What Happens After High School 2.0

Due to rising student debt and the affordability of colleges, many parents are taking different approaches to how they strategize for the child’s post-secondary plan. The plan for many American students just a few short years ago was that the majority of young people would be advised to attend an excellent four-year institution regardless of what they decided would be their major course of study. Over time, this produced some inconsistent results – having some students succeed, others finding careers in areas different from what they studied, and others not finishing at all. Regardless of the group, almost all felt the weight of the tremendous student debt, which has collectively ballooned in the United States to 1.5 trillion dollars. Yet, the question persists, what should happen after high school?

In light of this crisis, many parents, educators, and other professionals are providing a much different approach to post-secondary planning. Although they may not agree on the exact perfect plan, most share the common theme of looking at the return on investment students spend for their educational or technical training after they finish high school.

The first question is to ask the student if they wish to enroll in college or start a career right away. Which one is the best choice? It depends on the student. In some cases, jobs in skilled trade areas can be very lucrative and require a short training time or on-the-job training, which can start an individual almost immediately after they graduate high school. Additionally, some students are even choosing a Gap Year in which they work, travel, or provide community service while they decide what will be their next step.

Two-year community colleges of four-year universities may be the choice for other students. Almost 60% of jobs in the United States require at least an associate’s degree and provide a wide range of specialty areas. Many Associate Degree programs, especially in the Allied Health fields, allow young people to begin their careers in a field that is continuously in need of workers, with almost 1.1 million nurses expected to be needed by 2020 alone.

Still, others will choose colleges or universities for four-year programs to pursue degrees in science, business, engineering, education, or some other major. When I am asked for my advice on this subject, I use the following graphic for assistance. There are three major questions to ask. What are you passionate about? What are you good at? And what is needed in the job market? After creating the responses to these, the young person will hopefully begin to see some overlapping results that will start to formulate an area that he/she can begin researching to provide some direction. Although this is still a daunting task, it does begin to illustrate the much-needed balance that many students will require to become successful adults.

Despite the automation of our society and the mechanization of specific jobs, there are plenty of opportunities for growth in certain occupations. Careers in health, technology, and finance continue to grow and are predicted to be in demand for the next 20-30 years. Another area to consider is that how would look at life-long careers may also need to be modified. Whereas in the past, people would have only one job in their professional lives, the future may have workers changing their careers over their lifetime. The ability to be adaptive and receptive to change with the demands of the market will be a great asset for professionals.

Administrators can encourage students to participate in work-study and after school programs that provide insight into careers that are interested in pursuing. For example, working in a law office, even if it is in the mailroom or answering phones, still allows a student to see the workflow and office environment. In helping students accomplish this goal, an administrator should address the following questions?

  1. Are there field trip opportunities for students to experience a variety of career options?
  2. Are there after school or extra-curricular activities that supplement career exploration?
  3. Are there career fairs or guest speakers that can talk to students about new and exciting careers?
  4. Can alumni come back and talk to students about some of the challenges that they may face in the future?

As a guide for these discussions, the following Career Choices Diagram can be used as a guide for educators to use with students to help them narrow down some of their career choices. For example, if a student is passionate about being an artist and is good at creating visual designs, the student would be encouraged to research the current job market calls, which he/she would find jobs in the field of web and graphic design.

Dr. James Pedersen

Dr. James Pedersen

Dr. James Pedersen is currently the Superintendent for the Essex County Schools of Technology which is an award-winning school district in New Jersey. His career in educations spans over twenty years and includes a variety of instructional and administrative positions. Dr. Pedersen is the author of several articles and two books focusing on education, Rise of the Millennial Parents (2013) and Summer versus School: The Possibilities of the Year-Round School (2015).