Academic and Career Goals
Helping to prepare your adolescent for life after high school is one of the most important yet difficult things we need to do as parents. This period in our teens' lives is filled with mixed emotions and sometimes-painful decisions. For example, you may feel excitement as your teen prepares to graduate from high school, but at the same time, sadness as you think about your teen actually leaving home. You may be thrilled that your son is even going to college, but then worried about how you will pay the bills.
It is important to remember that your adolescent is nervous, too, as he tries to make these life-defining decisions. The best thing you can do is to listen as he discusses his hopes, dreams and fears for the future. Offer support and try not to criticize, especially if his decisions differ from what you might have chosen for him. Talk things through together in a nonjudgmental way, carefully trying to understand his side.
Make sure your teen has all the right information he needs to choose the right path for him. After graduating from high school, adolescents typically take one of three paths: go to school, get a job or take time off.
Go to school. There are many options available to teens for more schooling, from private to public, large to small, academic to technical or vocational. To best help your teens decide on, get accepted to, and then enroll in college:
- Discuss the various options. Your teen can narrow the field by thinking about his learning style, personality and academic goals. For example, does he need the individual attention typically found at a small college, or would he enjoy being part of a crowd at a large university? Would he like to go to school far from home and only visit on holidays, or would he prefer to go to school nearby and live at home? Which schools offer the courses or majors that match his interests?
- Make sure tests are taken. Most schools require either the SAT or ACT exams. Tests should be taken early enough in the senior year so that the scores are available in time for the application process. High-school juniors and sophomores often take practice versions of these tests.
- Help with applications. Although your teen may decide to apply to many schools, many now accept a "universal" application for admission. Your teen may want you to read over his application, especially any essays he has written. Note the deadlines for various schools and make sure applications are submitted on time.
- Apply for financial aid. To receive various types of financial aid, students typically must have financial needs, based on information provided by their parents. You will need to fill out various forms, depending on whether you are applying for money from the federal government, the college or other charitable organizations.
- Visit campuses. Make plans with your teen to visit the schools in which he is most interested. When possible, call the schools in advance to set up tours and any necessary interviews.
- Talk with friends about their alma maters. Get the inside scoop on various schools from friends and family who have gone there.
Get a job. Some adolescents may want to get a job right away, instead of choosing to go to college. For example, your teen may be undecided about his future plans, may need to earn money or may have chosen a career path that does not require a college degree. Use your own experience in searching for a job to help him:
- Put together a resume. He should highlight all of his educational and extracurricular achievements, as well as any previous work experience while in high school. Most high-school seniors should limit their resumes to one page. Make sure the resume is neatly typed on good paper and that there are no spelling or grammatical errors. A high-school guidance counselor also can review his resume and offer suggestions.
- Look for jobs. Help your teen read through all of the classified ads in the local newspaper. Watch for job postings where you work and ask friends and family for leads on possible job openings where they work. For some adolescents, the military is another option; contact a local recruiter for more information.
- Practice interviewing. Play the role of the interviewer and have your teen practice answering typical questions. Make sure he is ready to discuss his strengths as well as some weaknesses. Remind him to write thank you notes after every interview.
Take time off. Many students prefer to take a year or two off after high school to travel, work for a service organization or get an internship in an area of interest. Some high-school seniors get accepted to a college, but then ask to postpone their freshman year (defer admission) to spend some time on another personal project.
- Look for opportunities. Travel opportunities are limited only by the corners of the earth and the money your teen has available to get there (and back). A variety of programs, sponsored by civic and religious organizations, offer service opportunities, both volunteer and paid, in the United States and abroad. Internships may be available with specific organizations. High-school guidance counselors are an excellent source of information, as are the Internet and your local library.
- Fill out applications. Your teen may want you to read over his application, especially any essays that he has written. Pay close attention to deadlines and make sure any application is submitted on time.
- Medical needs for travel. It is most important that your adolescent has had a recent checkup, is up to date on all immunizations, and has enough of any prescription medicines he will need during the time he is away. If he is traveling to another country, check the latest information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Do not wait until the last minute to discuss the trip with his doctor, because some travel vaccines are best given several weeks before leaving the country.