Preparing for Life After High School


Statistically, getting an education beyond high school will give teens more career choices and higher-paying jobs in the future. The more education they get, the more options and opportunities they’ll have available.

While college or university is a foregone conclusion for a lot of people, others aren’t so sure about continuing on with school. Maybe their high school grades aren’t up to par, or maybe they’re worried about tuition costs. Maybe they want to spend time working in a job that doesn’t require a higher degree while they figure things out. Or maybe they want to serve in the military, where they might also have promising career options.

Here’s a short guide on possible roads to take, with tips on how to make the most of each journey.

Road No. 1: Going to School

Tennessee provides a wide range of opportunities for higher education. These include nine public universities, 13 public community colleges, 27 public colleges of applied technology, 35 independent colleges and universities, and six other independent professional schools and special purpose institutions.

Find interactive maps of the institutions.

Learn more about Tennessee’s postsecondary institutions. has all of the information that you need to plan for life after high school. There you can find free college and career planning tools including information about all state schools and programs, a scholarship finder, ACT test prep, college and university profiles, and college application timelines and guides. Be sure to check out to search and plan for a program that fits the needs of your student or family.

Four-Year College

Attending a four-year college or university and getting a bachelor’s degree will improve the chances of getting a good job that pays well. Students will have opportunities to go to new places, travel or study abroad, and/or participate in research and internship programs with professors and local organizations. Students will also have access to more people, programs and resources to help with the future.

Students who want to go to a four-year college must take the SAT or ACT college assessment exams, then apply to the college and be accepted. To be accepted, students need good scores on those exams, as well as good grades.

To get started, these students should talk to their high school counselor, or read through online information on the college preparation process—helpful websites created by the state are mentioned later in this article. Also, the SAT and ACT each offer planning guides.

Community College

Community colleges usually offer a two-year program that leads to an associate degree or meets some requirements for a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university. Community colleges also offer certificate programs that students can complete in 12 or 16 months depending on the program requirements. To get in, students must take a placement exam. For more information, students should contact the admissions office at the school in question.

Options for going to a community college: 1) Get an associate degree; 2) Transfer to a four-year college or university (with or without an associate degree); 3) Take job skills or vocational training classes without getting a degree.

How to learn more about community colleges: Students should talk to their high school counselor, and do some research online to determine which school might be right for them to apply to. Also, going to a college fair held at the student’s high school or in the community will help. There, students can talk to representatives from several different community colleges about what they’re interested in studying and about their future plans.

Paying for School

Financial aid includes all sources of money available to help students and their families pay for school. You have to apply in order to get this money.

There are two types of financial aid: money you pay back (federal and state loans or bank loans), and money you don’t pay back (scholarships, grants and work-study programs).

Applying for Financial Aid

  • How do I apply for financial aid?

Fill out the FAFSA—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

To be eligible for any type of financial aid, you must fill out the FAFSA form. The information you put in the FAFSA form determines how much money you will receive. This application is free. Do not use any websites that ask you to pay money to complete the application.

  • How do I fill out the FAFSA?

Complete your FAFSA online or on paper

  • Online application: A parent and the student must both create a FSA ID (username and password) to complete the FAFSA. Parents and students should create their FSA IDs online at Once the FSA IDs have been created, complete the FAFSA form online at the FAFSA website.
  • For a paper application, call 800-4FED-AID (800-433-3243).

To fill out the forms, you need the following information:

  • When must I submit my FAFSA?
    • Social Security number
    • Driver’s license or identification card
    • W-2 forms and federal income tax return of money earned
    • Untaxed income records—Social Security benefits, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), welfare, etc.
    • Bank statements and information on investments
    • Alien registration card (if not a U.S. citizen)

It may depend on the school to which you are applying, and some state funds are limited, so apply as soon as you can. In most cases, if you plan to enroll in school in August, you should get started on the FAFSA in October of the previous year. For example, if you plan to enroll in college in August 2018, you will need to complete the 2018-19 FAFSA which becomes available October 1, 2017. Check with your district’s schools and check the FAFSA website on deadlines to learn more.

  • How do I get help?

All students can get help at this FAFSA website

All students can also get help from their high school counselor or any financial aid office at the school they want to attend or you may contact your local TSAC Outreach Specialist. Never pay someone to help you fill out the FAFSA.

