Educational Pathways


Why continue your education after high school?

Post secondary or higher education includes any type of education and training beyond high school including college, apprenticeships, certifications, trade schools, and more. Before exploring which program would be the best fit for you, it is important to understand the value of continuing your education.

Increase your earning potential throughout your lifetime: College graduates earn an average of 66% more than students who do not continue their education after high school.

Create employment stability: People with training or education beyond high school are more likely to be employed and stay employed even during economic recessions. Six out of ten jobs in Oregon require applicants to have education or training beyond high school to be competitive. 

Experience greater job satisfaction:  Continuing your education can help you find and embark upon a career path that is personally meaningful.  Plus, education can help you advance into more interesting work that allows you to express your strengths and expertise.

Invest in your happiness and well-being: People with a college degree or certificate are generally happier, more fulfilled, and more engaged with their community. College graduates also tend to live longer than those with a high school diploma or less.

Earnings by education level

Types of College Degrees and Certifications


Degree pathways


Take a Deeper Look at College Degrees & Certificates

  • Training Certification
    Training Certifications are a great way to gain skills and get into the workforce in a very short period of time. Also, short term trainings are a great way to "try out" careers of interest.

    Often, students complete entry-level certifications so they can work in their field of interest while they continue their education.

    Length: Weeks to months (1-2 classes)

    Where: Community College or Trade School

    Examples at COCC:
    Certified Nursing Assistant (10 weeks)
    Community Health Worker (10 weeks)
    Emergency Medical Technician (20 weeks)
    Peer Support Specialist (4 weeks)
    Phlebotomy (10 weeks)
  • Certificate of Completion
    Certificates of Completion are undergraduate credentials that focus on hands-on skills for specific careers. Students typically enter into the workforce upon graduation.

    1-2 years

    Where: Community College or Trade School

    Examples at COCC: Most Career & Technical Education programs (CTE) offer certificates of completion including: Addictions Studies, Automotive Technology, Business, Culinary, Computer & Information Systems, Early Childhood Education, Forest Resources, Geographic Information Systems, Hospitality Management, Manufacturing, Welding, and Health Care (Medical Assisting, Dental Assisting, Pharmacy Technician, Massage Therapy & Medical Office Specialist).

    COCC Certificates of Completion

  • Associate Degree
    Associate degree (undergraduate degree)

    2-3 years

    Where: Community College

    There are a few different types of Associate Degrees:

    COCC Associate Degrees

    Associate of Applied Science (AAS):
    Intended for students who want earn a college degree and gain technical skills in a specific area to enter into the workforce upon graduation.

    Associate of General Studies (AGS): For students not pursuing specific transfer or career and technical programs, the AGS degree is intended to allow students to design a course of study to meet their individual needs.

    Associate of Arts, Oregon Transfer (AAOT): Intended for students who plan to transfer to a university and earn a bachelor's degree.. All public Oregon universities have agreed to accept all credits included in the AAOT, to waive lower division general education requirements, and to allow junior standing upon transfer.

    Students often choose to start their college education at a community college to take advantage of the lower tuition costs, use their Oregon Promise grant (can only be used at Oregon community colleges), and enjoy the many advantages of a community college education.  The AAOT prepares students to transfer to a university and pursue their chosen major. 

    AAOT Academic Plan
  • Bachelor Degree
    Bachelor Degree (undergraduate degree): Students choose a major of study and complete general education requirements (such as math and writing) as well as courses related to their major. Students may also choose a second major (called a double major) or a minor (additional coursework in another area of interest).

    Depending on the major, students may graduate with the following types of degrees: Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA).

    4-5 years

    Where: College or University

    Students can start their education at a community college and then transfer to a university to complete their Bachelor's degree.

    Explore university websites ("Academic Programs") to see Bachelor degrees offered.

    Academic Programs at Oregon State University - Cascades Campus
  • Graduate Degree
    Graduate degrees are more advanced educational pathways that students pursue after completing a Bachelor degree.

