THE NEXT LEVEL: What Will You Do After High School?

By Julia Shands on Monday, October 25, 2021

What colleges are you considering?

Are your grades solid? Will money be an issue?

What lifestyle do you want in the future?

You’ve got questions to answer and decisions to make. Real Arkansas college students are here to help!

Four-year Degrees

Maggie McLemore
Adrian Cuevas-Herrera
AGE: 20 • HOMETOWN: Van Buren • GRADUATION YEAR: 2023 • ATTENDING: University of Arkansas at Fort Smith •  WORKING TOWARD: Bachelor’s in Computer Science

Adrian Cuevas-Herrera became interested in computer science when he realized that everyone around him uses technology in their daily life. He then decided that he wanted to learn how people develop machines and get them to function properly.

This option is for you if:
• You want more career opportunities
• You want the traditional college experience
• You want to pursue postgraduate education

“The idea of making a computer do something a hundred times faster than a human can, or even do things that no human can do, is such a fascinating thing to me,” he says. “The thought of creating new things or improving old methods to make life easier for others, makes me passionate about this field.”

The faculty from the computer science department is the reason why Adrian chose to attend UAFS. “When I talked to a professor about attending UAFS for this degree, the professor knew what he was doing, and he knew how to talk about the material,” Adrian says. “I felt like this university would make me competitive against students from other universities and prepare me for any future I wanted.”

When choosing a school, Adrian wanted to be able to interact with his professors and feel comfortable asking for help when needed.

Other than taking classes, Adrian is involved in various groups on campus. He is a member of the Game Design & Development Club; the Computer Club and he also participates in research for the Artificial Intelligence Lab. “These clubs are a way to meet people with similar interests and create lifetime friends,” Adrian says. “It also gives me a fun outlet...outside of just studying and doing homework.”

Adrian’s best piece of advice for those considering a degree is to challenge yourself so you can grow.

“Never take the easy route,” he says. “It may be tempting, but it will backfire eventually, and you will not acquire the knowledge you need to be competitive.”

What You Need to Know

Length of Program: Four years, although there are ways to finish early (through AP credit, dual credit or summer courses) or to slow it down for easier workload.

Cost: The average yearly cost of in-state tuition and room and board for a public university in Arkansas was $18,516 for 2020-2021. Private college tuition and fees tend to be more expensive at an average of $21,169 for 2019-2020.*

Admissions Requirements: Most four-year colleges require a high school diploma and have a minimum GPA and ACT requirement. However, with the pandemic causing many tests to be canceled or rescheduled, there may be an optional ACT/SAT testing policy in place at the schools you’re considering.

Housing: On-campus housing like dorms and apartments are typically available.

"I believe some of the benefits of pursuing a bachelor’s degree are the increase of job opportunities, making yourself stand out against others, increased earnings, improved job security, job satisfaction and many more reasons." – Adrian

Associate Degrees

Sydney Bryant
Isaac Wooten
AGE: 19 • HOMETOWN: Searcy • GRADUATION YEAR: 2022 • ATTENDING: Arkansas State University–Beebe, Searcy Campus • WORKING TOWARD: Associate degree in Applied Sciences of Computerized Machining

Isaac Wooten’s love for machining began in high school when he entered a program that pays students to participate in technical college classes for dual credit. He really enjoyed those classes and wanted to go back to school and get his associate degree in Applied Science of Computerized Machining after graduation. Isaac is now on the path to becoming a CNC Machine Programmer in two short years.

This option is for you if:
• You want to save money on core classes
• You haven’t picked a major yet
• You want to live at home (or close)

“I love that I get to use my hands,” Isaac says. “I love being able to take a chunk of metal and put it in a machine, and watch it transform into a finished part by the time it is all said and done.”

Not only is Isaac pursuing an associate degree, but he is able to work while doing so. He goes to class Monday-Friday from 8-11:30 a.m., then spends the rest of his day working. “It has allowed me to get on-the-job training while going to school,’’ he says. “Most places want you to have some experience when they hire you, so I’m getting two things done at once.”

Isaac has enjoyed the two-year program because of the low cost and how it’s preparing him for potential job opportunities. “I have really enjoyed the price difference,” he says. “Instead of spending tens of thousands on a degree, I’ve spent maybe a quarter of that, and I can get a job right out of the gate.”

After you’ve graduated with your associate degree, there will be plenty of job opportunities begging for your attention. An associate degree or two-year technical program generally prepares you for a very niche and high-demand career. You can be hired right out of school and jump straight into the workforce with good pay and upward mobility!

What You Need to Know

Advantages: Credits from a two-year associate program can usually count toward general education, core and elective classes for a bachelor’s degree. Plus, two-year colleges commonly charge less for tuition than four-year schools. Associate degrees can provide students with the opportunity to receive increased pay in their future careers, even if the job does not require a degree.**

Cost: The average associate degree earned at a community college in Arkansas costs $3,390 annually.*

Admission Requirements: Associate degree programs typically require a high school diploma or equivalent. Colleges may also expect students to have a specific minimum GPA and to complete their state’s pre-college curriculum, which often includes English, math and science courses.

Housing: Most two-year colleges do not offer on-campus living, so if you have your sights set on a two-year school, you might want to consider saving your money by living at home or getting your own apartment!

