I have been involved with helping high school students and their families become college and career ready for the last decade. College and career readiness have changed drastically since I graduated from high school in 2000. I recall my high school academic counselor pointing me to a closet in the back of the school library that held paper material on colleges and scholarship programs. I remember thinking, “How will I ever find the money I need to attend college?” I dug in and cleaned up that closet as I searched through the many resources. I have always been a determined individual, and from my Dad to my teachers, the message I received was that college was the answer to getting ahead in the world.
I did everything possible to heed suggestions offered by these mentors in my life. I didn’t just want to go to college; I wanted to be successful. I took math classes all through high school, not just a minimum of two years. I took science classes beyond the basic requirements including laboratory classes. I took the SAT prep my sophomore year so I would have plenty of time to focus on my academic weaknesses to ensure the highest score possible on the SAT. I was involved in sports, student government, volunteerism in my community, and had an after-school job that filled in time gaps left between all other responsibilities. The end result was that I was accepted into every university to which I applied. I was college-ready, but was I truly career ready? The answer was, “no.”
The Irish poet, Oscar Wilde, once said, “with age comes wisdom.”
I recently sent a three-question survey to a sampling of individuals at different stages in life; some who just graduated, some currently in college, individuals who are deep in their careers, and others in the sunset of their careers.
- Do you feel your K-12 education prepared you adequately for (future) college or career readiness?
- What did high school provide that helped you in post-secondary college and/or career activities?
- What do you wish would have been offered in high school to better prepare you for post-secondary college and/or career opportunities?
100% said no, their K-12 education did not fully prepare them for college and career readiness. Many individuals felt they needed to justify they had wonderful teachers, loved their alma mater, and truly enjoyed their high school experience, but felt their education needed to be well-rounded in all applications of life. Many respondents said that their school should have provided classes on financials beyond balancing a checkbook because they could already subtract and add. As students, they wished they had been taught how to apply for a mortgage, the role of a credit score and how it can impact your borrowing options, how federal taxes work and navigating IRS forms, and the impact of college debt on your life post-college. Older generations expressed a need for internships in high school while the younger generation shared a need for multiple internship opportunities in high school; one was not enough. People applauded their instructors for teaching them how to work as a team. Others identified that staff members offered endless support of their dreams during high school.
As I counsel young adults, I suggest they create a plan. This plan consists of researching a minimum of three career interests. I’ve often encouraged them to identify salary, education required, societal demand for this career, and quality of life this career would provide. Depending on their choices, next steps may be taking high school classes in preparation, finding specific college programs, or, if they were unsure of future career interests, finding career professionals with whom they can speak. The final step is to understand the complete, financial impact of their future career choice and its ramifications on their life after college.
Through my life experiences, age gives me the wisdom to impart this knowledge on students who desire to listen. Over the years, former students would tell younger students, “You need to speak with Mrs. Eaton. She will give it to you straight and help you become prepared.”
In Washington State, RCW 28A.600.045 states that comprehensive guidance and planning programs for students must be provided. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction currently provides resources on High School and Beyond planning for public schools. These opportunities and skills are now provided to every student! As schools tailor programs to student needs, there should be fewer stories of students not feeling college and career ready after high school.
I urge that readers begin to ask the question of how we, as educators, can encourage schools to offer classes on broader financial topics and/or create lesson plans that can address these untouched topics. Also, how can we ensure that students are exposed to future career dreams at an earlier age? What can you begin to do this school year? Because we all know that students are never too young to explore their dreams.
- College and Career Readiness