college studentGuest Author: Charley Jones, MSWc,  University of Washington

Is your teen graduating from High School this year?

First, congratulations!  Graduating from high school is a great accomplishment and presents a landmark in one’s life, closing the doors of formal education in your teenage years and opening the doors to many future options.  As a parent, you’ve played a large role in the success of your teen being able to achieve this accomplishment! This is arguably a time when some of the most meaningful education happens in one’s life.  The upcoming decisions of “where to go next” can be exciting and overwhelming for teens and parents because of the vast amount of options available.  I’ll start with a few tips to evaluate the options for your teen and briefly describe what a few of these options look like.

Tips for parents and teens:

1)      Write a list goals, values, and objectives with your teen and evaluate what options may be best for them.  These differ with every individual.  It’s okay if they don’t know and these may change – even one or two are useful:

Goals:  What kind of lifestyle does your want to have, what kind of life experience do they want to have and gain, and what types of work are they interested in?

Values:  What are things that are important to your teen?

Objectives:  What specific steps does your teen need to do to achieve their goals?

2)      Set up visits and/or interviews with schools or programs that you are interested in and ask questions to see whether the school or program would be a good match for you.

3)      Talk with and interview professionals that you admire or are in the field of work you may be interested in.  Most professionals are very willing to help out people looking to get into their field and can offer some very good advice in which educational route to take.

A few options for continuing education after high school:

1)      4-year College/University:   4-year universities offer Bachelor’s Degrees and usually offer a wide variety of degree options, clubs, social activities, international exchanges, and opportunities for professional networking.  Universities can be divided up to private and public.

Private universities are historically more expensive than public, yet offer smaller classes with less student enrollment, sometimes being able to offer non-traditional grading systems and more flexibility in degree choices.  Some are religiously affiliated and some are not.  Private universities are typically more competitive to get into because of their smaller enrollment, so high school grades, volunteer activities, and test scores can be a contributing factor to getting accepted.

Public universities are typically less expensive than private, yet only if you attend the public university in the state you are a resident in.  These universities have a larger enrollment, and larger class sizes, yet they offer many degree options like private universities.

2)      2-year Community College:  Community colleges offer a quality education through a variety of training opportunities and Associate’s Degrees.  Community colleges cost much less money, are easier to get in to, and are a great way to get some or all of your undergraduate requirements done in two years.  Many people transfer to a public, 4 year university after receiving the Associate’s Degree from a Community College, potentially incurring less school debt in the end.

3)      Vocational School:  Vocational schools are a great option for people who are interested in receiving job specific skills and are historically based on apprenticeship.  Some examples of skills that vocational schools offer include computer networking, manufacturing, nursing, culinary arts, automotive technician, business, dental assistant, health sciences, fine arts, and much more.  Vocational schools are usually very affordable and they supply a student with experience that may land them a job in their field soon after they graduate.  Time commitments vary for vocational schools, yet they typically take the same amount of time as an Associate’s degree, or 2 years.

4)      Military:  Joining the military is an option that not everyone would take, potentially due to the risk involved, yet provides some opportunity for the right people.  You have to be at least 17 years old, have a high school diploma, and be a U.S. citizen.  It is a route that allows for personal growth and challenge, while providing career advancement opportunities, a way to pay for college tuition, job training, and experience working with others.  If someone is interested in the military, one can contact their local recruitment office for more information.

5)      Volunteer experience:  Volunteer experiences are a great way to gain very relevant job, social, and networking skills in an area of interest while being able to see a different part of the country or the world.  The Student Conservation Association (SCA) offers a variety of volunteer opportunities focusing on earth science and conservation, also allowing the opportunity to do work in beautiful national parks within the United States.  Living allowances and stipends are available through some of the SCA programs.  Americorps offers a variety of learning and work opportunities within public and non-profit organizations within communities, focusing on community health and education, environmental stewardship, disaster relief and more.   An educational award is given after an Americorps commitment.


A few tips towards joining the workforce:

1)      If time allows, have your teen set up informational interviews with companies they may be interested in working for before applying.   This is an informal process and meeting to learn more about the positions of interest is a great way for the hiring staff to get to know your teen.

2)      Help your teen create a resume outlining educational experience, work experience, volunteer experience, and achievements.  Don’t add qualifications don’t really have  just to sound good – the interviewers will ask for examples of these.  A resume should be easy to read and have no mistakes on it, so be sure multiple people proof-read it.

3)      Look at the job description of the place your teen would like to work and have them highlight key qualifications in their resume that they have experience with.  These will stand out to the hiring staff, and it will better prepare to talk about these qualifications when offered an interview.

4)      Dress up for an interview – It’s better to be safe than sorry when wondering what to wear.

5)      Encourage your teen to smile and shake hands before the interview and thank the interviewers for their time after the interview.  Follow up with an e-mail 1-2 days later thanking them again for their time and briefly re-stating interest in the position.

6)      Finally, remind your teen to not get discouraged and not to take it personally if they aren’t offered a position.  Many positions are filled quickly or by someone who already works at the organization.