I was in the same position towards the end of my studies. I was looking at people from the years before me, leave and find it hard to find jobs in the industry. I saw talented animators leaving education and getting a bit stuck in the same sort of jobs they had before college.
A good idea is to look for a creative career that you would find interesting and keep challenging you. You are going to be doing this almost every day - so make sure this is going to be something that really gets your creative energy going. There is a huge variety of careers you can pursue, that might not obviously correspond to your qualification.
For example I really enjoyed editing, video production and motion graphics.
I set about pursuing a career in effects and interstitial animations for idents and music videos. This led me to learn more about the technical side of digital design and animation. I made a body of work that demonstrated my skills and sent examples of this out to various employers. On leaving college I eventually secured a job as a junior web developer in the business of promoting movies. My employers were happy to help me learn to code and eventually I moved over into a design position.
So my advice in summary is, set your sights on a career you can see yourself in. Get to grips with the tools the professionals use. Watch and learn from the internet and individuals, other students and professionals. Become a geek in your specialism, dive deep, and let your enthusiasm shine. Be as open as possible to learning new skills. Don't be afraid to get technical and specialise.
That's a pretty big question. There are many, many different jobs for artists and illustrators: fine art painter, sculptor, children's book illustrator, comic book artist, concept artist for video games, concept artist for film/television, book/album cover illustrator, muralist, etc.
Many artists and illustrators are self-employed and work as freelance artists and may end up working in several or all of these various fields. I've been working in the video games industry for over 10 years but have also done illustrations for children's books, comic books, and collectible card games.
There are also graphic design roles, user interface/experience, publishing layout, etc. that aren't explicitly illustration related but would be in the area of "art major." And many of the skills that you would learn in illustration - color theory, composition, design - would be applicable to those fields.
And as you gain experience in the art field you may move up to other roles like art director or creative director that wouldn't have you making the images yourself, but directing other artists to create a cohesive look and feel to a collaborative project.
The author, Neil Gaiman, has a great speech about working towards your goals and being a creative professional. It was a commencement address entitled, "Make Good Art." I would definitely recommend giving it a view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plWexCID-kA
There are many jobs out there for artists. Definitely look into the fine arts field and the entertainment industry. I hope that this helps.
In addition to the technical skills you will acquire while earning a Bachelor's of Fine Arts (BFA) degree, you will also strengthen your critical reasoning, problem solving, time management, communication and presentation skills.
After four years of completing assignments, you will have no problem working independently or collaborating with others as part of a team. All these skills will serve you well in an art career or in many other occupations if you decide you want to take a different path. Let's take a look at alternative careers that are good for college graduates with a degree in art:
Art Critic: Art critics are writers who evaluate art for newspapers, magazines, websites and other publications.
Curator: Curators manage museums and related facilities.
Teacher: College graduates who have degrees in art have many of the skills needed to teach children, including strong problem solving, time management and communication skills. In addition, you will probably need to earn at least a bachelor's degree in elementary education.
Art Instructor: Art instructors are self-enrichment teachers who help students learn or improve their artistic techniques. They lead classes or give private lessons that are not part of a required curriculum.
Event Planner: Event planners coordinate events such as private parties, conventions, trade shows and business meetings.
Art Supplies Sales Representative: Art supplies sales representatives sell products on behalf of manufacturers and wholesalers. They demonstrate products and try to convince their clients their customers will want them.
Fine Art Salesperson: Fine art salespeople sell photographs, paintings, sculptures, drawings and other pieces of art. They work in galleries and for other businesses that sell art to the general public and to collectors.
Art Therapist: Art therapists are mental health professionals who use art and the creative process to help their clients deal with mental health issues. This occupation combines knowledge of visual art with the study of human development, therapeutic practice and psychology.
Art Gallery Owner: Art galleries display the works of fine artists including painters, sculptors and photographers. Many gallery owners display their own work in addition to the work of other artists.
College Admissions Counselor: College admissions counselors promote schools to potential students, high school guidance counselors and parents. They meet with students both at the college and off site, delivering presentations, answering questions and giving tours.
You can read more detailed information about each occupation in: http://careerplanning.about.com/od/exploringoccupations/a/degree-in-art.htm
All the Best!
What you can do right now is research art schools, locally and across the country. If you can find a school that offers running start, look into that, you will earn college credits while at the same time attending high school, that will help you building a portfolio. Many professional art schools will ask for your portfolio, to see if you can roll with them, in other words, if they will accept you. Since you like illustrating, look for schools that have illustration as one of their major, many will be offering fine arts more than illustration, so take your time. you must already know what exactly you like drawing, if you don't know, look at your drawings and ask yourself these questions: What do you like the most about the drawing? Why did I pick to draw this? and What inspired me to draw this? Having answered those questions, you will get a better window into the things that appeal to you, being manga or star-ships that have give you the most interest, research artists that do that kind of work. For example of you found out you like star-ships, research artists who do nothing but star-ships, or if you like manga, research artists who art manga artists. Find out where they studied and who have they worked for in the past, or are currently working for a company. If you can find there art books, look into it, it will serve as inspiration. And last, start earning scholarships or grants, or if you can, get both, college is pricey, it does not matter if you are going to be an astronaut, actor, lumberjack or a reporter, all schools of every profession will be expensive. So look into your school for what scholarships and grants they offer, they don't have to come from sports, you can get them from other programs like entering a writing contest, doing a cloth drive for the homeless, winning an art contest, etc. Ask your school counselor, and look into the local library and internet for more options.
I hope this helps you out, and wish you the best in making your life the best.
Since I work on the gaming in industry, I can speak a little bit from games. A lot of times, we need artists for concept art, creating characters, some times artists who has graphics design can handle user interface, user interaction. Also artists in my field slowly train up in 3D modeling/animation and go from there! So besides traditional art positions, there are also other opportunities! Best of luck!
I work as a technical illustrator creating instructions, product illustrations, manuals, user guides, editorial art. I started off for about 10 years working for companies and now I work for myself, which is much better.
Illustration is a broad field, finding yourself a niche, or something you enjoy drawing where you can narrow it down and perfect your skill to rise in your field is pretty important I think. Really, if you work hard enough at it, you can do anything and make a good living.