When Maria Castillo picks up her high school diploma Friday, she'll have the weekend to celebrate, and then she'll be back on campus to take a final test.
And if she passes the state licensing exam in phlebotomy, Castillo says she'll start pounding the pavement to get a full-time hospital job.
While many students are making plans to begin college, other graduating high school seniors are ready to go directly to the workforce, skipping or delaying higher education to get started on a career. Some teens are just eager to strike out on their own. Others, like Castillo, attended high school technical and career programs that provide training and qualifications for work.
Last year, 68 percent of high school graduates went on to attend college according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report. The report also shows that of those students not enrolled in college, 77 percent were either working or looking for work.
Castillo, a senior at Fort Worth's Trimble Technical High School, hasn't ruled out college but wants to earn some money and become more independent first.
"I'm kind of nervous but excited at the same time to be facing the real world," said Castillo, 18. "I'm not going to be here anymore. There's not going to be teachers around telling you what to do."
Many students at Trimble Tech are college-bound but want to learn skills to help them get well-paying part-time jobs during college, said Angela Bruce, Trimble Tech's 12th-grade assistant principal.
The school's health, science and technology program is very competitive to get into, she said. "It's the nature of the community in Fort Worth right now. Kids really want to get into medicine. They know getting a [medical] doctorate is very hard. Kids are starting to learn that there are a lot of jobs in the medical field that don't require a college degree."
Other new graduates say they don't have a specific career path yet.
After commencement on Saturday, Castleberry High School senior Jessee Aldaco plans to step up his search for full-time work, possibly a job that would let him work outside.
"Right now the plan is to go to the workforce and get money to help my family and save money," said Aldaco, 18, of River Oaks. "I'm just ready to get done and just be a grown-up and actually take that step."
Aldaco hopes to save enough to go to college to study business, but he figures that on-the-job experience will help him later in life.
For young people starting out in a job, it can be tough at first to make the transition from student to employee, said Jide Obasa, Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County's youth services manager.
The youth work centers provide job leads and referrals to low-income 17- to 21-year-olds and offer workshops that compare being in school to life in the workplace.
"We work with them to show the translation from a school environment to a business setting," he said. "It comes with having a sense of responsibility and accountability."
Melissa Rodriguez, 18, already knows what it is like to make the transition from the classroom to the workforce.
She is putting her cosmetology training to work in a part-time job at a hair salon in Blue Mound.
A student at Keller Central High School, Rodriguez took cosmetology classes at the Birdville technology center under an agreement between the school districts. She got her state cosmetology license this semester and plans to attend Tarrant County College in the fall.
"Sometimes people are concerned about trusting someone who just got out of school," she said. "But I'm usually never nervous because I know what I am doing, and if I have any questions, my boss is standing right there watching me."
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326