career advisors.

Now what

Embrace the possibility that conversations and experiences might cause you to adjust your plans. Be flexible!

strategy three

Strategy: The Finishing Touches

Your junior and senior years of high school are integral to launching you onto your postsecondary pathway. Trades have a set of skill requirements you need to meet to practice. Colleges have admission requirements. Be sure you are prepared to determine this next step, not have the decision made for you. Meet regularly with your school counselors to take advantage of the resources available to you at school.

These final two years of high school can provide opportunities for real-life experiences in the forms of shadowing, internships, and part-time jobs. Often these opportunities are competitive for students. Learning about them at the end of your sophomore year is a good idea so you can prepare to apply when the time comes.

Postsecondary planning should be prioritized more during the second semester of your junior year. While graduation might seem far off, college applications can be due as early as senior-year November. Financial aid paperwork – never a simple task – should be started early in your senior-fall to ensure there is time for any follow up and that your admission offers include financial aid packages that have considered all your details.

How to get started

Whether it is pursuing a college degree or a trade, the final two years of high school are very important for your next step.
Part-time work, internships, and shadowing opportunities can help with your plans. In either case, it is better to learn what you like and dislike earlier than later.

Things to think about

How can you best balance the many opportunities that come with the last two years in high school with keeping your grades up?

When does an enriched academic schedule become overwhelming? How can you find the best balance that will bring both challenge and – with appropriate effort – good results?


High school counselors and college advisors

Big Future college planning tool offered by the College Board  

Now what

Build your list of postsecondary options by January of your junior year so you can explore them at a manageable pace.
Begin your financial planning at the end of your 11th grade to ensure that all the necessary paperwork is available by the beginning of your senior year.
Begin drafting your college essays – an important component of many college applications – during the summer before your senior year.
Finish your senior year strong! A decline in your achievement level could cost you scholarship funds or even an admissions offer.