Helping your teen find their post-graduate plans doesn’t have to be a burden or feel overwhelming. It’s actually one of the most rewarding experiences as a parent—helping your student fledge and launch their wings into the life God has for them! Spring is a great time to explore post-high school options with your teen.
As a school counselor, therapist, and parent of college students and young adults, here are six tips I recommend for discovering the right college and career plan for your child.
- Start the process early. The more colleges a student visits, the better they are able to find the one that best “fits” them. We usually started college visits in the summer or fall of our child’s junior year in high school. This allows them to narrow their final college choices by their senior year. It gives them a better opportunity to look into scholarships, potential sports opportunities, and what each college offers in their potential field of study. It also helps them cast a vision for life beyond high school, which is even more important for today’s teens in a post-pandemic world.
- Consider all post-secondary options. Today’s choices for higher education are diverse. These include on-campus four-year degrees, community colleges, online or hybrid degrees, and dual credit courses in high school. The wide variety meets almost any interest, financial need, or obstacle for getting a college degree. The traditional four-year degree isn’t necessary for many careers. In fact, the fastest-growing careers in the United States are those requiring vocational two-year degrees or specialized training in a particular field. If your student doesn’t fit the away-from-home college or a four-year program, encourage them to look into a degree in a specialized field. Commuting, taking online courses, or doing an apprenticeship are all viable options for high school graduates.
- Don’t force a student to go to college if they are unsure about going. There used to be a trend that if a person didn’t go to college right out of high school, they probably wouldn’t finish a degree program. This is untrue today. Many young adults are starting college later, and you want your graduate to be sure he or she wants to go to college before they incur a large debt. With more options for college and increasing expenses of higher education, young adults may work for a while before starting college or take a few classes while they work. If your child delays going to college, it might be a better plan for their long-term future.
- College is your child’s decision – let them lead. It’s important to let your child choose the college they’ll attend, rather than you choosing it for them. Each college is as different as your child, and finding a match for the child to the right university makes a difference in their experience and success. When my firstborn wanted to go to a college eleven hours away from home, I had to step back and let her figure out whether it was the right choice for her. It was.
- Expose your child to different career choices. It’s hard to figure out what you want to do with your life at eighteen, but it’s important students explore various career options before choosing a major. There are a lot of online surveys that allow a student to identify their personality type and career clusters they may like. In today’s global marketplace, there is probably a market for your child’s interests. As you visit colleges, talk to professors in your child’s fields of interest. See what type of job placement the school offers. While you dream with your child, you also need to look realistically at the employability of your student’s interests.
- Pray and trust your child’s decision. Psalm 127 says we are to release our children like arrows into the future God has for them. It’s a learning curve for you as parents (that’s why I wrote a whole book about it.) But college and post-high school options are about your child’s life, not yours. God has a plan for them and you have to trust the growth God is doing in their life and also trust the work he has done through you as their parent.
While this may be hard, start the conversation about post-graduate options for your teen, even if it is from the perspective that you’re starting the process of letting go.
Lord, thank you for the future you have for my teen! Help me to start releasing them into your care and also guiding our path for the next step. Thank you for the plan you have for them!