Life After School

Not sure?

We know what everyone says about Year 12 — it’s the most important year of school; the ‘gateway’ to the rest of your life. There is a lot of pressure before the year even begins, from teachers, family and friends wanting to know what the next step is, what your score needs to be, whether you will do further study, take a GAP year, work or travel.

For rural young people, it’s also the time we start deciding whether to move away from our communities to chase our dreams and, if we do move, how on earth we’ll pay for it all.

Having to make decisions like this, while we’re still in senior high school, is a big ask. It’s okay not to know what you want to do —to feel unsure, anxious even, about the number of decisions you feel you have to make all at once. 

The good news is, Rural Inspire is made up of young people from rural communities, just like you, who have already started their journeys into life after high school. Some of us have transitioned  straight to university and TAFE while others have found work. Some have achieved their goals of joining the Defence Force, while others have achieved early entry to university courses. And then there are those of us who have deferred studies altogether — taking a year to do some thinking and exploring. We know they’re all good options for our individual needs. And they’re good for you, too.

The Rural Inspire Team are ready to share our stories, our experiences and our advice to help you on your journey ahead. We are working to connect you with the right people, and even to just be a part of your network, if that’s what you need. You can ask us about your pathway beyond school, just flick us an email and we’ll be ready:

For now, the information and resources below have been compiled to help you make a more informed decision. Go ahead and explore the idea of university or TAFE, perhaps a gap year, work, or volunteering opportunities and more. There are countless pathways for life after high school — there is no right path that we should all want to take.


What exactly do we mean by university? For a lot of people in Australia, university and ‘higher education’ are used interchangeably. However, university is only one kind of further education; TAFE, for example, is another kind.

In Australia, we have 41 local universities, and two overseas institutions operating in our country. 

So, why go to university?

Over the past decade university enrolments have been increasing. As it becomes a more accessible form of higher education, the number of rural and regional enrolments have also increased. 

The admission process has also become much more accessible, it is no longer reliant on a student’s Year 12 score. Many universities are now offering early entries, advertising alternate pathways, and providing additional entry support for rural young people. 

What are the pros of university? 

Undergraduate courses take, at least, three years to complete, and in that time you get to learn a great deal about your chosen field. This is great if you love what you study. University graduates can earn larger salaries, particularly  if they go on to complete postgraduate study, and there is enough time while you’re studying to do things like internships or volunteer positions. University is also very flexible — by and large, you get to choose a timetable that works for you. It’s also an easy process to defer,  modify enrolments or change courses once you’re admitted at a university. Then there’s the social aspect; universities are great places to meet like-minded people, especially if you live in student residence, and there’s always the possibility of international exchange and travel programs, which are pretty widespread across all institutions in Australia, allowing you to learn, travel and grow, all at the same time. 

Recently, the Commonwealth Government has delivered an initiative supporting rural communities with Regional University Centres (RUCs). These centres include study spaces, break out areas, computer facilities, high-speed internet, academic support and student support. By early 2021, there will be 25 RUCs in operation, nationally. 

With options like off-campus study, alternate entry pathways, full or part-time study loads, you can make studying at university work for your circumstances. 

The University Admissions Centre has an online course compass. The compass uses data, like your estimated ATAR and your Year 12 subjects, to show the university courses that students with similar results have received offers for. 

The Good Universities Guide explains the application process, and evaluates universities based on a number of factors, such as staff qualifications, student engagement and graduate incomes. You can also explore the Good Careers Guide   — offering more than 400 job descriptions and relevant university courses — to see which course could lead to your dream job. 


The TAFE sector is Australia’s largest education and training sector. TAFE institutes are known for providing nationally-recognised VET courses, which train students for more technical or skills-based careers; such as nursing, project management, construction or even the arts and education. 

TAFE (Technical and Further Education) and VET (Vocational Education and Training), are alternatives to studying at university. The two often overlap but they are slightly different. VET courses are usually geared towards school-leavers who are going to enter a specific trade; for example, plumbing or bricklaying. Whereas TAFE courses are still highly practical, but have an increased academic focus, providing an overview of the field, and not just a specific trade.  

When compared to university education, like a bachelor degree, TAFEs offer a significantly more practical learning experience, although there are a growing number of TAFE programs that progress to undergraduate opportunities. 

There is a general misconception that TAFE courses lead to lower paying jobs, and fewer opportunities for work. 

In fact, the average, annual salary for TAFE graduates (meaning the salary of the job they get after studying)  is actually $2000 higher than it is for recent university graduates. Plus, the TAFE graduate employment rate is higher than it is for university graduates. 

If you don’t enjoy the academic side of learning and prefer taking on practical skills, TAFE might be the choice for you. 

The pros of TAFE? 

TAFE and VET qualifications are quicker to complete (six months  to two years) compared to university qualifications (three years, full time). TAFE and VET courses are generally much cheaper, particularly for courses in areas where there is a national skill shortage, as these courses can be completed without fees. Equally, courses are delivered by instructors who work in the field, and work placement units give students great insight to industry and work experience. 

The My Skills website has thousands of VET qualifications to choose from — ranging from Certificate I to Certificate IV; Diploma; Advanced Diploma; Graduate Diploma and Graduate Certificate. The TAFE Course website compares the many different courses and institutions that are available,  assisting students to select what’s best for them. 


Gap Year

A Gap Year is the name given to the year between finishing VCE and starting tertiary education or joining the workforce. There are many reasons students choose to take a gap year.  After 13 years of school, some students feel it’s a good option to rejuvinate, earn some money, gain life experience and, perhaps most importantly, create time to truly think through their decisions for the future. 