Transitioning foster youths should ask their caseworkers for help. Caseworkers must help foster youths fill out these forms. Also, look for FAFSA workshops at your school or in the community.

  • What happens next?

A student’s FAFSA goes to the federal government and the schools the student chooses to list on the FAFSA. They will determine what kind of financial aid students can receive. Students may be eligible for the following:

  • Federal Pell Grant. This is money you do NOT have to pay back unless you fail to attend classes. Most foster youths are eligible. The amount depends on financial need, costs to attend school, status as a full-time or part-time student, and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.
  • Federal Perkins Loan. This is money you have to pay back with interest. The amount is usually a small percentage of the total loan you take out. Not all schools participate in the Federal Perkins Loan Program, so check with your school’s financial aid office.
  • Direct Subsidized Loan. This is money you have to pay back; however, the government will pay “interest” or fees while you are in school. Once you graduate, you must pay the interest on the loan.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loan. This is money you have to pay back with interest.

For more on the basics of federal and state loans, go to the Federal Student Aid website, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. Also, consult the financial aid primer on the website of the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC).

In terms of financial aid you don’t have to pay back, there are a number of scholarship and grant opportunities in Tennessee, which can be found at the TSAC website. These are some of the top programs students should consider.

For All Students

The HOPE Scholarship. This provides aid to Tennessee students who attend eligible Tennessee colleges. Beginning with the 2015–16 academic year, at four-year universities, first-time students classified as freshmen and sophomores eligible for the HOPE Scholarship will receive $1,750 per semester. Once these students become classified as juniors and seniors, they will see an increase in their current award amount to $2,250 per semester.

Beginning with the 2015–16 academic year, at two-year colleges, first-time HOPE Scholarship–eligible students will receive $1,500 per semester. For the most up-to-date information, contact the TSAC toll free at 800-342-1663.

Tennessee Promise Scholarship. Starting with the high school graduating class of 2015, Tennessee students can qualify for two years of free tuition at community or technical colleges. The Tennessee Promise Scholarship is a “last-dollar” scholarship, which means that it covers tuition and mandatory fees not met by the Pell Grant, the HOPE Scholarship or the Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA) Program.

Tennessee Promise applicants will be paired with a partnering organization serving their home county and will be provided with a mentor to support them during their college application process. Also, all students who receive the scholarship must perform eight hours of community service per enrollment term. Class of 2018 students looking to receive the scholarship for the fall semester of 2018 need to apply by Nov. 1, 2017. For more information, visit the Tennessee Promise website.

Tennessee Student Assistance Awards. Financially needy undergraduate students who are Tennessee residents can qualify for nonrepayable financial assistance through the TSAA. To receive priority consideration, students are strongly encouraged to submit a FAFSA form as soon as possible after October 1 of each year at the FAFSA website. The 2018-19 FAFSA deadline for TSAA consideration is January 16, 2018. As a reminder, the 2018-19 FAFSA will be available to complete on October 1, 2017. Awards are made until funds are depleted. First priority is given to U.S. citizens.

The amount of the award is based on the institution indicated on the student’s FAFSA form. Award amounts for an academic year are:

Four-year/two-year private $4,000

Four-year public $2,000

Two-year public $1,300
Career schools $2,000
TN college of applied technology $1,000

For more details, go to the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation page.

Tennessee’s Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant. State residents attending a Tennessee College of Applied Technology for vocational training can qualify for this $2,000 grant. Visit theWilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant website for more information.

For Foster Youths

Tennessee HOPE Foster Child Tuition Grant. This grant provides the cost of attendance at an eligible public postsecondary institution, less any gift aid. (“Gift aid” means scholarships and grants from any sources that do not require repayment, including funds provided through the federal Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 and other similar programs. Student loans and work-study programs are not considered gift aid.) The total award can’t exceed the school’s tuition costs and mandatory fees.

Education and Training Voucher (ETV). The ETV program can provide up to $5,000 toward a postsecondary education at universities and colleges or vocational and technical schools. Youths ages 18 to 23 who age out of foster care at 18, or who were likely to age out of foster care at 18, or who were adopted after 16 years of age from foster care are eligible to receive an ETV. Individuals who are 21 are still eligible for an ETV until they are 23, as long as they are enrolled in a postsecondary education or training program and are earning satisfactory grades. The ETV funds may be used for tuition or educational needs such as books and computers. Contact the Department of Children’s Services Independent Living Unit at 615-532-9646 for more information about ETVs and related scholarships.

