Life Skills

Planning That Post-Graduation Life

So you’ve got a high schooler! If it seems like you’re aaaaalmost done guiding them through their school experience, well…that’s true! But they also have important decisions to make about what’s going to come after high school.

Maybe you have a kid who knows exactly what they want to do after high school. Maybe your child has some vague ideas, but no clear plan. Or maybe they’re totally shrug-emoji about it. On the bright side, you still have a smidge of influence while they’re living in your house (maybe?).

Here are some conversations you might want to have with your teen now about what comes next:

1

What career paths are they interested in? What types of training or further education do they need to get there? First-hand intel is always great (because your high schooler would probably rather hear about getting a job from someone other than you). Do you know anyone working in their fields of interest who can talk to your high schooler about what’s involved in their work? Or who can let them tag along for a day? Consider the people in your community who might be able to make these introductions: your child’s pediatrician, the veterinarian, your car mechanic, electrician, or dentist, or the manager of a local restaurant—just to name a few. Your teen should explore any opportunities they can find to build skills in any trades they’re interested in, take on internships, or do extracurriculars related to their passions.

2

Your high schooler should consider what they want to do after college—and whether they need a degree to do it. Many students leave college with a lot of loans—and not every college grad ends up thinking the investment was worth it. There are many good reasons to choose a four-year college, of course, but there are also many other paths to fulfilling and financially stable adult lives, including trade programs and professional certifications in a wide range of fields. Your student should be clear-eyed about the decision to invest in college, and what the potential trade-offs are. Some students will want to compare college, career opportunities, and the military as they consider what to do after high school. The College Board also offers a helpful tool for thinking about different career paths and how to plan for them.

3

If college is in the cards, how will my student pay for it? Speaking of making a big investment, make a plan to pay for college now. There are lots of opportunities to apply for scholarships if you’re on top of them early.

4

Your high schooler should learn about the requirements of any professional certifications they’re aiming for. Students who are interested in trades may need to do further coursework after high school to earn their certifications (for example, at community college or in a professional training program). It’s a good idea to understand the requirements for certification in their field of interest, so they can earn as many credits as possible in high school. Doing so will set them up to save on future training costs and get them ready for jobs as soon as possible after high school. (Their guidance counselor can help them understand the requirements in their field of interest.)

5

If they’re interested in taking time off between high school and whatever’s next, how will they spend that time? It might worry you to hear your high schooler float the option of “taking some time off” or a “gap year.” What does this mean, exactly? (And aren’t they a little young to need time off, anyway?!) More importantly, how much does this cost? Lots of students want to do something—like working or traveling—between high school and their next move. But it does require thoughtful planning, especially around the financial aspects. Your teen might want to look into "bridge" or "13th year" programs that offer financial support to allow students to build their skills and qualifications before applying to college. (These aren't available everywhere, unfortunately.)

6

If your high schooler has a learning and thinking difference or receives any kind of support services in school, plan ahead for their transition out of high school. If they’re continuing their education, you’ll want to plan for how they’ll receive the accommodations they need to access their learning. (College students are no longer covered by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, but they are still protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and colleges are required to have an office of accessibility to support students.) And there are many rewarding paths students can take after high school, with the right support to meet their needs.