Life After High School: Now What?

It’s been a long journey. Your child has gone to school for almost her entire life and now she’s on to an exciting new chapter in her life. For many young people, the obvious next step after high school is college. But for some, this choice isn’t so obvious. What’s a parent to do for kids who are unsure?

Get Focused: No school, no problem

Going to college right after high school (or at all) isn’t right for everyone. But often, “young people don’t know what they don’t know,” says Sam Zito, Director, Community Impact at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.

One way to support them is by helping them explore skills and interests that they may not have thought about as “career readiness”. For instance, doing a year of service with an organization, like AmeriCorp, is an excellent way to gain hands-on leadership experience in the community and meet people in differents business areas—giving them exposure to a part of the world that might lead to further possibilities.

It’s important to let your child lead the search. “Offer support through the process, but the young person should be in the driver seat,” says Sam.

Assessments: Matching Interests to Careers

Your child may have already taken aptitude assessments at school. If so, ask the school for the results. If not, there are plenty of free online assessments that focus on personality traits, learning styles, and occupation interests, such as 16 Personalities and SoKanu Career Assessment. Look at the results with your child and talk about whether these possibilities are a good place to start.

Exploration: “When I Grow Up I Want to Be…”

Only 52 percent of young people have either a two or four year college degree or certificate by their mid twenties, according to Jeffrey J. Selingo, author of “There is Life After College”.

While college may not be essential for all careers, setting realistic goals and learning necessary skills is critical for a successful future.

Encourage your child to think about financially self-sustaining careers and help them explore the possibilities. Together, make a list of things that sound interesting (numbers, clothing, animals, food) and break them out into categories. Next think of all the career options related to those interests. Lastly, identify the skills needed for those careers, and talk about the best way to attain them—whether an internship, classes, or hands-on experience.

Interests: Computer
Career Options: Cyber Security, Animation, Programmer
Skills Needed: Coding Certificate, IT Internship

Action: Test the Waters Before Jumping In

Once your child has narrowed the selection down to a few options, help her create an action plan. There are many ways to try out an occupation before investing a lot of time and money. Here are a few ideas:

Job Shadowing: Suggest shadowing an employee at work for the day. They’ll be able to get a feel for the industry and the daily responsibilities that go along with the job.

Skills-based Programs: Connect with an agency or organization that specializes in working with young adults to gain the skills needed to be placed in a well-matched job. United Way works with dozens of agencies, such as Year UpAsian American Civic Association, Boston Opportunity Youth Collaborative, and YouthBuilds, that help youth to gain the skills needed to be placed in a well-matched job. This often includes building resumes, conducting a job search, preparing for interviews, negotiating salaries, and working well with supervisors and co-workers.

Education: If post-secondary education is an option, then it’s important to learn about financial aid, scholarships, and grants, and how to apply for them.

Whatever your child decides to do in the future, remind them that this is only the beginning of many more opportunities to come.