In less than six months, America will witness about 3.3 million high school seniors graduate and enter the summer with the option to continue their education or not.
U.S. students are graduating from high school at a higher rate than ever, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. This is important because in our new economy, companies demand job candidates with better skills, such as technology, interpersonal communication, critical thinking, teamwork, leadership and more.
Also, employers are seeking people who are trainable and job-ready on day one. Moreover, they want new employees with a strong work ethic. One sure way to become job-ready is to continue your education.
Many high school graduates struggle with the pressures to enter a two- or four-year college, or a vocational school with hopes of matriculating and working to earn a college degree. Clearly deciding what direction to take can be overwhelming.
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We know that it pays to graduate with a college degree. But every academic major is not equal. For instance, graduates in engineering, computer science and business generally outperform financially those with degrees in literature, liberal arts, languages and psychology.
Over the years I have given speeches during campus orientation to worried parents about how the university will assist in their children’s college success.
Over the past month, I’ve had numerous conversations with parents preparing to send their children to college in the fall. They’ve had 18 years of parenting, and letting go is not easy.
Here are a few suggestions for parents of high school students who are planning to become college freshmen in 2016:
▪ Accept that your child might not have a desire or is not prepared emotionally to attend college after high school. Don’t force the decision, but rather support them. Look at alternatives to going to a four-year school. You might need to help them establish some measureable goals for being productive after high school.
▪ Parents send their children to colleges that have a reputation for helping students have a better life, and their safety should be a forgone conclusion. However, campuses have changed, and parents might want to request a copy of the college crime statistics report and learn how the institution handles aggressive behavior. Look closely at the campus culture.
▪ Start today by allowing your child to make decisions even though they might not always make the right ones. Remember, you have six months before the summer. Use the balance of the time with your children wisely.
Karen Levin Coburn, one of the country’s leading experts on the college experience and co-author of Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years, said, “Be a coach rather than trying to solve your child’s problems yourself. You must keep in mind that they will be away at college, and facing decision-making daily mostly without your input.”
Let them know that you’re still there for them, and help by listening and talking through the issues. Campuses have many resources to assist freshmen, and you should encourage them to take full advantage of them.
▪ Learn what motivates your child. Do your research and learn as much as you can. If money is their biggest influence, research pay for each academic major and industry area in which they are intersted.
▪ If your child commits to attending college next fall, they should work hard over the next six to seven months to decide on an academic major and at least three career options.
Companies seek to recruit, hire and pay top talent with rock-solid grades, exceptional skills and experience.
▪ Be sure to confirm that your academic program is accredited and that the faculty is serious about assisting your child with career options. There are many resources that provide college ranking information, such as U.S. News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes. Research the schools, and ask questions during your visits.
Erin Meadows, a Lexington student at Henry Clay High School, has used a tool offered by the Kentucky Department of Education — the individual learning plan — to help her.She is able to complete tools online by taking multiple surveys that assist her in determining what her educational future might hold. The online resource is a great tool, but she had to commit time and effort to it.
▪ Get information from the colleges your child is considering about their retention and graduation rates. If you learn most students take six years to graduate, it might be worth checking out the ratio of career center staff to students compared to the admissions office. This gives good insight to priorities of the school.
I leave you with the words of Steve Jobs during a visit to Stanford University in 2005: “Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition.”
My wish for 2016 high school graduates is to secure your academic major and three career options, and seek your purpose and passion.