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

By Arkansas Next on Friday, October 21, 2022


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

Hannah Jobe
Ariel Hudson, Age: 22, Attending: University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Working toward: Bachelor's degree in music

Ariel’s passion for singing started when she was a little girl and continued to grow over the years. This love of music inspired her to pursue a career that would allow her to use her gift to make an impact. “I believe my voice allows me to connect to people beyond race, nationality or whatever,” Ariel said. “Music connects us all and I’m happy to share that experience with others.”

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

Ariel wanted to attend a four-year university where she could study music education and remain near her family. The music program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock stood out as the best choice for her. Ariel received several fine arts and local scholarships to help pay for her education, and she encourages high school students to start looking into financial aid early on. These scholarships can help minimize student loan debt, so it’s important to get a head start.

The transition from high school to college was difficult at first, and Ariel wishes she would have started practicing self-discipline skills sooner. She matured a lot on campus and developed a sense of independence that helps with balancing her demanding workload. “Making sure you hold yourself accountable for practice and study is the most important thing,” she said.

Through her degree program, Ariel found an extended family in her peers and professors. Every student is noticed and cared about, and they are able to create without limitations. She plans to use her degree to become a vocal coach and encourage other students to pursue a career in music. “You get to inspire young developing minds,” Ariel said. “Simultaneously, you’re being inspired by them as well, which is refreshing. You grow and learn all together.”

Ariel’s best advice for those thinking of getting a four-year degree is to be confident in your decision and apply as soon as possible.

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, plus room and board for a public university in Arkansas was $18,262 for 2022-2023. Of course, private college tuition and fees tend to be more expensive. However, both private and public schools offer a great mix of financial aid and scholarships to offset costs.*

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.

Associate Degrees

Hannah Jobe
Will Camp, Age: 20, Attending: Arkansas Northeastern College, Working toward: Associate degree in steel technology, High school: Greene County Tech, Paragould

Will wanted to start working right away after high school, and he was particularly interested in the steel industry. While looking into colleges, Will discovered that Arkansas Northeastern College had a steel technology program. He knew it was the perfect place to start his training. “The best thing about my degree is it relates directly to the field that I pursued,” Will said. “The classes were directly focused on anything and everything that I may see in my work environment inside a steel mill.”

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)

While earning his associate degree, Will worked full-time and started earning a solid income. He attended class two days a week and spent the rest of his time applying what he learned on the job. The program was very hands-on and easy to manage. Will liked that this route was more affordable than a four-year university. With his scholarships and job earnings, his education was fully paid for by the time he graduated. 

He suggests that students considering higher education look into local scholarships as well as the Arkansas Challenge Scholarship, which he received.

Thanks to his degree, Will was able to avoid a difficult job search after graduation. Many opportunities opened up for him, and at first he was determined to be an electrician for Nucor–but after receiving an offer to work in a lab at Big River Steel, Will decided to run with it. Even though he was not certain at the time, he enjoys his job. He hopes to grow in his skills and work his way up the ladder at the company. 

Degrees like Will’s are so versatile that there is never just one path to success, so it's important to be open to different possibilities. “Any student who will take an opportunity and run with it, and [works hard], will make an exceptional living for themselves,” he said.

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!

Transfer Degrees

Jess McIlroy with J.Fotografi
Hackler Mills, Age: 20, Attended: Arkansas State University–Beebe (two years), Transferred to: Harding University, Working toward: Bachelor’s degree in business administration/accounting, High school: Lighthouse Christian Academy, Beebe

Hackler started his higher ed journey at Arkansas State University-Beebe. He came from a small private school, so Hackler was nervous about going straight to a big college campus. Getting two associate degrees at a community college allowed him to get a taste of what college would be like while staying in his hometown, and he felt better prepared to transfer to a four-year university for a bachelor’s degree.

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

“I chose to pursue my bachelor’s degree because of the extra opportunities it presents,” he said. After graduating from ASU-Beebe, Hackler transferred to Harding University. He liked that the school aligned with his values and was still close to home. The academic culture was also a huge selling point for him. “Another reason for choosing HU was that they have a wonderful reputation and track record when it comes to graduates leaving with a job,” Hackler said. “I wanted a university that cared about my success just as much as my education and I found it at HU.”

Hackler is currently working toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus in accounting. He picked this degree because he heard that it was extremely versatile career-wise. After graduation, Hackler plans to get his CPA license and become an accountant or auditor. 

After three years of college, Hackler is still learning how to juggle the demands of his degree. Taking things one step at a time and seeking out the guidance of faculty helps him manage his workload.

