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Career Pathways

"I just don't feel like a 4-year college is right for me, but I don't want to miss out on the opportunity to have a professional career. It seems like there should be another way to get there..."


Designed Backyard

What's a Pathway?

Just like it sounds, a Career Pathway is a way to get from where you are today to the career you want.


Most people envision their career pathway as a straight line that everyone follows. It is commonly presented as graduating from high school, going to college, graduating with a degree, finding a job, and so on. Everything just works out in a perfectly straight line, right? 

There is more than one way to gain the knowledge, skills, and qualifications needed for your career. While a 4-year degree is good for some careers, it is not the answer for everyone. 

Multiple "PATHWAYS" exist that allow you to gain the training you need - often in less time and at less cost. Once you decide on what you want to do, your pathway will outline how to get from where you are to where you want to go.

There is not a single way to get there.

Here are a few educational pathways to help prepare you...

Students in Cafeteria

What Does It Take?

Depending on your career interest, you will need training, education, or other preparation to get ready for success. Since each career path is different, there is not a single approach to education or training that is right for everyone. 

You have a range of options to choose from. Some options are available as early as now - while you are in high school. Others are available after high school, while some programs can be completed while you work for an employer. 

Check out some of these options. Feel free to discuss these options with your guidance counselor or reach out to the contact under each resource.

Happy College Student

4-Year Pathway

Several professional careers in business, healthcare, sciences, and tech require the completion of degree programs from colleges or universities. 

These may include positions like:





Business Managers

Lawyers (w/ additional degree)

Doctors (w/ additional degree)

If you're interested in these careers, plan on looking into additional studies after high school. You may consider going directly into a 4-year college or university. You can also begin at a 2-year college and transfer to a 4-year college.

To find a program specific to your interests, click below to go to the Washington College & Career Compass

For information on Educational Preparations for this Pathway, CLICK HERE

A 4-year university pathway is a traditional approach to preparing for professional-level careers in Engineering, Management, Accounting, Healthcare, Technology, Science, Education, and other careers. Graduates earn a Bachelor's Degree, and most move into their first professional positions.


Others may continue either immediately following their undergraduate programs or after some work experience to earn graduate degrees (e.g., Master's Degrees, such as an MBA) or postgraduate degrees (e.g., Doctoral or Jurisdoctoral Degrees) to become doctors or lawyers. 

Bachelor’s degrees are offered at colleges and universities. These degrees typically have twice as many credits as associate degrees. If you attend full-time, they usually take four years to complete.

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees allow you to take a range of subjects as well as concentrate in a particular area of study or major.

  • Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees tend to have a strong focus on the specialization area or major, with fewer elective classes.

  • Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degrees are offered at community and technical colleges for students with an associate degree. They focus on workforce preparation.

If You Want a 4-Year Degree.

If you are interested in a 4-year college degree, you may want to start with this resource provided by the WA State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. It can walk you through what you need to know about college and answer common questions. 

Find Education

Use the Career Bridge tool to locate the right program and school in Washington to meet your needs. 

Common Questions about Four-Year Degrees

See a list of FAQs provided by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges that may answer many of your questions about attending college or university programs. 

List of 4-Year Colleges and Universities in Washington

Click here for a list of all four-year institutions. You can then be directed to the website of each institution to learn more about their programs and requirements. 

College Readiness

Are you concerned about being ready for college? Click here to learn more about the skills you need to be ready. Learn about course placement assessments, academic resources, and more. 

College Knowledge Manual

Any student planning to go to college should download, read, and regularly review THE COLLEGE KNOWLEDGE MANUAL produced by the Washington College Access Network. 

The Costs of College

Plan ahead and know what to prepare for.


Everyone is encouraged to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Even if you do not think you will need financial aid, this opens access to programs that may be helpful as you apply for training and education.  CLICK HERE for information on financial aid opportunities. 

2-Year College & Certificate Pathway

Several careers can begin with a Certificate program from a Trade School. Some certificates can be obtained through a 1-year (or less) program at a Community College while others may be obtained through other private programs.