    Students need to research whether a specific major is required for Bachelor's degree or if they can choose any major. Students also need to research if specific course pre-requisites are required for application to graduate school. Academic Advisors help students with this research.

    Length: 1 to 6 years (after completion of Bachelor degree)

    Where: College or University (not community college)

    Master's degree: Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), Master of Business Administration (MBA)

    Doctoral Degree: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD - given in any field) or Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Medicine (MD), Juris Doctora (JD - law school), Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), etc.

Additional Postsecondary Education Options

  • Apprenticeships
    Apprenticeships include paid on-the-job training and classroom learning for a specific trade.

    In Oregon, most apprenticeships are in the construction trade and offered at a community college, trade school, or an Apprenticeship and Training Center (ATC).

    COCC Apprenticeship programs:
    Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) approved training committees work with COCC to provide classroom coursework to their apprentices in the following occupations: Industrial Maintenance Millwright, Limited Maintenance Electrician, Manufacturing Plant Electrician, Sheet Metal, Plumber, Carpenter, and Exterior/Interior Specialist.

    To connect with the COCC Apprenticeship Program Coordinator contact Kip Morris:
  • Military
    Joining the military is a big decision. Think carefully and consider your options. Talk with family and/or a trusted adult as well as representatives from the military. Money is available for college in exchange for full-time or part-time service.

    Average time: Minimum 4 years of enlistment

    Possible degrees: Bachelor degree

    Examples of military programs:

    Military academies: Extremely elite and selective, students receive full four-year scholarships.

    ROTC: Train to be an officer while earning a Bachelor's degree with the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Scholarships available.

    Enlistment: Requires a high school diploma or GED.

    Information about military pathways:

    Joining The Military - Oregon Goes To College

    Today's Military

    Explore Military Career Paths
  • Job Corps
    Job Corps: Free residential education and training program for low-income  adults ages 16–24. Many training programs to choose from in health care, manufacturing, automotive, construction, business & finance, hospitality, homeland security, information technology, renewable resources, and transportation.

    Oregon locations: include Astoria, Estacada, Glide, Portland, Troutdale and Yachats.
  • Americorps
    Americorps: Paid volunteer opportunities across the country. Students earn living stipends and educational scholarships for completing a term of service (from a few months to a year).  Volunteers serve on the front lines in non-profit, governmental and community organizations serving their communities. Excellent way to get job training and experience.

    Six Service Areas: Education, Economic Stability, Disaster Services, Environmental Stewardship, Healthy Futures, and Military/Veteran Services.

How to Research College and University Programs That Fit Your Interests

How to Research College and University Programs

Frequently Asked Questions About Education After HIgh School

  • Does my major matter in terms of finding employment?
    Many students worry about choosing the right major and fear getting stuck in a career field they no longer enjoy.

    Rest assured… Unless you are pursuing a career that requires a specific license or certification (such as health care), most employers are not very particular about an applicant's major of study.  Employers prefer to hire people with a postsecondary education (such as a college degree or certificate), but they recognize that any college major or area of study will prepare people for success in a wide range of career fields.  

    Why? Because higher education prepares students for the workforce armed with transferable skills that will serve them well in multiple career fields.  Such skills include time management, communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, researching solutions, innovation, etc.

    Transferable skills will serve you well whether you go into business, journalism, management, human services or elsewhere. Majoring in writing, economics, manufacturing, or music will open doors for you in many different occupations that might not have anything to do with your major.
  • Picking what I want to do with the rest of my life feels really overwhelming. How do I make such an important decision?
    To be honest, most people will change their career, on average, five to seven times in their lifetime. Long gone are the days of choosing an occupation and staying in it until retirement.

    In the modern world of work, you have plenty of space for exploring new passions and traveling different paths throughout your life. People change careers as their interests, needs, lifestyle, and skills evolve. You will be able to transfer your employment skills from one career to the next.  And, you may decide to obtain additional education or training as you advance in your career.

