What is Post-secondary Education?

Post-secondary education is the educational level following the completion of secondary education, often referred to as high school. It is also referred to as third-level, third-stage or tertiary education. Post-secondary education includes universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Post-secondary education usually culminates with a diploma, certification or academic degree of any bachelor level courses, professional courses, undergraduate courses or any other vocational courses included in the post-secondary Education. In addition, there are special education services, adult basic and continuing education, leisure learning programs, and continuing professional education and training programs.

Unlike primary and secondary school that are compulsory for children under the age of 18, post-secondary education is completely optional. It is the final stage of formal learning and leads towards an academic degree. Post-secondary education is defined in the International Standard Classification of Education as levels 6 through 8. Post-secondary education also includes both undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

Secondary or High School Education vs. Post-Secondary or Tertiary Education:

:pencil2: Secondary Education picks up from primary and continues onward until usually 18 or 19 years of age and deals with more advanced skill sets but still generally focuses on general education.

:pencil2: Post-secondary or tertiary education builds on Primary and Secondary studies leading to increased specialization of skills and knowledge.

Post-secondary Education and employment:

  • Post-secondary education is necessary for the discovery, proper dissemination and application of knowledge. Countries with better educated citizens are more equipped to deal with new challenges and technological advances. They are able to compete with other countries on a level playing field.

  • Innovation and economic growth is almost totally dependent on post-secondary education. Skills for the knowledge economy are built at tertiary level. Countries that have ignored the need for their citizens to have post-secondary education have also failed to maintain impressive growth rates.

  • South Africa’s growth rate is severely hampered by the unavailability of adequate skills. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the lack of qualified human capital hinders growth and undermines the foundation for sustainable development.

  • Post-secondary education also yields monetary benefits. It is the gateway to better paying jobs with opportunities for raises and bonuses. These monetary benefits increase living standards because a person will be able to afford housing and health costs.

  • They will also be able to invest for the future. Thus, post-secondary education results in the fulfilment of self-actualization needs to be present in all. It also offers a wider opportunity of career choices. The demand for highly-skilled workers is always high in developed countries.

The importance of tertiary education cannot be over-emphasized. It is the backbone of society and a major driver behind economic growth and personal financial freedom.

Examples of Post-secondary Education: :open_book:

If you’re open to the idea of further education after high school but want to consider other options, here are your possible choices.

Vocational Schools

Also known as trade or tech schools, vocational schools teach it students on the technical side of certain crafts or skills of a specific job. Unlike colleges where its students receive academic training for careers in certain professional disciplines, vocational school students do job-specific training where certain physical skills are needed more than academic learning.

These are available in almost every country, though they may go by different names. In some countries, there may be both vocational schools run privately or public vocational school that are either fully or partially subsidized by the government for people who want to learn skills for better employment opportunities.

Some vocational courses include :

  • Health care for nursing (for people who want to work as caregivers)
  • Computer network management
  • Word processing application (secretarial positions)
  • Food and beverage management
  • Fashion designing
  • Electrician
  • Plumber
  • Carpentry
  • Commercial pilot
  • Catering and hotel management
  • Daycare management
  • Hairstyling, cosmetics, and beautification
  • Paralegal studies
  • Massage therapy
  • Pharmacy technician
  • Travel agent

Take note that there are a lot more vocational courses than the ones provided, but not all vocational schools provide all types of courses. Some vocational schools may also specialize in certain industries, so it’s best to do your research on vocational schools in your area.

Completion of any of these courses provide you with a certificate that shows you have completed and trained for the skill of your choice. This gives you a competitive advantage in the job market compared to other high school graduates who do not have the same training for the skillset you have.

It is also possible to have multiple certificates for different courses if you think this will give you a further advantage, such as getting certified for Electrician, Plumber, and Carpentry courses if you intend to work in the construction industry. This also applies to college graduates who think they can get a leg up with both a college degree and a vocational school certificate on their resume.

