What's the Next Step:

Preparing for Life After High School

There is no better time than right now to start working with your child to develop a plan for life after high school. Talk about what your child likes and dislikes, explore career interests, and explore jobs. Together, decide what path makes the most sense for your child to follow after graduation from high school. Begin your planning, financial and otherwise, for your child's career success.

Just letting things happen, on the other hand, can be a recipe for disappointment. And making the wrong choices often is more than a disappointment. It can also be very expensive. As a society we are so focused on sending our children to a four-year college that we miss the goal, which is their happiness and their career success. In order to have this, our children – with our help – must develop a plan for the future.

There are a number of simple things your family can do to start this plan and move toward the goal of career happiness and success. Here is a quick list of 10 steps.

  1. Since your teenager may find the very idea of planning a career overwhelming, start the journey together. Make time to talk about the job and career future. Assign each other tasks to give you both more information, and spark ideas.
  2. Begin with a reality check. How is your teen doing in school? What are the grades and test scores? Equally important, what are the assessments by the teachers? Sometimes, grades don't really paint a full picture of a child's interests, abilities, and potential. The next step is to explore interests and abilities.
  3. Dream a little. Ask your child to think and talk about school subjects that are special likes and dislikes, about especially interesting and fulfilling activities in and out of school. Encourage your teen to see the "dream" job and career. (Let it be your child's dream. Listen closely and make sure it is not your dream alone.)
  4. Connect the dots. Help your student figure out how to get from this year in high school to the dream job. What educational path makes most sense? What path of work experience?
  5. Look at all the options for moving forward after high school. Is it best to go to a community college and work at the same time? Is an apprenticeship program the right starting point? Is enlisting in the military, receiving technical training and other benefits, the way to go? Is working in a related field and taking advantage of employer-paid tuition a good course?
  6. Talk to the experts. Do your research. Talk with guidance counselors and have your teenager talk with them. Arrange for your child to talk with and/or job-shadow people in the professions of interest. Use the library. Use the world wide web.
  7. If the best course seems to be continuing education, in a four-year college, a two-year college, or a technical institute, divide the effort required to get SAT scores from the counselor, research and visit potential colleges, look into financial aid issues.
  8. Add up the expenses. How much is your child's choice of post-secondary education going to cost? Look for scholarships and other forms of financial aid (including student loans). Look for creative ways to meet expenses through apprenticeships, employer-paid tuition, and veterans' education benefits.
  9. Set up a timeline. Make sure that applications are completed and delivered on time. Make sure that deadlines for financial-aid requests are met.
  10. Be prepared to change course! Above all, know that as a teenager thinks about the future the going will at times get tough. Be there to listen. Be supportive. Teenagers' interests change over time. Better to reverse field during the planning process than after your child has enrolled in college or taken a job ... and realized that it is all a mistake.