    Career planning is a lifelong process and you will face multiple career transitions in your lifetime. So for now, focus on the next chapter of your life and explore occupations that are a good match for your current interests and needs.  You will have the opportunity to change direction in the future if you need.
  • What is the difference between a community college and a university?
    Tuition:  Community colleges are less expensive than universities (typically half the price per credit).

    Admissions:  Community colleges have open admissions and students can apply for any academic term (fall, winter, spring, summer). To qualify for admission, students must be at least 18 years of age or possess a high school diploma or GED.

    High school students can take college classes through concurrent enrollment programs.  Adults can take community college classes without their GED or high school diploma; however, a GED or diploma is required for financial aid. Hence, prospective students are encouraged to complete their diploma or GED to access financial assistance.

    Universities have selective admissions meaning that not all students who apply will be accepted.  Universities base admissions on a variety of factors:  grade point average (GPA), high school transcripts, essays, test scores, interviews, extracurricular activities, etc.  Students need to research admissions requirements for each university. 

    Class Size:  Community colleges typically have smaller classes (the student to faculty ratio at COCC is 16 to 1). University class sizes are variable, but are typically larger. Some classes may be over 100 students.

    Degrees: Community colleges offer Certificates of Completion (1-2 years) and Associate Degrees (2-3 years).  

    Universities offer Bachelor degrees (4-5 years) and graduate degrees (completed after a Bachelor’s degree). Students may also pursue a Transfer degree (AAOT) at a community college (2 years) and then transfer to a University to complete a Bachelor’s degree. 

    Oregon Promise:  The Oregon Promise grant can only be used at an Oregon community college (not a university). Students must start community college within 6 months of completing their high school diploma or GED.
  • Can I take classes at COCC and OSU-Cascades at the same time?
    The Degree Partnership Program (DPP) offered by COCC and OSU-Cascades allows students seeking a bachelor’s degree to be jointly admitted and enrolled at both schools.
  • Can I earn college credits while in high school?
    COCC offers two options for high school students to take classes at COCC for credit.

    College Now: COCC works with area high schools to offer college level courses taught by high school instructors, exclusively for high school students. 

    Concurrent Enrollment: Take online or on-campus college classes at COCC while enrolled in high school. Expanded Options: Available to some Central Oregon high school students. The high school pays for associated tuition, fees and books. High school counselors approve Expanded Options classes for students.  Talk to your high school counselor if you are interested in taking Expanded Options classes.

    Click here to learn more about College Now and Concurrent Enrollment options at COCC
  • How is college different than high school?
    This is a really important question to ask and understand.  Attached is a great resource highlighting the differences.

    Differences between high school & college
  • I have an IEP or 504 Plan in high school. How do I get support or accommodations in college?
    All colleges and universities have an Office of Disability Services and students apply for accommodations through that office: COCC Office of Disability Services
    It is important for students and families to understand that college students have different rights and responsibilities than K-12 students when it comes to requesting and receiving accommodations.  Plus the types of accommodation provided in college may be different than what they received in high school.

    The COCC Office of Disability Services website has extensive information to help students apply for accommodations at COCC and learn about the types of accommodations college students might be eligible for. Below is a handout that summarizes some of the differences:

  • I am an undocumented student. What are my college and career options?
    Undocumented and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students can definitely go to college.  See below for information to help you understand financial aid opportunities, college resources, and career exploration information:

    Oregon Goes To College: Information about college admissions and financial aid:

    COCC Latinx Student Program: Connect with the COCC Latinx program advisor, student clubs, and other resources

    COCC Resources for Undocumented Students (including scholarships)

    Oregon State University - Cascades Resources for DACA and Undocumented Students

    Career Exploration Resource for Undocumented Students: Higher Ed Immigration Portal