Planning for Career and College

    • Be sure to check out our Grade Level Checklists for College, for year-by-year suggestions of things to keep in mind.

      The Department of Education's Federal Student Aid site also has a great overview section on Preparing for College and exploring career options.

      The Better Make Room campaign is all about planning and paying for college, including timely text updates for things like applying to schools and getting financial aid.

      The Fair Opportunity Project has also compiled a College Admissions and Financial Aid Guide.


      CHS Programming [update with parent programming info]

      • Senior Meetings: We try to host meetings with our seniors early in the fall to discuss planning, applying, and paying for college.
      • Junior meetings: We try to host meetings with our juniors in the winter, around the return of PSAT results. 
      • Sophomore meetings: We try to host meetings with our sophomores in the winter, around the return of Pre-ACT results.
      • Freshmen meetings: We try to host meetings with our freshmen early in the fall, as part of the initial 9th grade transition.
      • Other Meetings: Pay close attention to weekly phone and email messages and the Daily Announcements for information about any other parent nights or similar opportunities throughout the year.


      Undocumented students should see their school counselor to further discuss college and career options.


      Exploring Career Interests

      Your career is integral to your life satisfaction, your success, and your identity. What lifestyle do you want to live, and what do you want to spend your time doing to be able to live that life? What do you enjoy doing and what is fulfilling for you to do, which at the same time is valuable to or provides something for others? What are your interests, and what are your strengths? Interests, abilities, values, the work environment itself, and things like job growth, earnings, and benefits are all important things to consider.

      • Talking to friends, family, and adults about careers is a great way to find out more about yourselves and the different journeys people take. You could also look into getting some direct experience through job shadowingvolunteeringinternships, or part-time work while in high school. Sometimes, these kinds of opportunities will be advertised, but they often can be set up at a student's request. See your school counselor to further discuss how to go about initiating such a career exploration experience.
      • Naviance is our go-to resource for career and college exploration, whether browsing or taking an assessment that gives suggestions of careers to explore.
      • CFNC's Plan for a Career section has a few great tools under "Learn About Yourself" that can offer suggestions based on interests, skills, and work values - we like the Interest Profiler, Career Cluster Survey, and Work Values Sorter the most. It also has a great database where you can explore specific careers, learning more about what you do in that profession, earnings potential, required education, employment outlook, and more. It lists some of the fastest growing careers in North Carolina as well. It has tools to help with resumes, cover letters, interviews, and thank you notes. Lastly, CFNC has published this flyer on exploring careers.


      Different Options after High School

      Different careers will require different training and education. Before we move on to talking about college planning, we will briefly cover the general options after graduating from high school, each of which has its own merit.