Careers such as Welding, Cosmetology, Medical Assisting, Dental Assisting, Pharmacy Technician, Massage Therapy, and many others can begin with a certificate program in even less than a year to start your career.   

Community and technical colleges offer associate degrees. If you attend full time, an associate degree typically takes two years to complete. There are several types of associate degrees available, and colleges offer different programs depending on what courses are available. These are all types of associate degrees:

  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS): Professional and technical careers may require a two-year AAS degree, rather than a 4-year bachelor’s degree.

  • Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS) degrees include general education courses in academic categories, with room for some elective classes based on your interests. This can be a good fit for students still exploring their career options.

  • Associate in Technology (AT): This degree is usually in a trade field like welding, carpentry, automotive technology or similar. The classes are focused on what you need to know in these fields, and you may also take some English and math classes that are related to working in a technical field.

Many career and technical positions require certificates, Associates Degrees from Community College programs, or other specialized training that can be completed in a short time.  


These may include:



Autobody Technicians



Aerospace Tech


Pharmacy Tech

An Associates Degree from a Community College is another way to begin your career. This is the best approach for several trades and may be a cost-effective way to complete the first two years of their 4-year degree. For those in the trades, such as Welding, Machining, Carpentry, and many others, this is a common path to career preparation. For others pursuing a 4-year degree, many attend Community College for the first 2 years to save considerable money as they complete the first two years of studies toward their bachelor's degree. 

Several links related to this pathway include the following. 

Two-Year Community Colleges in Washington State

Check out the WA State Board for Community and Technical Colleges' list of all 34 community and technical colleges in the state. You can also go directly to their website and apply to their programs. 

Two-Year Colleges Offering 4-Year Bachelor Degree Programs in Washington State

Click here for a list of all four-year institutions. You can then be directed to the website of each institution to learn more about their programs and requirements. 

The College Knowlege Manual

Any student planning to go to college should download, read, and regularly review THE COLLEGE KNOWLEDGE MANUAL produced by the Washington College Access Network. 

CLICK HERE for information on FAFSA and other financial aid opportunities.

Community Colleges
Auto Mechanic Fixing Car

Industry Recognized Certificate (IRC) Pathway

Short-term workforce certificates offer training in particular skills. They include programs such as chemical dependency services, commercial truck driving, and some medical field positions. These programs usually take less than a year to complete and prepare students for immediate employment. Sometimes these certificates can help you earn credits toward a degree. Consider pursuing certificates that will meet your career interests.

Men at Work

Apprenticeship Pathway

Apprenticeship programs offer a combination of work experiences, classroom instruction, and an industry-recognized credential. Apprenticeship programs range from traditional trades like construction to technology jobs like software developer. Apprenticeships allow you to start paid work and learn on-the-job. There are hundreds of apprenticeship programs available across the state. You can find an apprenticeship program and search what is available in your area by doing a county search.

Click here for information on grants available for Apprenticeship programs and additional information available through Washington Student Achievement Council. 

See apprenticeship resources available from WA State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

Machinists Institute

Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeships

Click here for more information on apprenticeship programs in advanced manufacturing available through Machinists Institute.


Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeships

Click here for more information on apprenticeship programs in advanced manufacturing and other areas available through AJAC.

US Army Soldier in Universal Camouflage Uniform

Military Pathway

Thinking about the military after high school? Check out this resource to find out more about


Work Colleagues

Direct to Work Pathway

Want to go straight from high school into a career? There may be options available such as:


Dual Credit Programs

Running Start


Work-Based Learning

Skills Centers



On the Job Training

On The Job Training (OJT), is similar to an apprenticeship. You can earn money while learning valuable career skills. Training occurs while a paid employee is engaged in work. The learning allows the employee to gain knowledge and skills essential to their job. OTJ Training for skilled labor often takes place in health careers but can occur in trades, automotive, or about anywhere. The benefit of many OJT opportunities is that participants build transferrable skills if they ever make a career move..

