Many young adults choose to enter the workforce, an apprenticeship, or an on-the-job training program after high school. But how do students know that these options are available? Where can they find out about the opportunities available to them, apart from continuing on to higher education?
Today we are wrapping up our current series discussing college and whether it is the best choice for all students. In our previous posts, we looked at the financial impact of higher education and alternate options for young adults post high school. Check out the introduction, part 1, and part 2 of this series.
There seems to be plenty of resources and information available to students planning to attend college, but where do students who have alternate plans turn? There aren’t academic advisors for those not following the traditional route in most public schools. How do we set those students up for success? In today’s post, we will discuss ways you can help support students to discover the path that is right for them.
Some schools and students believe that career education (CTE) in high school is only for students who are not planning to continue on to college. “In reality, today’s career programs are far from the old-school, vocational tech that students in previous generations remember.” (Street)
A study conducted by The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which reviewed data on high schoolers in Arkansas, demonstrated the growing importance of career education. In order to align with the current labor market, the state of Arkansas recently made changes to implement new CTE programs. The report found that students with more exposure to career and technical education “are more likely to graduate, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and have higher wages.”
If you are a teacher or parent and the school where you work or your child attends does not offer a career education program, take your request to the school board. If advocacy doesn’t work, there are online options that offer career-focused courses to help students prepare for their future path.
Work Study Programs
Some students in high school know that they will be going into the workforce after graduation. Maybe they are going to take over the family business, have the opportunity to apprentice under a family friend, or need to contribute to their family’s income. These students are often ready to start learning and earning money, and feel that high school is holding them back.
Programs are available that allow students to work while completing the requirements needed for a high school diploma. Although they are not always advertised to the students, many high schools have work study programs for upperclassmen.
Each school’s work study program is set up differently, but many schools allow students to earn credit while also receiving a paycheck from their employer. Some programs will allow students to work only for specific employers in the work study program. Other schools may be willing to work with students who have a desired employer in mind.
Work study programs allow students the opportunity to practice and develop the skills necessary for future career success. Keep in mind that students also need to keep up with their school work. If students’ grades suffer, that may indicate that they are unable to balance both work and school, and they may have to be removed from the work study program.
If you know of students who would benefit from this type of program, pass on your school’s program information or connect them with the guidance counselor. For students that would like to attend college, remind them to research how a work study program will impact their college admission or what credit might be earned.
Career Exploration for Homeschoolers
For those of you who homeschool your children, your child has endless opportunities to explore careers since you can incorporate it into the curriculum. It is important to understand that career exploration is a process. It will take a while for children and teenagers to find something that is a good fit for them.
In order for students to make a plan for their future, they need to know themselves well and discover what they enjoy. This takes years and can be cultivated over time. There are some ways that you can help your child recognize their interests and talents. In addition, these are tips that can be applied to all students, not just those that are homeschooled.
Tips to Encourage and Facilitate Career Exploration for All Students
- Encourage your child to participate in academic competitions. This helps them determine the areas in which they are highly skilled.
- Find opportunities for job shadowing. Be sure to explore careers outside the norm. Include entrepreneurs for a peek into starting and owning a small business.
- Help your child discover their strengths and weaknesses. Besides discussing this with them, they may want to take a personality test.
- Career assessments can offer a starting point and provide options that they may want to look into based on your child’s personality.
- Help your child find hobbies and volunteer work that align with their goals. This provides insight into what a career in specific fields would be like.
- Look into mentoring programs, internships, and apprenticeships, or other programs that offer on-the-job training.
Elisa Sheftic, a professional recruiter and career coach, says that she often works with college graduates who come to her frustrated and disappointed, unable to find a job. “This leads me to suggest the single most important thing parents can do to help their children obtain a job after graduating college: encourage networking in high school.” (Sheftic)
Networking as a young adult is important whether or not college is part of the future plans. I would say it is even more important for those choosing to forgo college, since they will likely need to jump into something right out of high school. Networking, at this age and all ages, looks like conversations. “The goal of these conversations is to have an open dialogue with others to develop future professional contacts.” (Sheftic)
Sheftic offers several suggestions for teenagers looking to network. You can help your child or student come up with an “elevator speech” they can use for networking conversations. This can be as simple as introducing oneself and explaining what they are interested in. While this skill may take time to develop, being able to introduce yourself and briefly describe your strengths and experiences is an important skill that can open doorways.
Students can create a LinkedIn account to highlight their education, volunteer work, internships, and jobs. They can use this account to connect with friends, teachers, coaches, coworkers and anyone else they know who has a LinkedIn account.
Encourage students to take advantage of in-person networking opportunities. If their high school offers an alumni group, they can join that after graduation. High schools and local community colleges often hold career seminars. These offer students a chance to meet various companies and people working in a variety of fields. It can be helpful for students to speak with someone who works in a field of interest, or to learn about a profession that may be new to them.
Nontraditional College Options: Thinking Outside the Box
Many young adults will choose a future career that requires additional education or at least a certificate or associate’s degree. Be sure to tell students about other ways they can go about receiving a higher education in the way that best works for them.