      • Entry to the workforce - getting a job with your high school diploma. This option requires as much preparation as any, and students should not wait until the spring of senior year to begin the process of preparing for and securing employment. See your school counselor for assistance planning and working towards this goal. We can link you to appropriate employment resources.  NC Works is a great website to assist you in your job search.
      • Apprenticeships - apprenticeships offer hands-on, on-the-job training and opportunities for industry certification and licensure while being paid during training.  Sometimes, apprenticeships will also include formal education in a classroom setting, sometimes even working towards college credits or degrees.  Find out more about apprenticeship opportunities at or
      • Trade Schools (Vocational, Technical) - students interested in training for jobs with very specific, technical skill sets may want to attend a trade school for one to two years. See your school counselor if you are interested in discussing if this option is right for you.
      • 2-year schools (Community Colleges, Junior Colleges) - students attend 2-yr. schools for a variety of reasons. Some work towards a certification, much like attending a trade school. Some work towards a 2-yr., Associate's degree and enter the workforce from there. Some plan to eventually transfer to a 4-yr. school (University Transfer programs), but begin at a 2-yr. school because of cost, because they are not admitted directly to their top choices and want to try and transfer, and/or for other reasons. While most 2-yr. schools are commuter campuses, some junior colleges are residential and offer a campus community.
      • 4-year schools (Colleges, Universities) - students attend 4-yr. schools to pursue a 4-yr., Bachelor's degree. From there, students can then enter the workforce or continue their education through professional or graduate schools in order to earn a Master's or Doctoral degree.
      • Gap Year - Students choose to do a Gap Year for many different reasons. Some want a break, so that they can return to the classroom with renewed vigor. Some pursue activities to explore or refine an interest, passion, or skill, before moving on to the next level. It can be an amazing opportunity for personal growth, learning about different cultures, and/or experimenting with potential careers.  Still others may want or need to work for a year and save money before starting college. Many colleges and other organizations even sponsor official Gap Year programs. See your school counselor to discuss whether or not a Gap Year could be right for you.  You can read up at; and; and many college and universities sponsor gap year opportunities themselves, like UNC's Global Gap Year Fellowship.  There is typically a Gap Year Fair that visits the area annually early in the spring.
      • University Transfer Programs - many students begin their postsecondary education at a 2-yr. institution with the plan, from the start, to transfer to a 4-yr. school. This could be to save money, to stay closer to home for the first two years of college, to have a better chance at being admitted, or something else. Durham Tech's university transfer program is detailed here. In these programs, students complete two years of coursework at a 2-yr school, then apply as transfer students to a 4-yr. school. If admitted, they enter the 4-yr. school with junior class standing. In addition, certain 2-yr. schools often have more detailed bilateral agreements with specific 4-yr. institutions, which facilitate the transfer process between those particular schools. C-STEP is an agreement between Durham Tech and UNC Chapel Hill, and C3 is a similar agreement with NC State.
      • Military - military service can be an incredible opportunity and experience, whether through non-commissioned enlistment or enlistment as an officer,  whether full time active duty or part-time reserve or National Guard service, whether Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, or Navy.  Benefits are hard to match, from the leadership, teamwork, and discipline gained, to the respect for and desire to help and hire veterans, to the more tangible:  career exploration and specialized training while in service, money for college, healthcare, and retirement.  The pay, vacation, and travel afforded to service members isn't bad, either.  You can do military and then college, college and then military, or both concurrently, depending on the option you choose.  Finally, the service academies (Army/Military at West Point, Naval at Annapolis, Air Force at Colorado Springs, Coast Guard at New London, and Merchant Marine at Kings Point) are among the most competitive and reputable 4-yr schools in the country.  Check out myFuture/Military and for more information about military life and benefits, or ask your counselor or the Career Development Coordinator about speaking with a recruiter.


      Exploring Potential College Programs of Study [update with Naviance info]

      If you do not have any specific careers in mind at this time that would help with using the tools above for exploring careers, then you could go a different way with your planning and first base your post-secondary plans on what you are interested in studying in college, then look at careers based off of that. Again, talking to your friends, family, and other adults is a good place to start. CFNC's Plan for College section is a great place to explore programs and majors. It will give a brief description of the program and link it to related careers, and it can link you to schools in North Carolina that offer those programs.

      • NOTE: the feature of finding schools in NC that offer the program has flaws. For one, you must select on your own whether you would be interested in an Associate, Bachelor's, Master's, or Doctoral degree. Second, the search results of schools offering a program are not always comprehensive - if a school words a program even slightly differently, then it may not show up with the other search results. In the end, you may want to browse the programs of study at schools you are interested in to be sure of what the school offers.

      CollegeBoard's BigFuture has a similar program of study exploration feature, with information on programs of study and what schools offer them on a national level.  Also, try their CollegeGo app.


      Exploring Colleges Online [update with Naviance info]

      So many things go into your college decision: programs of study, size, weather, location, academic rankings and reputation, sports, cost, diversity, and much, much more. But, perhaps most importantly, your decision will affect where you will spend your first independent years, many of the best and most formative years of your life. We want to help you decide on a campus and community where you will continue to grow, succeed, contribute, and be happy. Your college needs to be a good fit for you.

      • CFNC's Plan for College section is also a great location to explore North Carolina colleges themselves. Under the Explore Postsecondary Schools option, you can browse and compare schools directly, if you already have a few mind, or you can take advantage of some exploration tools such as the School Finder or College Matching Assistant. CFNC also published this brochure on choosing a college.
      • The College Scorecard website provides FANTASTIC information about cost; financial aid and debt; graduation and retention; earnings after graduation; student body composition; and more.
      • Individual schools' websites are also a critical resource for college exploration. A school's own website will give you the most accurate information available. Schools' websites can also give you a great idea of the personality, or the "feel," of schools - they will be selling their strengths and their idiosyncrasies.
      • Check out this checklist of questions to consider while deciding upon colleges.


      How you measure up: You can usually find information about the average GPA and test scores (along with demographic and other information) of a school's current freshman class somewhere on the school's admissions website, the school's CFNC profile, its CollegeBoard profile, or another source. It is usually called something like a Freshman Class Profile. This information is a great measuring stick with which you can gauge whether a school is closer to being a reach (you aren't all that confident that you will be admitted), a safety school (you are fairly confident you will be admitted), or something in between. Of course, you should absolutely review any school's Minimum College Admissions Requirements when considering whether to apply.


