It is understandable that there are so many websites, books, and services available to help high school students transition to the next step in their lives, but it’s puzzling to see how little information and advice exist for their parents. Parents, after all, often face real pressures as their children make important decisions about their futures and prepare to move on to colleges, career schools, the military, private sector employment or a bridge year program between high school and higher education.
Few studets are able to navigate their post high school transition without parental help, and almost all of them realize it.
That’s why even students who vehemently proclaim their independence and seldom request parental guidance in other matters are likely to not just accept, but expect and welcome parental advice and assistance in post high school planning.
So, here’s a little help for parents who are engaged in helping their children prepare for their future.
1. Do not be surprised, do not be worried, and do not get frustrated if you son or daughter changes his or her mind about higher education, the military, or career goals. It happens all the time and is no cause for alarm. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor suggests that young workers will hold jobs in three different careers during their working years.
2. Offer your advice, compassion, and help, but do not do your child’s work. Fill out the FAFSA if your child is thinking about further education…that’s your job. Proof reading essays, applications, resumes, etc. is also something you can and should do to help your son or daughter, but do not even consider filling out anything other than financial aid forms or writing even a sentence of a required essay.
Doing what your child should be doing is dishonest, and it delays the personal growth and sense of responsibility he or she will need to be well adjusted and successful. You should also keep in mind that a student who is reluctant to complete a college application, fill out military paperwork, or write a letter to apply for a job might want to consider an alternate path.
3. Often ROTC is a good choice. If your child is considering the military, be sure that he or she understands what will be required of him or her by arranging to meet with people (other than recruiters) who currently serve or have served within the last 5 years. Also, be certain he/she realizes that by going to college and enrolling in ROTC, he/she will be paid, and will ultimately enter the service as an officer.
4. Do not rule out college (or an individual college) on the basis of published costs, often called the “sticker price” because few folks actually pay that much. There is a lot of misinformation out there about college costs and the availability of aid. While it would be an exaggeration to say that all students can afford to attend any school they wish, it is safe to say that virtually all students who are not responsible for contributing to their family’s support can afford to attend college.
5. Access Motivation. Help your child determine if he or she is sufficiently motivated and mature for the path(s) they are considering. A year or two of employment, a prep school postgraduate year, a semester or year of commuity/charitable service, or a bridge program are all worth considering if you have doubts about his/her readiness for college or the military.
6. Education is a great investment, so take out loans if you have to, but borrow carefully. Borrowing more than the absolute minimum you need is a terrible idea.
7. Accompany your student on college visits and do not be afraid to ask questions of the students and staff members you meet. You will notice things your child may not, and you know him or her better than anyone, so you should be in a good position to help evaluate the suitability of each institution you visit.
8. Do whatever is necessary to avoid being a helicopter parent…a parent who hovers above his/her child or, even worse, a velcro parent who is attached to their child. Be aware of the difference between guiding a child and smothering him/her and act accordingly.
9. It’s the student’s choice. Ultimately, the decision about entering the military, enrolling in a career school, devoting a year to public service, or choosing which college to attend is best left to the student for many obvious reasons.
10. Do not turn your nose up at community colleges. Like the late Rodney Dangerfield, community colleges sometimes “don’t get no respect”, but they are a great option for students who are not ready to leave home, who are undecided about a career path, who need developmental coursework, or who wish to keep college costs down.
11. Go to your child’s high school for help. Attend any college fairs, career fairs, and financial aid nights the school offers.
Even more important, if you have not yet done so, meet with career center staff, college counselors and guidance counselor to seek their advice.
12. Don’t stress out. The calmer you are, the less stress your child is likely to experience.