Why are so many students mystified about the prospect of what happens after high school? Even for students with strong parental support, the post-secondary planning process can be challenging. This reality is amplified for first-generation students who are college-going.
Fortunately, there are strategies that schools can implement to demystify the process. The creation of post-secondary plans, direct instruction about the language of higher education, and focusing on the steps that it takes to be successful are all proven strategies that support students.
As a district leader, your job is to help create a system for each of these steps so school leaders and students can more easily achieve their goals. For each obstacle that students have, there is a solution available to combat it.
Challenge #1 — A Confusing Process
Many adults feel they haven’t had a clear career plan when they are twenty, thirty, or forty years old, so it should be no surprise that students are at a loss about having one. We know that students with clearly defined post-secondary goals are more likely to achieve them. We also know that there are more options than ever before when it comes to careers and that the landscape is changing rapidly. Students might even be planning for job options that don’t exist yet.
The Solution: Use an embedded career exploration tool
Career exploration tools, such as Choices360, can help students create clarity in a confusing process. One key aspect is that students don’t use it once; they use it on a regular basis. This way, they are constantly reflecting on their own interests, skills, and strengths, along with the courses that they are taking and how these do or don’t align with their path. Tools like this limit confusion because they guide students to a more individualized post-secondary planning process.
College-bound students can see how concurrent credit courses align with their plan, find out the educational levels that they want to reach, and see the connection and relevance of their high school coursework and their future careers. Students who are interested in a particular trade can see the path to a technical school, for example. Every plan narrows down the options, limiting the confusion for students.
After students create their plans in Choices360, district and school leaders can use the data to guide their own planning. Are more college visits needed? Would some students benefit from a tour of a manufacturing facility? Should they limit the number of recruiters coming into the school because only a handful of students are interested in the armed forces?
By using Choices360’s data, schools can create better environments for students and more efficient planning for counselors.
Challenge #2 — A Complex Process
The vocabulary of higher-ed is complex, and if students have a career plan for their future that includes college, they need to understand all the spoken and unspoken rules of college. Particularly at risk are those students who have never had adults around them who can assist in navigating the process. Schools can fill this vital role.
The Solution: Speak and model the language of high education
Terms such as transcript, admissions, scholarship, and campus all have a different context when it comes to higher education. Districts can determine the learning needs of students through collaboration with college admissions counselors and then implement lessons around these concepts. Programs such as AVID provide resources for this and can create a solid foundation for students who are going to college.
The funding of higher education is another crucial point of learning for students. For higher education, students need support when completing the FAFSA and learning what it means when they are awarded aid. There is also a need for education around scholarship application awareness, reference letters, and the difference between public, private, and for-profit universities.
With simple lessons around post-secondary options, what was once complex becomes much more straightforward. College visits become more than just a tour of the campus and cafeteria; students will be full of questions about financial support, academic support, class size, and the overall college-to-career transition.
Challenge #3 — A Changing Process
Even though nearly all teachers are college graduates, for many, it has been several years since they attended school. Post-secondary education has changed dramatically over the past decade, so even newer teachers might have limited knowledge about the process.
Here are ways that college has recently changed:
- Rules for college entrance and “test optional” colleges are changing all the time. Expectations differ by university and state. While testing might be optional for admissions, it still might be a critical step when it comes to scholarship application.
- Costs have increased and for-profit colleges have expanded greatly. Many graduates find themselves in much more debt than when current teachers attended college.
- Options for technical school and certifications have expanded. Many states have seen the need for more direct workforce development, and as a result, there are many low-cost options for students who would like a comfortable salary without four additional years of education.
The Solution: Engage parents and teachers in this process because it has changed since they were in school
As students work through the post-secondary planning process, they need a source of information that is consistently updated. This will not come from a textbook, but rather from software that is updated and reviewed in real time as the changes happen. Parents and teachers can both engage in this planning process with students. As they do so, they will quickly see what has changed in the landscape of higher education and how they can support students in learning this information.
Although the transition to adult life is complex, confusing, and constantly changing, by supporting students in the post-secondary planning process, districts can see them have better outcomes. By creating a plan for their future, every student can learn more about the next steps of their journey and how to be successful in achieving their goals.
Here at XAP, we believe that exploration lays the foundation for planning. That’s why we help school and district counseling leaders implement equitable programs and strategies to ensure that students graduate high school not only with a diploma but also with a plan.
To see how we can help you better support your students and drive state, district, and school initiatives with greater ease, transparency, and data, feel free to contact our specialists today!