“Having an advisor that I can trust and work with has been an incredible asset to me when it comes to scheduling and planning out my semesters,” Hackler said. “I also find taking breaks is incredibly helpful when timed correctly. Even when a student is working on an important degree it is important to take time to enjoy the college experience.” 

After going through the transfer process, Hackler wants to encourage students considering a similar path. “Be true to who you are and put everything you have into your pursuit of higher education,” he said. “Remember that by putting a great deal of work into higher education today, you are sowing seeds that will yield an incredible harvest in the future.”

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!

Graduate Degrees

Hannah Jobe
Latina Robinson, Age: 35, Attending: Ouachita Baptist University, Working toward: Post-baccalaureate certificate for dietetic internship, High school: Newport High School

Latina developed a passion for nutrition and dietetics after tragically losing her grandmother to complications from diabetes. She wanted to help provide people with the resources to prevent this disease, especially in minority communities where it's more prevalent. After earning a bachelor’s degree, Latina needed to complete an internship to become a registered dietitian. She “matched” with Ouachita Baptist University through the Dietetic Internship Centralized Application System (DICAS), an online service that allows students to apply to multiple programs with a single application. Ouachita’s post-baccalaureate certification would allow her to stay close to home while earning 18 credit hours towards her master’s degree, which was more graduate credit than other options she looked into. Latina knew she couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

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

Due to her program type, she wasn’t eligible for financial aid. However, Latina was prepared and applied for a few scholarships. In 2021, she received the $25,000 Advancing Diversity in Dietetics Scholarship from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (AND) Foundation. Latina was one of two students in the nation selected for this award, and it allowed her to work less, focus more on her studies and pay for her tuition and other expenses.

For Latina, the best part about her degree program has been the hands-on learning alongside registered dietitians. “Learning from professionals and gaining knowledge from my studies helped prepare me for the workforce,” she said. “It was exciting to be able to work a day in the life of the professional that I was working to become.”

These experiences Latina had through her rotations opened her eyes to the career possibilities in this industry. She aspires to be a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes care and education specialist. Through this job, she can make a significant impact on helping prevent Type 2 diabetes and continue to advocate for diabetes awareness. 

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.

Military Route

Alle Pattillo
Samuel Hamilton, Age: 20, Attending: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Working toward: Bachelor’s degree in business/supply chain management

Samuel chose to attend the University of Arkansas because they have a great supply chain management program. Due to the high demand for logistics professionals, he knew this degree would be useful and set him up for success after graduation. The beautiful campus and thriving community in Fayetteville were also a major plus.

This option is for you if:
• You want to serve your country
• You want your college expenses paid for with little to no debt
• You want to earn a steady income while in school

Another big reason Sam enrolled at UA was because of its outstanding Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. Since he decided to enlist while earning a degree, Sam received a three-year scholarship from the Army to cover his tuition, books and fees, as well as some smaller scholarships for his first year of school. The Army ROTC program gives students training and experience that will benefit them not only in the Army but also in their civilian careers.

“After college, I will commission into the Army as a second lieutenant and use the knowledge gained from my degree to help me succeed in the military,” Sam said. 

Between his ROTC obligations and coursework, Sam stays busy. He said it was a real learning curve, but he found a way to balance both while still finding time to have a social life. “I learned how to properly manage my time,” Sam said. “If you plan ahead, you will be able to find time to study enough to succeed in your classes while still getting to enjoy your college experience.”

How to Join

Do Your Research: There are a total of seven branches of the military: Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps., National Guard, Air National Guard and Coast Guard. Although requirements to enlist in each individual branch are similar, there are notable differences, including age, physical ability and academic test scores.

Talk to a Recruiter: Each branch has its own website with contact information for its recruiter. Don’t be afraid to reach out through a phone call or email. Colleges with ROTC programs have recruiters you can reach out to for more information, too.

Study & Score High: The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is offered at the Military Entrance Processing Station, your high school or through the recruiter you reached out to. Each branch requires a different score, so study hard and score high!

Get Physical: Expect nothing less than timed miles and intense pull-up, push-up and crunch routines for the physical exam at the branch of your choice. Each branch has its own specific score for the physical requirements, so make sure you train and feel prepared to ace this test.

Take the Final Steps: Visit a Military Entrance Processing Station to take care of any final requirements, report any medical history and sign your enlistment papers.

Go to Boot Camp: Get ready to be pushed to your limit at boot camp. You’ll be pushed past your breaking point while bonding with your fellow recruits—and celebrating after graduation (a huge accomplishment!).

Sources: * and **