As a teen in high school, you are faced with more and more decisions
about your future. Parents, friends, teachers and school counselors are all
asking the same question: "What are you going to do after graduation?"
year since middle school, the question arose and you always had an answer:
"I'm going to go to college and become... something." The occupation probably
changed from year to year, but that did not matter too much because you had
time to figure it out.
By junior year, the question becomes more difficult
to answer. Your parents want to be sure that you've taken the right classes
and are prepared to take the college entrance exams. Counselors are handing
you lists of possible college choices.
Now, the choice of what to do
after high school doesn't seem so clear. Which college or major would be right
for you? Or, maybe college isn't going to be your next step.
haven't begun to do so already, it's a good time to seek people who can advise
you in making these important decisions. Ask yourself these questions:
- Who can give me good advice?
- How can these people help me in the post-secondary decision-making process?
- What role should these advisors play?
- How much should their advice influence my decision?
Part of the answer to the first question is that there is already
a network of people who are ready to help you make this important decision
about your future. This network has been building since you were born. It's
made up of your parents, relatives and their professional contacts.
people are usually your first adult and professional role models. Whatever
path they took in life -- whether they attended college, joined the military,
became professionals or chose a vocational career -- their example helped
you develop your understanding of the world of work and your own future options.
Lawson Sylvester is a college prep consultant in Atlanta, Georgia. As a parent,
she guided her children's education through high school, taught them study
techniques and encouraged good citizenship. Then, as they got older, she helped
them explore college and career options.
"My son wanted to become an
engineer -- I introduced him to a young engineer," she says. "When my son
expressed a desire to visit a particular college, I sent him to visit. I told
both my children that college was up to them. I knew that they had chosen
good schools. Where they went was up to them. I trusted what they wanted."
Teachers, high school guidance counselors and career counselors are
other vital links in the planning process. They are particularly well qualified
to help teens think through their post-secondary options.
is a former director of student services at Glasgow Middle School in Virginia.
She says that it's part of most educational systems to expose students to
the various paths they can take after high school.
before they enter public school, if they are in a pre-school program, there
will have been visits from persons who have various roles in their community:
firemen, policemen, mailmen, etc. As they progress through elementary school,
that exposure broadens. ... [Exposure opportunities] will be threaded seamlessly
into the units of study in every part of the curriculum. In this way, the
teachers make a significant contribution to the post-secondary planning."
schools structure their college and planning assistance in different ways.
Becky Rives is a retired counselor and former director of student services
at a high school in Fairfax County, Virginia. She wanted to empower students
to take charge of their own planning.
"I established a policy that kept
the counselors and registrar in a support position. The students were responsible
for completing the applications, including asking for and collecting letters
of recommendation, and submitting them to the appropriate school personnel
by the deadline we established."
She describes some of the other services
that the school offered. "Our counselors also conducted group information
sessions toward the end of the junior year and at the beginning of the senior
year for all of their counselees and their parents. ... The career center
specialist made individual appointments during the school day for students
and parents, showing them the resources available in the career center and
guiding them in their college search."
Beyond the home and school, there
are other people who could give you useful information and insight about careers
and education. Think about other professionals you know. There may be employers
you've met through summer jobs, friends' parents in interesting careers, companies
where you could do informational interviews, or internship opportunities where
you could get work experience and ask questions.
There are also professionals
who specialize in counseling related to post-secondary planning. For a fee,
they can help guide individual students and their families through each step
of the college application process.
Oliver says, "Some families find
it helpful to actually hire specialists to privately advise them and coach
them through the process of identifying strengths and weaknesses, and matching
those with college or a post-secondary educational opportunity."
you're not alone -- there are many people you can go to for advice about your
post-secondary plans. But you will still have to weigh all the information
and advice they give you against your own knowledge of your abilities and
Rives says, "I like to see 'helpers' coach
and guide. Ultimately, the decision should be the student's. If parents and
others advise, urge or mandate that students attend a particular school that
turns out to be an inappropriate fit, the student has learned nothing from
the process, but can quickly lay blame on failure to those who advised, urged
"On the other hand, it is helpful to students to consult
with others who are knowledgeable and who care for them. In a partnership
everyone pools information, judges the sources and facts, shares opinions
and works toward an informed decision that will most likely ensure success
and happiness for the student."