Did you know, a study by the University of Sydney recently found  Australian students who had taken a gap year were more motivated during their tertiary education than those who had not taken a gap year?

Some common gap year activities include travel, teaching abroad, volunteering, employment to build financial savings, internships or even short courses of study. Gap year activities provide an opportunity to challenge oneself with new experiences. If a Gap Year takes you overseas, it can provide a global perspective and understanding of the world. All things considered, a gap year can be a solid opportunity to gain new skills, explore personal interests, and even, gain confidence and self esteem for the road ahead. 

The Youth Central website unpacks some of the reasons students decide to take a Gap Year. And the options are endless — you could spend an exciting 12 months in the Navy, Army or Air Force, where you’ll get paid for meaningful work, while travelling around Australia, gaining skills and experience. Organisations like Latitude provide International Volunteering and Gap Year Placements for young adults, aged 17 to 25. And there’s even an Australian organisation called Year 13, and they gather  opportunities for school leavers, connecting them to work, travel and volunteering opportunities. 


Join the workforce

Going straight into the workforce is a great option. It means you get to start on your career right away, and you can start earning money without the worry of paying off higher education study fees.. 

There are lots of different ways to get into the workforce; each of them with their own pros and cons. Applying for work via a combination of approaches can be a good way to increase your chances of landing the job.

If you’re not sure what kind of job you might like, try out this career quiz. Once you know what kind of work you’re looking for, check the Headspace website or Job Jump Start for info about job searching, where to look, how to write a resume and much more. 

Once you know what kind of work you’re interested in, you can use online job searches to try and find positions to apply for. Ripple connects 18-28 year olds with opportunities, leaders and networks of support. 

The Australian Government advertises all vacant positions online, so if you’re considering working in public services you can see what’s available on the Government Employment WebsiteEthical Jobs is another good place to search for job vacancies. You can also try browsing your local newspaper, or local council website for job listings in your area. 

Defence Force Australia

Defence Force Australia offers multiple post-school pathways. You can have all or part of your degree course paid for, or you can work for the ADF in a gap year. Following a Defence Force Australia pathway means you earn a salary from day one.

A partnership with the University of New South Wales has created the Australian Defence Force Academy. Essentially,  the academy combines a university degree with cutting-edge military and leadership training. University fees are covered by the Federal Government, and you also earn a base salary of $40,910, plus Super.

The Defence Force also offers Defence University Sponsorship, allowing you to apply for a role in the Navy, Army or Air Force while still studying for a degree at any accredited university in Australia. The sponsorship will earn you a salary, help cover student loans and ensure you a position in uniform when you graduate.  

Furthermore, if you’re thinking about taking a gap year, Defence Force Australia also offers a unique program enabling you to earn money, travel and get an insight into military life over a period of 12 months. Check out this video of a young person’s experience completing a gap year with the Defence Force. 


An apprenticeship is another great pathway to your career of choice. You gain a qualification and real life experience, and you earn money in the process.

Apprenticeships are usually associated with the construction and trade industry, but there are actually many different types of apprenticeships available across a wide range of industries. Creative and Media apprenticeships exist for careers like floristry, graphic design, interior design, horticulture and beauty. There are even apprenticeships in music, artist management and live event support. 

You can explore apprenticeships for business, administration or accounting, and there’s even options for customer service, contact centres and retail. 

The apprenticeships available in construction vary from bricklaying, plumbing and scaffolding, to civil engineering and even things like crane operation. These aren’t just jobs that would have you building residential houses — you could be working on highways, manufacturing systems or with the newest electromechanical equipment.

Right now, engineering and ICT are booming employment sectors. The ICT sector is growing all the time and, with that, there is an increasing demand for skilled people. An apprenticeship in telecommunications will see you working towards an ICT qualification, whilst learning about software and hardware.

The Australian Apprenticeship Pathways (AAP) website can help you explore the hundreds of different career pathways available to you. Their youtube channel has interviews with people from hundreds of industries who started their careers with an apprenticeship. Check out the list of Government Training Organisations who offer training and apprenticeship programs — you can search by state, industry or organisation. 

Another good resource is the Mas Experience.They work in collaboration with organisations across Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, providing recruitment, employment and business support as an Australian Apprenticeship Support Network (AASN) provider. They can help you see what’s out there, and also support you in landing the job.  

And, finally, once you know what kind of apprenticeship you want to undertake, check out the AAP website for their apprentice hunting steps


Internships and volunteering

Internships and volunteer positions are a great way to learn about possible interests or careers, especially if you’re not sure what you want to do.  

While there are some paid internships out there, many or most are unpaid,  so they’re quite similar to volunteer positions. Both internships and volunteer positions can offer invaluable experiences, giving you work experience and first-hand exposure to an industry or field of interest. 

You should also think about the length of time you can volunteer. Some organisations might want you to volunteer for a minimum length of time — for example six or 12 months — while others might only need you for a few hours a month.

Volunteering Australia can connect with you volunteering opportunities based on your location and availability. If you want to explore volunteering internationally, both GVI  and Projects Abroad run intern and volunteer programs, globally. 

If you can’t commit to a long-term volunteering position, think about volunteering for annual events, or things like film festivals, sporting events, or even music festivals. 

If there is a business, locally, that you’re really interested in, consider contacting them and asking if they would be willing to host you as a volunteer.You never know, unless you ask. This is a great way to connect with potential employers, and to see how some businesses operate.