What's Your Next Level? 8 Options for After High School

By NEXT Staff on Monday, September 8, 2014

We like options.

From dozens of flavors in the ice cream aisle to hundreds of styles on the clothing rack, we like having the chance to pick what suits us best.

Your higher education plans should be no different. Fortunately, there are many education options to choose from when building the right plan for you. From a four-year degree program to a military path, it’s important that you’re familiar with all the possible routes before taking your next step. This section breaks down eight ways to take your education to the next level, and it shares the stories of real Arkansas students who've found a path that works for them. So go ahead — dig in and find the option for you!

  1. FOUR-YEAR COLLEGES: Kendreia Smith, Arkansas State University in Jonesboro
  2. TWO-YEAR COLLEGES: Perla Maldonado, Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville
  3. CONCURRENT CREDIT: Adrienne Merriott, Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & the Arts in Hot Springs
  4. TECHNICAL SCHOOLS: Hayden Bolding, Arkansas Tech University—Ozark
  5. UNIVERSITY/DEGREE CENTERS: Mishanna Morgan, East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City
  6. ONLINE PROGRAMS: Ashley Shelton, Ozarka College in Melbourne
  7. APPRENTICESHIPS: Caleb & Evan Perry, Thompson Electric in Little Rock
  8. MILITARY SERVICE: William T. Edwards, University of Central Arkansas in Conway


Wil Chandler
Kendreia Smith, Arkansas State University in Jonesboro

As someone who writes her own songs in her free time, it’s no surprise Stuttgart native and Arkansas State University (ASU) freshman Kendreia Smith decided to major in music. Kendreia says choosing ASU was easy. Not only did Jonesboro remind her a lot of her hometown, but it was far enough away to give her a sense of freedom without feeling too disconnected from her family. “The best part about campus life is that most of everything I need is right here,” she says. “A lot of different people and necessities are within walking distance.” After graduation, she plans to start her own music label and become a music producer.

Why did you choose a four-year school over the other options?
I believe that the more education I get, the better my future can be.

How are you handling the financial side of attending a four-year?
I got the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship and two scholarships from Rotary Club. Apply as early as possible and apply every year. Take advantage of tuition payment discounts and never pass up filling out a scholarship application.

What did you do in high school to prepare for college coursework?
I took Advanced Placement (AP) environmental science, biology, English and pre-AP chemistry. These helped me understand the subjects a little more so that in college, it would come easier to me.

Any tips for managing a college workload?
I study with flashcards, and drawing a picture helps. Studying with other people is always a plus when they’re serious about getting their work done.

LENGTH OF PROGRAM: Most bachelor’s programs are on a four-year schedule, but how long it takes is up to you. Take caution: an overloaded class schedule can stretch you too thin and result in bad grades. At the same time, some scholarships require a certain number of classes each semester, or are only renewable for four years. Find an on-campus academic adviser to help you out.
COST: Scholarships, loans and grants are available regardless of where you go to school. If you’ve already declared a major, check out scholarships that might be available through that college or department.

ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS: Universities typically require a high school or equivalency diploma along with a minimum grade point average and ACT or SAT score.

HOUSING: Most four-year colleges offer multiple options, including dorms and on-campus apartments. Feeling independent already? Make sure your college doesn’t require freshmen to live on campus.

This option is for you if:

  • You want the traditional college experience
  • Dorm life and community bathrooms don’t scare you
  • You plan to pledge or rush

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Wil Chandler
Perla Maldonado, Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville

After high school, Osceola native Perla Maldonado wanted to stay close to home as she pursued her degree in international business. With a manageable commute to nearby Blytheville, Arkansas Northeastern College was the perfect fit for her. “The student-to-teacher ratio at ANC is great,” she says. “The teacher is more available to answer questions not discussed in class.” When she finishes her associate degree, the 19-year-old plans to transfer to either the University of Central Arkansas in Conway or Arkansas State University in Jonesboro — and after that, she says she’s ready to travel the globe.

Why did you choose a two-year school over other options?
I felt it would be an easier transition from high school to college. I am getting the same education as a four-year institution for a fraction of the price — that was also a big factor. I know I made the right decision when I speak with high school friends who chose four-year universities who struggle to communicate with their teachers or are already deep in student loans.

I’ve encountered people who think attending a two-year college means getting less of an education. In reality, everyone’s first two years are fairly the same. The difference of two-year colleges is mainly the cost, and who doesn’t love to save?

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Unless you make a friend in every class, you are really on your own. Teachers no longer run after you reminding you of assignments due. Buying a planner, making reminders on my phone and better time management have been helpful techniques.