There are ways to get a degree without following the traditional college route. A degree-earning route that has become increasingly popular in recent years is competency-based education. Instead of the traditional credit-hour system that most colleges and universities follow, competency-based programs emphasize mastery. They are usually faster and cheaper than the traditional route, making them a great choice for those wanting to earn a specific degree. These programs allow on-the-job experience or previous college credit to count toward mastery.
Students enrolled in competency-based programs are given the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of material. One of these options is to test out of classes or receive credit for work experience. This can come in the form of professional or military training. Another option available through some colleges is to create a portfolio documenting what students have learned. Example documents include work samples and professional certifications. It is important to know that not all of these credits are transferable to other colleges that do not accept competency-based education credits.
Think of competency-based education as an all-you-can-eat buffet for higher education. Instead of paying tuition per credit hour, students enrolled in competency-based programs typically pay a flat fee every semester or every few months. This allows them to take as many assessments as they want and work at their own pace. This makes it a very cost-effective model.
Competency-based programs require students to be independent and motivated in order to get the most of their experience. For students who have a knowledge base to draw upon and want to earn a degree quickly without debt, this is a great option.
Take Time (Gap or No Gap)
Students should feel comfortable taking time to consider what they want to do. Many colleges and advisors encourage students to start college, and discover what they want to study later.
Honestly, that is terrible advice.
Yes, it does take time to determine a career path, and not all 18-year-olds know what they want to do for the rest of their life. However, this does not mean that college is the best place for that decision.
First of all, you are paying for your time there. Second, college does not give you the most accurate picture of what a day in the life of most jobs is actually like. The collegiate academic environment does not represent real life, and many of the hands-on skills you will need for most careers are not developed in a college classroom.
Although gap years are more common in Europe than America, they can still be the right choice for students who want to go to college but need a break after high school. Instead of jumping right into the next step, many young adults would benefit from the opportunity to work, volunteer, network, and travel. While many in the U.S. may view this as a waste of time, think of how much time and money can be wasted by heading off to college without a plan! In the long run, a gap year may be a much wiser use of one’s time.
Although this may not be what most young people want to hear, it is sage advice: Wait to attend college until you can pay for it.
You can save thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars simply by deferring college for a few years.
Quote: Chris Hogan, a personal finance expert with the Dave Ramsey Speaker Group, puts it this way, “These days there’s the expectation that everyone has to go to college right out of high school. People need to start thinking about whether or not college brings them closer to their goals.”
Once students have worked for a while or established themselves in a profession, they can often save more for college, and may be able to graduate without any debt. Adults enrolling in college often receive more money in grants since they do not have to use their parents’ information on applications for student financial aid. Some employers even offer tuition reimbursement and will pay for their employees to go to school.
Keeping an Open Mind, and Passing that On
In your time as a teacher, have you worked with students who know that college isn’t the right fit for them, but you weren’t sure how to support them in that decision? As a parent, how do you ensure that your children are exposed to a variety of opportunities and experiences so that they feel fully equipped for what comes after high school?
My hope is that you come away from this article, and the series as a whole, with some concrete ideas that you can share with your students or children. In the end, the choice is up to them, but how can they make an educated choice without all of the information?
Keep this series of articles in mind and save it to refer back to when working with students or having discussions about their future with your children. Be sure to subscribe to the blog so that you will be notified of new posts.
- Bartlett, Marie. “Homeschooling and Career Exploration: A Guide for Parents.” Virtual Job Shadow, 13 March 2017. https://www.virtualjobshadow.com/blog/homeschooling-career-exploration
- College Stats. “The Gap Year: Taking Time Off Before College.” College Stats, Accessed 17 October 2022. https://collegestats.org/articles/the-gap-year/
- Dougherty, Shaun M. “Career and Technical Education in High School: Does it Improve Student Outcomes?” Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 14 April 2016. https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/research/career-and-technical-education-high-school-does-it-improve-student-outcomes
- Greeley, Mariya. “Three Nontraditional Ways to Get a Bachelor’s Degree.” U.S. News & World Report – Education, 2 October 2018. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2018-10-02/how-to-get-a-bachelors-degree-using-new-alternatives
- Pell, Nicholas. “Waiting Just a Few Years to Go to College Can Save You Tens of Thousands.” The Street, 27 May 2015. https://www.thestreet.com/personal-finance/waiting-just-a-few-years-to-go-to-college-can-save-you-tens-of-thousands-13163651
- Pinola, Melanie. “How to Get College Credit Without Going to College Classes.” Lifehacker, 11 March 2016. https://lifehacker.com/how-to-get-college-credit-without-going-to-college-clas-1764267835
- Raven, Robin. “How to Do a High School Work Study Program.” The Classroom, 25 June 2018. https://www.theclassroom.com/do-high-school-work-study-4423309.html
- Sheftic, Elisa. “Why Teens Should Start Networking in High School.” Work It Daily, 2 November 2013. https://www.workitdaily.com/networking-high-school
- Street, Elizabeth. “How Career Education (CTE) in High School Affects Students’ Success.” Learning Liftoff, 8 April 2016. https://www.learningliftoff.com/how-career-education-cte-in-high-school-affects-students-success/
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