While most students don't apply to colleges until senior year, educators should encourage them to explore their options throughout their high school years. By introducing the different types of post-secondary education to students earlier, students are able to make a more informed decision on what to do after graduation. Here are three things that high schools can do throughout a student's four years to help them decide on what to do after graduation:

Create an Internship Program

Many people think internships are reserved for college students, but they can be beneficial for high school students as well. In a study of 326 employers by Internships.com and Millennial Branding, 90 percent of companies agreed that internships in high school can help students get into better colleges, and 70 percent agreed that these high school students would be likely or very likely to get a college internship with their company.1

Consider partnering with local businesses to create a program in which students explore different career paths. By narrowing the focus of what a student would like to do as a career, high schools are helping them decide on the right choice for higher education. If after interning as a mechanic, a student decides he would like to follow that path, he now knows to research career schools. If another realizes she is interested in psychology, she then knows to focus on a four-year college or university. Internships are valuable work experience that help students in both getting accepted to schools and deciding which school is right for them.

Partner With AVID

AVID - Advancement Via Individual Determination - is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students prepare for college. Partnering with AVID is a great way for high schools to encourage underclassmen to start their research into post-secondary education. Member schools receive curriculum resources for teachers, technology-based support and even funding if aligned with a school's state goals.2

One of AVID's most popular programs involves bringing students to various college campuses, so they can see what they are like with their own eyes. Reading about a college can only go so far; speaking with professors, seeing students on campus and sitting in on classes is invaluable. Consider giving students the opportunity to visit schools within their schedule, too - it takes the pressure off missing classes.

Encourage Them to Take a College Course

Starting college classes while still in high school helps students assess their college readiness and motivates them to take a harder look at their future. Many institutions of higher education provide open enrollment to students during the summer, and trying out these classes can help your students see how college courses are structured and determine if they like a particular school. From community colleges to MIT3, plenty of these programs exist.4

For younger students especially, it may be difficult to find transportation during the summer to such programs. This is a great opportunity for high schools to step in and show their willingness to support their students' futures. Provide busing to the campuses or set up a rideshare system. Encouraging online courses can also assist with the transportation problem.

Choosing an institution for post-secondary education is often thought of as a senior year decision, but high school students should be encouraged to explore their options before this point. With these three simple ideas, high schools can better prepare their students for the best step after graduation.

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Resources: Photo credit. (1) The High School Careers Study (2) AVID Secondary Membership (3) MIT Summer Programs (4) Consider Online College Courses in High School