How are you making college work financially?
ANC offers numerous scholarships, and there’s always the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship. Scholarship money adds up just as quickly as tuition and fees. Filling out scholarship applications is never a waste of time!

ADVANTAGES: Two-year colleges allow students to adjust to college life gradually. Plus, students at two-year colleges get the courses they need for the first two years of a bachelor’s degree for less money. Others work toward a certificate in a specific area or a two-year associate degree (again, saving money).

COST: Tuition is less than that of a four-year institution, and many scholarships and financial aid opportunities are available. You save on room and board, too.

ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS: Most public two-year colleges have an “open door” admissions policy, which means all you need is a copy of your high school transcript or GED scores — most don’t have a minimum GPA requirement.

HOUSING: Dorms aren’t the norm, so a two-year college may be best if you want to live at home with your parents (and save some money) or try spreading your wings in your own apartment.

This option is for you if:

  • You haven’t picked a major yet
  • You need to live at home
  • You’d like to save money on tuition

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Wil Chandler
Adrienne Merriott, Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & the Arts in Hot Springs

Bryant native Adrienne Merriott has been taking advantage of concurrent enrollment — that is, taking college and high school classes at the same time — since her sophomore year at Bryant High School when she enrolled in a precalculus/trigonometry class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. As a junior and senior at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & the Arts in Hot Springs, she took even more college classes at nearby National Park Community College, including world history, anatomy and physiology, Spanish, and composition I — just to name a few. The 18-year-old is now taking those credits she earned in high school to the University of Arkansas, where she’s applying them to a degree in biomedical engineering before eventually following her dream of medical school.

Was concurrent enrollment a good deal?
In high school, college classes are either free or at a lower price than you would get at a university. I often paid the fees for the classes at an extremely discounted price, but I never once paid for books, which tend to be on the expensive side.

Was there anything you wish you had known about college classes before you started taking them in high school?
Only that I should have taken as many as possible! I knew they would be beneficial, but as I ended up attending a state college, they are even more valuable since I knew they were transferable. With a difficult degree, it’s important to get the general education classes out of the way as early as possible. Concurrent credit is perfect for that. The fewer general education classes you have to cram into four years, the more time you can spend on specialized classes for your degree.

How are you handling the financial side of college?
I’ve worked very hard throughout my high school career to maintain the kind of résumé that would give me access to academic and merit-based scholarships. The University of Arkansas has very generously given me two separate merit-based scholarships.

ADVANTAGES: Concurrent enrollment earns you college credit in high school, saving you time and money.

COST: Tuition and textbooks are sometimes free or significantly discounted for concurrent students, making it a great way to cut down on the cost of a college degree.

ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS: Most colleges require the student be in at least ninth grade, have a specific minimum GPA, apply and gain admission to the college and have a specific minimum score from a college placement test. Sometimes, you’ll have to submit a letter from your principal or district superintendent.

HOUSING: Mom and Dad’s pad will just have to do for a little while, so enjoy the free groceries and prepared meals while you can.

This option is for you if:

  • You like to work ahead
  • You want to pay for fewer college classes
  • You love the idea of FREE textbooks

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Wil Chandler
Hayden Bolding, Arkansas Tech University—Ozark

Top of his automotive class in high school, 20-year-old Hayden Bolding knew he wanted to turn his love for cars into a career. He enrolled at Arkansas Tech University’s two-year Ozark campus and immediately knew it was the right fit for him. “The school has a huge shop area,” he says, “not to mention the instructors are probably the most knowledgeable people when it comes to my area of study.” Today, he’s a sophomore pursuing an associate of applied science with a certificate in automotive service technology.

What sets a technical college apart?
Most people don’t even realize technical schools like ATUO exist. For someone who isn’t familiar, look into it before you settle. You may realize technical school is much better for you.

What’s life like on a technical campus?
Campus life is very simple. I don’t have a regular college life as you would at a four-year school since there isn’t any Greek life or on-campus housing. I also don’t have to worry about a function every night that would distract me from my studies.

How are you handling the financial side of college?
Luckily, I found out about the Western Arkansas Employment Development Agency, an organization that gives scholarships for people going into high-demand professions. I also received the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship. With that, I still have to pull out a small loan to pay for books. I work and go to school, which at first is hard to balance, but once you get in the groove of it, it seems like it got easier and easier.

SCHOOL DETAILS: Most technical school programs can be completed in a year, but some require two years. Others can get you out in the real world in as little as 6 to 12 weeks.

COST: Tuition costs vary depending on how many classes you take, and financial aid is available.

ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS: Full-time enrollment at a technical school usually requires a high school diploma or its equivalent. Many technical students transfer to a two-year or four-year college later; doing so requires a high school diploma.

HOUSING: There are no dorms with this option, but if you’re completing a technical program at a two-year college, there might be. You may be stuck at Mom and Dad's place or have to get an apartment.

This option is for you if:

  • You need job-specific training
  • You like hands-on learning
  • You want fewer years of school

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Wil Chandler
Mishanna Morgan, East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City

When 23-year-old Forrest City native Mishanna Morgan finished her associate degree at two-year East Arkansas Community College, she jumped right into her criminology and sociology double major without having to leave EACC’s campus. How? Through a degree center partnership with Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, she and students like her take classes with ASU professors in an EACC classroom through two-way video feeds. “A lot of people think I’m an EACC student because I take classes there. I have to explain it to them,” she says. “My friends are like, ‘You can do that?’ Yes, seriously, you can!” After graduation, she plans on putting her education to use as a caseworker helping young women.

Why is a degree center the right choice for you?
I’m a single parent and it’s not easy being away from family. I also work part time and my family helps watch my daughter while I’m at work. It’s cheaper and more convenient for me to stay here in Forrest City.

How does the degree center program work?
There is an ASU adviser at EACC that helps you with your scheduling and graduation planning. It’s like you’re at ASU when you take the compressed video network (CVN) classes — you sign up for ASU and use ASU’s website just like you’re there. The teacher can see and hear you through the TV and you can do the same. It’s very neat. I was amazed when I first took a CVN class.

What’s been the biggest challenge of college so far, and how have you overcome it?
Being a single parent, working and going to college is very hard. Sometimes it’s very overwhelming, but I learned if I don’t get any rest, my body will make me rest. I also have to pray, because without God, I wouldn’t be able to do anything.

PROGRAM DETAILS: A university center or degree center is the partnership between a two-year college and a four-year university that allows students to get selected bachelor’s degrees through the two-year college. Classes are taught by four-year university professors on the two-year school’s campus or via video. If you’d like to pursue a four-year degree, but can’t get to such a campus, this option might be for you.

COST: You’ll pay tuition to the four-year university you’re enrolled with. Generally, classes cost the same as they would if you attended the school traditionally. However, you’ll still save some money by not having room and board fees.

ADMISSIONS: Usually, a student must receive an associate degree from the two-year school, apply for and gain admission to the partnering four-year university and then enroll in classes from the four-year university, but attend them at the two-year school’s campus.

HOUSING: You’re on your own here; no housing provided.

This option is for you if:

  • You’d like to stay close to home
  • You prefer smaller classes
  • You want a bachelor’s, but don’t care about having the “traditional” college experience

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Wil Chandler
Ashley Shelton, Ozarka College in Melbourne

Like a lot of college students, Cherokee Village native Ashley Shelton was finding it difficult to balance her work and school schedules. Lucky for her, Ozarka College offers degree plans entirely online. “I’m able to do my classes whenever it’s convenient for me,” she says. Now in the second year of her associate of applied science degree in health information technology, Ashley says she’s completely sold on the idea of an online degree plan. Her next step is a bachelor’s in psychology and social work through an online program at another Arkansas school.

What’s so great about going the online route?
The freedom of being able to do my classwork when it’s convenient for me. I don’t have to be in class at a certain time, and I can do my homework in my pajamas on my couch! It allows you to work on your degree while still being able to fulfill life’s obligations.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I’ll usually check my online class schedule on Monday mornings to see what’s due that week. I go to my job in the evenings, so if I have online assignments to do, I work on them before my shift. If I’m not too tired, I’ll work on some more classwork after my job, too.

Any advice for students considering an online degree program?
Although you don’t wake up and go to class, there are due dates that you must have your work done by. It’s still school, and it still requires studying and note-taking to pass your classes. You have to tell yourself, “OK, I’m gonna get this assignment done by Tuesday.” And then you have to make yourself do it.

I tell my friends that are new to the online program to check their schedules on a regular basis so they know exactly what they have to do and when they have to do it.

ADVANTAGES: Online degree programs are more convenient, offering working students a flexible class schedule and the ability to work at their own pace.

COST: The cost of online programs is usually comparable to or less expensive than traditional programs. And while there are many credible institutions offering online degrees, be wary of unaccredited programs with claims that are too good to be true.

ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS: Just like a traditional one, online programs have certain requirements, including a minimum high school GPA and test scores.

HOUSING: Since your schedule is more flexible, you might find more employment opportunities that allow you to get a place of your own if you’re living with the ‘rents.

