Graduating from high school is a big accomplishment, but your education isn’t likely to stop there. Increasing numbers of graduating seniors enroll in apprenticeship programs, vocational school or college to secure their future. In fact, Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that by 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require training beyond high school. Consider the potential economic benefits of pursuing postsecondary education after high school.


Secondary education refers to high school instruction. After earning a high school diploma or equivalent, many students choose to pursue postsecondary education, such as a vocational certificate or college degree.

What Is Postsecondary Education?

The U.S. educational system encompasses kindergarten, primary (grade) school, middle school (junior high), secondary education (high school) and postsecondary education, up to and including postdoctoral studies. In a high-tech, globalized world, postsecondary education is increasingly important to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for employment and job security, especially in times of economic downturn. Postsecondary education can include college or vocational training, working as an apprentice, studying for a license, completing an online certificate program and more.

What Is a Postsecondary Degree?

Your career options are endless. Exploring all the possibilities is exciting but daunting too. You will likely need a postsecondary degree to land some of the jobs that appeal to you. A postsecondary degree generally means a four-year college degree, called a bachelor’s or baccalaureate degree. Earning a college degree will entail completing general education classes like English, math and social studies along with electives and required courses in your chosen academic major. Depending on your school and major, you may be able to complete a postsecondary degree in less than four years. However, it is not uncommon for students to take five years or longer to finish college.

Why Is Formal Education Important?

State laws on compulsory education vary, but most states require students to stay in school until age 16. At the secondary (high school) level, students learn fundamental life skills useful in everyday life such as math, English and communication. Some high school graduates are satisfied with that level of education and directly enter the workforce. Willingness and ability to relocate are helpful if you only have a high school diploma or GED. Students thinking about college must work with their guidance counselor to make sure they take all the classes they need to be admitted to the types of schools they are considering. Postsecondary education prepares students to be leaders, critical thinkers, change agents and competent professionals with an ethical core. Students acquire new knowledge and the skills to be responsible and culturally aware, contributing members of society.

Difference Between High School and College

Even bright, capable students can be caught off guard by the pace and rigor of certain college classes. Readings and assignments may take more time than you ever imagined. On average, students study two to three hours outside class for every hour of formal classroom instruction. Professors are not like high school teachers. They will treat you as an adult. When the professor hands out the course syllabus on the first day of class, add dates of assignments and exams to your planner. Unlike high school, you won’t be repeatedly reminded of pending deadlines. Do not disrespect your college instructors by calling them anything other than “Dr.” unless you are given permission to do otherwise. You may have the privilege of taking classes from professors who are world-renowned in their field.

Income Earnings by Education Level

Although many people achieve considerable success without postsecondary education, the odds are better for those who seek additional schooling. Many jobs in the blue-collar trades and white-collar professions require postsecondary training and a license. Unskilled workers are more likely to end up in low-pay, dead-end jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in 2017, workers with a high school diploma earned a median weekly salary of $712. By comparison, workers with a bachelor’s degree reported a median salary of $1,173 per week.

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