“The more effort you put into it, the more reward you will get from it. Give it everything you’ve got because, in the end, it will be worth it.” – Isaac

Transfer Degrees

Jacob Slaton
Melissa Kennedy
AGE: 20 • HOMETOWN: Hot Springs • GRADUATION YEAR: 2022 • CURRENTLY ATTENDING: National Park College • TRANSFERRING TO: Arkansas Tech University • WORKING TOWARD: Bachelor’s degree in Business Digital Marketing

Melissa Kennedy originally wanted to go to school out of state; however, she felt more comfortable being closer to home and made a last-minute decision to attend National Park College. Although NPC was not where Melissa initially pictured the start of her college career, the decision allowed her to adapt to college life in a smaller community.

This option is for you if:
• You want to save a lot of money (or need to work part-time)
• You’re not quite ready to leave home
• You’re working to get into your dream school

“Starting off at a large university can be intimidating to some students, especially those who have a special connection with home,” Melissa says. “When starting at a smaller college, it allows students to take those steps gradually.”

Growing up, Melissa loved seeing advertisements on TV and watching influencer’s YouTube videos. “When I saw brand influencers come out with their own products, I thought, ‘I wonder what it’s like to work behind the scenes.’” Because a degree in digital marketing is not offered at NPC, she transferred to Arkansas Tech University. “I decided to transfer in order to further my education,” said Melissa. “I knew I would not be satisfied unless I kept going to learn more about the marketing field.” Once she finishes college, Melissa hopes to find a job as a social media assistant. She also dreams of starting her own cosmetics brand.

As a student that’s been through the transfer process, Melissa wants to encourage others planning to follow a similar path. “My advice for students transferring is to not compare yourselves to your peers once you get to your new college,” Melissa says. “Everyone’s journey is different, including yours. Be proud of yourself for making it this far!”

Community colleges provide students with a more personalized learning experience. Public universities have large class sizes, making it difficult to get to know your professors and classmates, but community colleges tend to maintain small class sizes, giving students easier access to resources and help.

What You Need to Know

Cost: Community colleges cost far less than four-year universities. The average annual cost of a two-year school in Arkansas is $3,390; meanwhile, the average annual cost for a four-year college is $18,516, including room and board.*

Admission Requirements: While four-year schools have GPA requirements and ACT/SAT score minimums, most community colleges only require a high school diploma or GED.

Transferring Credits: Before enrolling at a two-year college, make sure the credits you earn will count toward your degree at the four-year college you plan to attend.

Housing: The majority of two-year colleges don’t offer on-campus housing, but once you transfer to a four-year school, there will be plenty of residence halls to choose from!

"Starting off at a large university can be intimidating to some students, especially those who have a special connection with home. When starting at a smaller college, it allows students to take those steps gradually.” – Melissa

Graduate Degrees

Sydney Bryant
Julia Green
AGE: 23 • HOMETOWN: Maumelle • UNDERGRAD DEGREE: Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science • CURRENTLY ATTENDING: University of Arkansas at Little Rock • WORKING TOWARD: Master of Science in Computer Science

Julia Green graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. She always wanted to attend graduate school after college, so when she was offered a part-time job in UA Little Rock’s AR/VR lab and free tuition, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to further her education.

This option is for you if:
• You want to further your education
• You want to maximize your earning potential
• Your dream job requires a graduate degree

“I’ve had to pay out of pocket for school in the past, and I couldn’t refuse a free master’s,” Julia says. “Plus, I get paid for working, and I don’t have to work full time while getting a degree.”

While a master’s degree is not necessary for those going into the computer science field, it’s beneficial for Julia’s future career in research. The master’s program at UA Little Rock will provide Julia with more in-depth education about the theory of computer science and its practical applications, preparing her for her dream job at the National Weather Service.

Julia is headed into her first year of graduate school and is thrilled about stepping into a new way of learning.

UA Little Rock has been the perfect fit for Julia because she has been able to get involved with many computer science organizations on campus. She will even be serving as the president of the esports Club and the Association for Computing Machinery during the school year.

Julia feels passionate about encouraging girls going into computer science and wants any girl interested to know that they’re not alone.

“If you’re a girl going into computer science, don’t be intimidated,” she says. "There are more girls in computer science than you might think, and you will not be the only one.”

What You Need to Know

Length of Program: The length of the program depends on the field of study. While it typically takes a full-time student two years to complete a graduate degree in business, it can take three years for law school and four years for medical students.

Cost: The cost of a graduate degree varies by institution. The average annual cost of attendance for a full-time graduate student at UA Little Rock is $25,521, including room and board and other additional fees.*

Admission Requirements: Most graduate programs have a minimum GPA requirement and a minimum score on a standardized test like the GRE, MCAT, DAT or LSAT. Many programs also expect students to have been well involved in extracurriculars for their field of study while pursuing their undergraduate degrees.

Housing: Most colleges offer on-campus living options for graduate students. However, most graduates choose to live off-campus.

The Four Computer Science Graduate Programs in Arkansas:

• University of Arkansas
• University of Central Arkansas
• Arkansas State University
• University of Arkansas at Little Rock

"I want to do research and find ways to make radar modeling more efficient and in-depth so that the weather guys at the national weather service, and on TV, can better convey that information to other people with visuals." – Julia

Hear more from Julia at GAME ON: Hot Tech Opportunities to Explore at Arkansas Schools.

Sources: * and **