      Is money no object? When considering schools, up-front, sticker-price cost can be discouraging. Please remember that there is a lot of financial aid that can be provided from many different sources. Cost certainly should be a major consideration before your final decision, but do not let cost alone deter you from considering and applying to a school. You may get offered a financial aid package that makes a school with a more expensive sticker price more affordable in the end than one with a less expensive sticker price. is a great way to quickly estimate and compare actual projected cost of attendance, including estimated financial aid, vs. a college's up-front, sticker price. provides some great reports and tools to explore college's net costs and to compare price in relation to graduation rates, loan default rates, median borrowing amounts, and employment statistics.


      Exceptional Students - Most colleges will have some sort of Disability Services staff to help provide you with accommodations and services needed; however, you will need to advocate for yourself and seek the services out. Some schools even have specialized programs to help students who have had IEPs or 504s in high school transition to college, such as ECU's Project STEPP.


      Undocumented Students - Undocumented students can still attend most colleges; however, they usually must pay out-of-state tuition for public colleges and community colleges. These students should see their school counselor to discuss how colleges can still consider the student’s financial need via the FAFSA and private aid. Plus, there are many scholarships you can apply for regardless of citizenship status. See our Scholarships page, and be sure to read any scholarship opportunity’s eligibility requirements carefully.


      Exploring Colleges or Meeting Representatives In Person

      While websites are great, they cannot replace more direct forms of exploration. Talking with family, friends, and high school staff is a great way to find out more about a school. Speaking to a representative from the school is also a good idea, and many schools send representatives to visit CHS throughout the year - see our College Visits.

      There will also be college fairs in the area that are great chances to hear from and meet with representatives from a lot of schools at once.

      Every student is strongly encouraged to explore in person the schools to which they are considering applying. Many schools will host various open houses for prospective freshmen throughout the fall and spring, and most have options to schedule a campus visit or campus tour individually. Please search for this information on the admissions pages of the schools’ websites.


      What Do Colleges Look At?

      See this interesting article about the college admissions decision process at George Washington University's admissions office.

      Or, what do colleges care about? Or, what will colleges ask for in an application? This is the stuff on which your admissions decision will be based:

      2-yr schools in North Carolina only need to see a high school diploma, and they can either use existing SAT/ACT test scores, or a community college placement test to determine course placement.

      4-yr schools can ask for a variety of different things:

      • Academic records - schools will want to see your transcript, with your grades, overall GPA and class rank, and course selection (rigor is important). All schools will want to see this.
      • Test scores - most schools do use SAT/ACT scores as a component of their admissions decisions.
      • Extracurricular activities - whatever you spend your time doing outside of class in high school, be it athletics, school organizations, part-time work, volunteering or community service, etc. These types of things can show schools time management skills, contributions to the community, pursuit of passions, work ethic, and more. How are you productive in your free time? A component of most schools' admissions decisions.
      • Letters of recommendation - most schools will want to see one or more letters of recommendation from non-family adults. Many require that at least one come from a specific school staff member (e.g., academic teacher, school counselor). Sometimes there is a specific template for the recommender, while other times it is a generic request. These letters are vital for colleges to be able to consider you as an individual they want on their campus instead of just an application. You should ask adults who know you and what you've accomplished very well, and please remember to provide them with enough time (AT LEAST two weeks, and a month or more is best) to fulfill your request. If you are unsure whom you should ask, see your school counselor.
      • Essays - many schools ask you to submit essays as part of your application. Sometimes you are given a specific prompt, other times you are given a choice between a handful of prompts, and still other times you are given more license and told to write a "Personal Statement," or something similar. Taking these essays very seriously and submitting quality work could be the difference in your admissions decision. Please take the time to plan, write, and edit good essays. Just as letters of recommendation are a chance for adults who know you well to "sell" you on a more personal level, the essay is your own chance to stand out as a person who the colleges want to attend instead of just another application.

      Unusual obstacles or circumstances - if there are any unusual circumstances or notable obstacles that you have experienced or overcome in your life which may have had an adverse effect on other components of your application, then you will have the opportunity to explain what happened. Examples could include moving from school-to-school, childcare or other family obligations, necessity of part-time work, medical complications, and more affecting grades, course selection, participation in extracurricular activities, etc.

    For any independent or out-of-state schools' requirements, please explore the admissions sections of those schools' websites.
    NOTE: Some schools may not have specific course, GPA, or test score requirements. For example, Harvard only gives recommendations of how to best prepare. On the other hand, the University of California system has requirements similar to those of the UNC system.