This option is for you if:

  • You need to work full time
  • You’re more of an introvert
  • You’d like to save your gas money

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Wil Chandler
Caleb & Evan Perry, Thompson Electric in Little Rock

Brothers Caleb and Evan Perry started on the apprenticeship path during their time at Bauxite High School. Older brother Caleb was encouraged by his guidance counselors to apply to the journeyman electrician program at Thompson Electric in Little Rock. It didn’t take Evan long to follow suit. Caleb has since finished and received his electrician’s license, while Evan is on track to do the same. Both say they appreciate how the apprenticeship program taught them the skills of the trade, gave them real world experience and helped them earn money right away, all at the same time.

How does the apprenticeship program work?
Caleb: You take a class one night a week for four years. In class, you learn about the electrical code, safety and how to do specific duties. While you learn a lot in class, you mainly learn how to preform your job in the field. When you’re hired at Thompson, they pay for all four years of the program, which is very fortunate because there are a lot of companies that make each individual pay themselves.

Evan: After your coursework and so many hours of on-the-job training, you take an exam. Once you pass, you get your electrician’s license.

What’s a typical day like for you?
Caleb: It’s a lot of hard work. Being a journeyman comes with responsibilities. I have to make sure the guys under me are doing their job while I still have to do mine. I have to set an example for the up-and-coming apprentices.

Evan: I could be bending pipe, pulling wire or hooking up switches or receptacles. There’s no limit to what you can learn from your foreman or journeyman. Everybody has some knowledge to share.

What’s been the biggest challenge about life after high school so far?
Evan: Getting used to the workflow and realizing you’re not a kid anymore.

LENGTH OF PROGRAM: It depends on the craft or trade you choose—training can take one to six years.

COST: Apprenticeships are much more affordable than other options thanks to partnering businesses sharing some or all of the costs with apprentices. Don’t be surprised to find them paying for textbooks and splitting travel costs to and from job sites, too.

PAY: That’s right. Most of these gigs pay! The average apprentice earns about half of what skilled workers earn starting out, with the salary increasing as training progresses.

ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS: Most programs require a high school diploma, and some supervisors like to review your attendance/tardiness records.

HOUSING: You’ll have to make your own housing arrangements. Think of this as a big preview of living and working in the real world.

This option is for you if:

  • You need job-specific training
  • You love hands-on learning
  • You want to fast track to the workforce

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Wil Chandler
William T. Edwards, University of Central Arkansas in Conway

health science major William T. Edwards had aspirations to go straight into the Air Force after high school, but the Dallas native says, “I was only 17 and my parents weren’t willing to sign the enlistment papers, so my focus became college.” Fortunately, he got to do both thanks to the University of Central Arkansas’ Army ROTC program, which is giving him military training alongside a four-year degree — and a full-ride scholarship to boot. After he graduates, his sights are set on becoming a physical therapist and, eventually, an orthopedic surgeon.

What’s the ROTC like?
Having military obligations as well as educational ones is a tough task, but it’s one you choose when you join the program. Knowing your goals, prioritizing, time managing and patience is how I balance and get it all done.

What are some of the benefits of military service in college?
Most have the misconstrued idea that everyone in the military gets shot at and will get deployed or that the military tells you what to do and you don’t have a choice. The Army specifically has almost any job offered in the civilian spectrum. As long as you’re qualified to perform the job, it’s available to you.
ROTC scholarships pay tuition and fees for up to $10,000 each semester, plus UCA pays for room and board. And a stipend is given to all cadets on scholarship. First year cadets earn $300; fourth year $500.

Why should high school students consider the military route?
If you’re interested in the military but not quite sure, ROTC is a great way to experience some of the things we do without any obligation. You’re going to be in college at least four years anyway, so why not put in a little extra work and come out an officer?

LENGTH OF PROGRAM: ROTC is a built-in elective component of your four-year degree, so it will take as long as you need to finish your studies. You can try it your first two years without committing to military service, but f you follow through to completion, you’re obligated to eight years of service.

COST: This deal is sweet: Army ROTC offers merit-based (on grades, not financial need) scholarships that could cover your entire tuition. You’re also eligible for a monthly stipend (up to $500) to help out with living expenses.

ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS: Unlike the military, ROTC programs don’t require the ASVAB, a pre-enlistment test similar to the ACT or SAT, but you will need to sign up for ROTC your freshman or sophomore year in college and meet certain physical and GPA requirements.

HOUSING: You’ll have all the housing options other students have. Some colleges even have dedicated dorms just for ROTC students.

This option is for you if:

  • You’re an adventure-seeker
  • You like the idea of not paying for college
  • You want to serve your country

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