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Why It's Important to Help Your Teen Explore All Their Options

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

Every teen deserves to be equipped to build a successful life on their own terms. Here's how to help them build it for themselves.

Over the past several decades I have watched as the pathway to a successful life after high school became so narrow that only one option is seriously considered: the 4-year college. The problem with this mentality overall is that a college degree does not guarantee a successful life. Period. What does guarantee success? An individual's passion to pursue greatness on their own terms. Unfortunately we are systematically drumming the opportunity for this out of our kids.

What does guarantee success? An individual's passion to pursue greatness on their terms. Unfortunately, we are systematically drumming the opportunity for this out of our kids.

How Adults Can Help.

It is up to all of us as parents (I have 2 children), extended family, teachers (I have been one for over 2 decades), career counselors, and even education policymakers to end the “college for all” mentality and instead help our teenagers learn about all of their options and equip them to choose the one, or combination of options, that's best for them.

It starts with becoming familiar with the options available to our kids.

As adults we have the best opportunity to help our teens identify a post-high school pathway that leads to success, however many of us just aren't familiar with the options available to our teens except the ones we ourselves experienced. Here's a brief overview of all the potential pathways to success our teens can choose from:

Community Colleges are institutions where students can engage in a variety of possible pathways to success: Dual Enrollment credit for classes taken while in high school (usually at a reduced fee), transfer programs that allow students to complete general education requirements (required at all 4-year schools) at a fraction of the cost of a university (some are even free!), and even certification programs for a trade that lead to gainful employment.

Trade Schools are schools that focus solely on a particular industry area. Cosmetology schools, Automotive Schools, and even Health Career Schools are just a few examples. These schools are affordable, offer financial aid and scholarships, and usually have pathways to careers in as little as 18 months after high school graduation.

Apprenticeship Programs are programs students can enroll in as early as their junior year of high school (applications start in their sophomore year) and allow teens to be paid a scalable wage while building relevant career skills and finishing high school. This means high school graduates can become prepared to enter the workforce with two years of industry experience, which means better job opportunities and higher starting salaries.

The Military, while serving to support our allies all over the globe, also has need of every industry area you can find in your local communities. A teen can participate in a high school and/or college-based ROTC program, enroll in a service academy, or enlist. When a graduate enlists they can designate a career pathway like cyber security, mechanic, military police, nuclear science, etc. and be housed, trained, and paid to develop those skills while serving our nation.

Gap Seasons are seasons of time from a few months to a year where a teen engages in non-traditional learning. These seasons can be filled with travel, cultural experiences, volunteering, and hands-on learning relevant to their future career.

4-Year Colleges give students the opportunity to gain theoretical and experiential knowledge in a chosen area of study, preparing them for future careers that require a specific level of knowledge (like a Doctor, Teacher, or Counselor). They also give teens the option of continuing to play their sport after high school (many community colleges do as well).

Then it's about helping your teen identify which pathway, or combination of pathways, best fits their career aspirations.

Many parents and teens believe that college is the best pathway to their chosen career. However, this may not be true. By taking the time to explore the potential of each pathway we can help our teens avoid unnecessary debt and get them into their chosen career as soon as possible.

For example, a teen who wants to eventually engage in makeup design for movies might consider engaging in a cosmetology program at their high school or at a trade school after graduation. From there, that teen may do well to engage in an internship or apprenticeship program. A teen who wishes to work with cyber security could develop skill serving in the Military for one 4-year tour before engaging employment in the private sector.

There are more careers that do not need a 4-year college degree than those that do. Parents would do well to help their teen explore all their options so they can choose a pathway to success that aligns with their chosen career, financial circumstance, and personal values.

For more on this topic, check out my new book, College is Not Mandatory: A Parent's Guide to Navigating All the Options Available to Our Kids After High School or, to get relevant information delivered directly to your inbox, subscribe to my High School Parent email list today!


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