Architects at Work

Other Options

Several professions require post-high school degrees from 4-year programs. 


Get a Job

Graduation Pathway Options: WA State Board of Education

There is more than one way to successful completion of your high school journey. Check out the ways to get through high school and into your career. 

High School and Beyond Plan: WA State Board of Education RequirementsSee the requirements for all high school graduates from the WA State Board of Education. 

Work-Based Learning Resources (Washington Workforce Portal)

Check out information about how to turn hands-on work experience into high school credit. 

College & Career Compass (Washington)

Includes several resources designed to help users prepare for college. Contains tools to highlight ways to prepare for and succeed in college activities. 

Digital Calculator

Paying for College

You can afford college, triaining, or other preparations, Check out our resources available at Paying for Education



  • You can afford education. There is always an option out there for you to get the training you need for your career 

  • Higher education is not an exclusive privilege. You have access to training for a better career. 

  • You can do it!! Don't let anyone tell you that you're not good enough, smart enough, or able to succeed. You can!

  • No matter what challenge you are facing right now, someone else has been there before, and they did it. 


Similar Outcomes, Different Paths to Get There


Let's share a few examples of individuals in similar positions who took different approaches to reach the same destination. This is meant to demonstrate you don't need to follow the same path - there are several ways to get to your career that can match your situation, needs, and preferences,.




Mechanical Engineer


5-Year Bachelor of Science

Washington State University


Junior Year: Summer

Hired after college into first professional job. 

Progressive promotions over past 10 years. 

Professional Man


Mechanical Engineer


2-Yrs Assoc. Degree Mech. Design from Community College

+ 3 yrs Experience

Returned to school to complete BsEng


Worked while going to school to support family. 

Worked as Mech. Designer throughout school. Employer helped pay for school. 


Mechanical Designer


2-year Assoc. Degree

Spokane Falls Community College 



Hired after college into first professional job. Hired as Designer I and worked way up.

Currently working as Designer II after 5 years. 


Headshot Portrait

Mechanical Designer




Multiple certifications from training courses.


10 years of hands-on experience at reputable engineering firms.  


Work experience. Started ​working as a drafter using skills learned in high school classes.

Currently a Mech. Designer II 

Professional Smiling Woman




4-Year Bachelor (Business)

Eastern Washington State University


Worked part-time jobs  Junior and Senior for local businesses to support young family.

Continued after graduation. Expanded into full-time role. 

Works for same family-owned business.




4-Year Bachelor (Business)

Eastern Washington State University


Worked part-time jobs  Junior and Senior for local businesses to support young family.

Continued after graduation. Expanded into full-time role. 

Still works for same family-owned business, more duties and pay. 

Young Man


Graphic Designer


2-year Assoc. Degree 

Spokane Falls Community College


Summer between years

Hired after college into initial position as a graphic artist. 

Currently on 3rd job in 3 years. as Lead Graphic Designer. 


Several side gigs for individuals and businesses.

Young Businesswoman


Graphic Designer



Certificates - Several completed through online training in Adobe

Certificates via Coursera & others




Initial work competed through independent gigs and Fiverr

Currently working as Sr. Graphic Designer for local design firm. 

Asian Man




2-year Assoc. Degree 

Spokane Community College


Co-op / Final Quarter

Hired after college into initial position as a CNC Machinist I.

Currently works as a CNC Machinist II after 5 years on the job for the same employer. 

Smiling Portrait





AJAC Machinist Apprenticeship program certificate 


None - completed apprenticeship while working

Promoted from Assembler to Machinist I after completion of Apprenticeship program.

Currently works as a CNC Machinist II after 3 years of program (+5 years of previous employment).. 


That is up to you. There are several paths to get you to a good career. However, there are no short cuts! You still need to do the work to get the qualifications needed to gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities that employers are looking for to become a skilled employee. 

Here are some things to consider as you evaluate options. 

  • Career of Choice

  • Location of Training

  • Availability of Alternative Training

  • Experience

  • Ability to Gain Knowledge Elsewhere

  • Family Situation

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