Community Colleges

Community colleges are also known as “junior colleges” or “two-year colleges.” As its name goes, instead of earning a Bachelor’s degree after four years, community college students earn associate degrees after just two years. Some community colleges also offer non-degree certificates and vocational courses, though not all colleges do. Aside from academic classes, community colleges offer other programs for the community.

The reason why community colleges take half the time to earn a diploma is because it only offers the general education requirements taken by all college students. In regular colleges and universities, you spend four years studying: the first two years are dedicated to general education requirements, while the next two are for your specialized classes depending on your major.

Community college can be a step towards employment, but it can also be a step towards entering university. With the classes you’ve taken in community college, you can proceed to a university and major for two more years to work towards a bachelor’s degree. But if you think you don’t need one and intend to enter the workforce after attending community college, you’ll be given an associate’s degree after completion.

Distance Education

Distance education is an increasingly popular way to complete everything from a short professional course to a graduate degree. There are numerous institutions offering undergraduate degree programs using distance education teaching methods. Under the distance education model, students no longer attend classes in a classroom on a campus. Instead, classes are delivered from a distance using technologies such as the Internet, satellite television, and video conferencing.

This means that international students can study for a U.S. degree without leaving their home country, though they will almost certainly have to go to the U.S. for short periods of face-to-face contact and study on the campus. Studying for a degree via distance education requires students to have special qualities such as self-discipline and the ability to work on their own. If you are considering distance education, you should thoroughly research the quality of the program, the accreditation of the institution in the U.S., and the school’s recognition in your home country. This way, you can make sure this option is appropriate for your future goals.

Distance education is a vehicle for delivering education to persons whose location, circumstances, or work make remote links necessary or convenient. It is not considered a separate type of education altogether. You won’t earn a diploma, but you earn a certificate of completion. It’s similar to what you earn from tech school, but more academic than in terms of skill.

Life Skills Programs

Some students may not have the academic and/or social skills to attend four-year colleges or universities, two-year colleges, vocational-technical programs, or adult education programs. Such students may have the need and desire to increase basic academic skills and knowledge, but may have an equal need to learn increased social and life management skills, while also receiving vocational training. Several life skills programs exist throughout the country, offering training for independence. These are people who may be interested in learning for specific classes and want to pursue academic interests but do not see the need to earn the full degree. These can be simply because they want to learn a certain field or who want to add to their resume that they took classes for a specific subject.

Colleges & Universities

The most popular choice for post-secondary education, colleges and universities not only provide bachelor’s degree for high school students, but also post-graduate degrees for college students. Some examples of post-graduate degrees that fall under this bracket include graduate school, law school, medical school, dental school, and business school.

Some people attend post-secondary education institutions like graduate school and business schools for a master’s degree that will give them a leg-up in the job market for higher-ranking positions. However, for other institutions like law school and medical school, you need to enter and finish your education if you want to achieve a certain job role. For example, paralegals may need certification or even a bachelor’s degree, depending on how competitive a paralegal position in a law firm is, but if you want to become a lawyer, you need to finish to law school and pass the bar exam in your jurisdiction.

It’s relatively the most expensive form of post-secondary education, but there are several options on how to get in. There are several scholarship and grant programs that can provide you with partial to full scholarships (some even provide stipends or allowances for expenses like food, books, and other necessities) without having to go into debt. However, a lot of scholarship programs are extremely competitive and are usually awarded to students who show a lot of academic or athletic promise or require the most financial aid.

Is it necessary to get post-secondary education?

Getting post-secondary education is not necessary to land a job in the future, nor is there any assurance that getting further education will get you a job right after completing your education. If you feel like none of the options mentioned above can help you towards the career you want or see yourself doing in the future, then you don’t have to take any of them. Unlike elementary and secondary school in your younger years, post-secondary education isn’t mandatory – whether you attend school after high school or after the age of 18 is still your choice.