High School Equivalency Exams

A high school diploma helps adults qualify for college, training or a good job with good wages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those who have a high school diploma or equivalent earn $181 more weekly than those without. Individuals who don’t have a diploma, such as students who left high school without graduating, or immigrants, can still create those opportunities by passing a high school equivalency exam, which measures skills that would have been acquired during a four-year high school education. In Tennessee, there are two options.

The General Educational Development (GED) Tests. The GED measures skills required by high schools and requested by colleges and employers. The battery of tests covers five subjects: language arts/writing, social studies, science, language arts/reading and mathematics. 

The High School Equivalency Test (HiSET). Beginning in January 2014, the state adopted the HiSET, an alternative equivalency exam by the Educational Testing Service. Like the GED, this test measures a student’s knowledge and skills in reading, writing, math, science and social studies, and will be significantly aligned with Common Core State Standards. Click here to learn more about the HiSET created by the state’s Division of Adult Education.

For more details on these tests and information on preparation courses, contact the Adult Education Division of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development at 800-531-1515.

Vocational Training

You can continue your education by getting job skills training, usually called career or vocational training. Career and vocational training programs are typically offered at community colleges, at private technical colleges and universities, and at job training centers (Job Corps). This option allows individuals to earn a certificate of completion or an associate degree for a specific job or skill.

If you pick a career or vocational training program offered at a state (or public) school or community college, you may be able to attend for free. Before picking a career or vocational training program, students should talk to a high school counselor. Foster care youths who are transitioning can also talk to their caseworkers.

Make sure you choose a good program that will provide training and skills for the job you want. Whether you take courses online or in a classroom, ask if the program you want is “accredited” or “approved” to provide quality training. If it is, you are likely to have better job possibilities when you finish. Avoid attending a school that is not accredited because the degree isn’t accepted in many places and you can’t get most types of financial aid.

Help With College Applications

Good grades in high school, participation in extracurricular activities and even community volunteerism all play a part in helping you get into the college or university of your choice. The state has made it easier for you to get noticed by recruiters with the College for TN website. Create an account at the site, and it will display tools and resources that are appropriate for your grade, as well as allow you to create a portfolio of your high school accomplishments for your favorite colleges to review.

You can create a “practice” application so that your real one will stand out from others. Then, apply to college and track your applications. Next, send your transcript to the school of your choice.

Undergraduate and graduate school admission also is determined by your performance on the ACT, SAT or GRE tests. Boost your test-taking confidence by taking practice tests at the College for TN website.

You’ll take the PSAT, which prepares you for the SAT, during your sophomore year or the fall of your junior year. You’ll take the SAT and ACT during your junior year.

Road No. 2: Looking for Work

Get tips about searching and applying for a job.

Workforce Training: Low-income youths from ages 14 to 21 can qualify for this training through Tennessee’s Career Center System. Throughout the state, there are 13 Local Workforce Investment Areas. These are clusters of counties that have similar employment markets, so each area provides workforce development and career services based on local needs.

You can obtain training if you struggle with reading skills or are a high school dropout; are homeless; are a runaway or foster child; are pregnant or a parent; or are an offender or someone who is classified as needing additional assistance to complete an educational program or to secure and hold employment.

Click here for a complete list of the Local Workforce Investment Areas and contact information by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Road No. 3: The Military

Individuals who want a wide range of service and career options can also consider joining the military. During your service, you’ll gain valuable skill sets and also develop leadership abilities that will serve you well after you transition into the civilian workforce. You’ll receive health care and retirement benefits and also be eligible for education benefits.

There are five military branches: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.

There are two main kinds of statuses of military service: active duty and reserve. Active duty service members serve in the military full time. Reserve service members are required to serve on a part-time basis (a minimum of one weekend a month with two weeks of annual training each year, although many serve as full-time support or are activated to full-time status when needed). Veterans serving in either status often have identical skills and experiences.

In addition to teaching skills that can improve your chances of getting good-paying jobs outside the armed forces, the military teaches discipline, honor, teamwork, integrity and courage—all traits that employers seek.

For more information about serving your country, go to or visit your local recruitment office and ask for up-to-date information on these options, including whether a GED is accepted when applying.

Encourage your child to develop crucial job skills.