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Equip Your Teen to Effectively Develop a Post-High School Plan

Before jumping into pursuing a college degree right out of high school, today’s teens would do well to pause, clarify their career aspirations, and then develop a pathway that gets them there according to their personality, values, and finances.

It is hard, however, to talk with our teens about their future plans, let alone discuss the options available to them. In a previous blog I shared my top 4 conversation starters to get teens to open up about their futures to help you. (You can get the free supporting resource here.)

In today’s blog I want to give you the background you will need to help guide your teen through the options available to them. But, before I can do that, you need to accept that there are more options for success than the traditional 4-year college.

I know this may come as a shock, but there are multiple options today’s teens can choose from to build a pathway to a successful career after high school. Several of them are even free. But most of us have only been taught that the best option after graduation is college, even if that means taking on huge debt or pursuing a major you do not care about just to get a degree. Not only is this not the truth, it is also harmful to our kids.

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth” ~JF Kennedy.

Today’s education system breeds conformity by necessity, but what happens after high school should be representative of each unique individual, not more of the same.

It is vitally important for all stakeholders: parents, educators, and school counselors, to learn how to effectively equip today’s teens to develop and pursue a pathway to a post-high school experience unique to them, not conform to the current cultural expectation.

In today’s post I share three of my top ways to do this. (The fourth is in another blog titled: Do you know ALL the post-high school options available to your teen?)

1. Help teens focus on the desired outcome they want

It is hard for teens to determine what type of career they want, especially with the pressure we, as well-meaning adults, place on them to conform to our expectations. We need to remember that they, and not us, are ultimately responsible for their future and enduring all the challenges of getting there.

As stakeholders we can encourage teens to explore areas of interest that are most important to them. We can give them permission to think about what they like to do, the types of activities they are most drawn to, and the groups of people that most draw their attention and research career options based on those activities. We can show them how to use their ideas to search out potential careers.

  • For example, if they enjoy creating new things, are drawn to art-based activities, and enjoy children, we can encourage them to consider becoming an Art Therapist, Social Worker, an Art Teacher, or even a Graphic Designer for Children’s Books. Truly the options available are endless. Our role is to help them expand their thought process. One way to do this is to expose them to the different career clusters available to them and encourage them to explore. My top favorites are: the 16 Career Clusters Explained (PDF resource from an outside source) and ONET

2. Help teens clarify how to consider their values and time frame.

Very few teens can define what success means to them, but knowing that definition is extremely important. Why? Because it is based on their values and, when we live out our values, we experience deeper satisfaction than when we don’t. We can ask teens questions like:

  • Do you know what is most important to you with regard to your future career?

    • Is it building financial success?

    • Are you interested in achieving a level of performance?

  • Do you want to have plenty of time for travel and/or a family?

  • What would you need in your life to believe you were successful?

Helping teens to identify what is most important to them (what they value) can help narrow down the potential careers they might like.

  • For example, if they value being close to home, having time for family, working with their hands as opposed to sitting at a desk or working on a phone, and earning an income that allows them to live comfortably, they might consider a career in the trades (Carpentry, Culinary, Electrical Automotive, etc.). Here is a fantastic resource to learn more about the many careers considered “trades.”

It is also important to help teens determine their personal time frame: When they want to actually start their career can help narrow down their potential career field as well. If they do not want to be in school after high school graduation for another 6-8 years, they probably don't want to be a doctor or lawyer for example. If they need to support their families, helping them look for training programs that can help them start to do so sooner than a 4-year college would allow may be much more beneficial than presenting only 4-year college options.

3. Help teens determine what they can afford for post-secondary education and training.

One of the most important yet least asked questions revolves around the issue of finances. Aside from Apprenticeships and the Military (which pay you to learn), all the other options will cost teens money, sometimes up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. No doubt, this is an important subject, but rarely is it considered in final decision making, often to the detriment of our teens.

Once a teen has a clear idea of the types of careers they are interested in, and the types of post-secondary training they will need, it is important for us to help them determine their financial obligation before committing to any one option or combination of options. Included in this conversation should be one very important question: Will the future career you want to get into be able to pay off the debt you might incur in this particular option?

  • For example, earning a Law degree from Harvard will most likely be able to pay off your student loans, but earning an Elementary Teaching Certificate from Yale will most likely not.

Having this conversation is important, as is having teens determine the final cost of all their training, minus any scholarships or financial support from their families. Here is a free resource to help you. While it is geared towards college, it can be adapted for any post-secondary training option.

If their initial financial analysis is not within their budget, help them not to get stuck on finances though. They can still get the career they want and reduce the amount of debt by combining options and rearranging their timeline.

Planning for a successful future after high school is complicated. That’s why the teens we know need us to be willing to help them clarify what’s important to them, teach them to identify potential careers based on their interests, and equip them to explore all their options.

For more on this, please check out the other blogs I have written as well as my latest book, College Is Not Mandatory: A Parent’s Guide to Navigating All the Options Available to Our Kids After High School.

Don’t want to do this alone? Check out the custom post-graduation experiences I offer for teens and educators.


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