This means that regardless of your educational attainment, there will be a position in the job market that will suit your educational attainment. However, depending on what that is, the job market could be competitive.

Also, take note of the salary difference. One of the possible reasons why over half of high school graduates opt to attend post-secondary education is because the average annual salary of a college graduate is over half the average annual salary of a high school graduate – and the gap between the two educational attainments is only growing wider.

Whether or not you should pursue post-secondary education is ultimately up to you. If you want a career that doesn’t necessarily fall under the available institutions or you feel like continuing education will do little to help your career, then it’s OK to skip this altogether and pursue a career or track that you want. But if you want to pursue continuing education but feel like you can’t afford to take four years of college, then you know that you have other options available that may help you.


The biggest question students’ face when leaving high school is what will be next. When students leave high school, they go in many different directions. For an increasing number of students with both high and low incidence disabilities, the next step may be postsecondary education and training. Postsecondary education and training are for students who want to continue to learn in another environment after high school. Reasons for pursuing further education differ but often include obtaining credentials in a field of interest, experiencing life away from home, or securing a better paying job.

Frequently Asked Questions

1- How long does it take to get a post-secondary certificate?


Distinguished from each other by length of duration, the three types of certificates are short, medium and long term. The average certificate completion time is 1.9 years.


Designed to be completed within less than a year of starting, short term certificates are earned in fewer than 30 credit hours and offer very little economic value. The average short term certificate holder on average makes less than 10 percent more than those with only a high school diploma. Short term certificates are the most popular sub baccalaureate award, accounting for 54 percent of all certificate awards in 2010.


Medium term certificates are structured to last longer than a year, but come to close before two years. In 2010, these certificates accounted for 41 percent of all certificates awarded. However, medium term programs are designed to exceed 30, but not 60 credit hours and usually offer a salary equivalent to employees with an Associate’s degree.


The least popular, these certificates only accounted for 5 percent of all certificates awarded in 2010. Long term certificates have a similar duration period to associate degrees and are at least a two year commitment. These programs are structured to have a duration period that is at least 60, but no more than 120 credit hours.

2- What are examples of post-secondary education?

  • Four-year Colleges and Universities.
  • Two-Year Colleges.
  • Vocational-Technical Schools and Programs.
  • Adult Education and Continuing Education Programs.
  • Life Skills Programs.

3- What is the difference between secondary and postsecondary education?

Secondary education refers to high school instruction. After earning a high school diploma or equivalent, many students choose to pursue postsecondary education, such as a vocational certificate or college degree.

4- What is the importance of postsecondary education?

Post- secondary students’ statistics show that individuals who have earned postsecondary credentials are healthier, live longer and are more deeply engaged in civic and community life than those who lack credentials.

5- What is secondary school in US?

Secondary education is for children aged 12 to 18. Secondary school generally takes place in a high school, which is often divided into junior and senior high. Junior high (also called Middle School) is for those aged 11 to 14 and senior high is for students aged 15 to 18.

6- What is the first 4 years of postsecondary education?

The “first four years” refers to the amount of academic credit that has been awarded. To be eligible for the American opportunity credit, a student must not have completed the first four years of post-secondary education as of the beginning of the taxable year.

7- What is the highest form of education?

The doctorate degree is the highest degree you can earn in most fields. Also called a “terminal degree,” this signals that you’ve achieved the highest level of academic mastery in your chosen field, and can work as a professional researcher, a university professor, or in an executive leadership role.

8- What are the 4 degrees?

Types of College Degrees: Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s & Doctoral

9- What are the 4 levels of education?

Within this range of postsecondary education, there are basically four levels of college degrees: associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Earning any of these degrees can take around 2 to 8 years, depending upon the level of the degree and the major you choose.

10- What is a 6 year degree called?

A Master’s Degree is a Graduate Degree. The master’s degree is a graduate school degree that typically requires two years of full-time coursework to complete. Depending on the subject, a Master’s degree can mean many different things.

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