Planning for life after high school — Good Parenting



ThinkstockPhotos 610242818Dear Dr. Debbie,

Our only child is a senior in high school. We recently learned he is failing one class and just getting by in some others. This is after debating whether to home school (mostly due to the fatigue of the early hours of AACPS), then ultimately arranging an every-other-day schedule through the guidance office.

He was a fine student through middle school. He got decent scores on the SAT’s. Most of his courses have been upper level, with teachers expecting all their students to go to college next year. He has applied only to three colleges, without much investigation nor enthusiasm. How can we help him see his way to a future worth working toward so he can take the right steps in his present?

Tell Me When to Push

Don’t miss last week’s column Heirloom gifts for children— Good Parenting


There are so many possibilities for your son next year, most of which may be total mysteries to him. I have a vivid memory of how differently the seniors at my high school were acting, compared to younger students eagerly anticipating a summer break, as the days were winding down at the end of the year. Some almost-graduates were bound for faraway colleges, some to the Peace Corps, others to the military, and a few had “real” jobs lined up. The comparative seriousness of their good-byes to one another reflected the impending losses of familiar faces, hallways, and daily routines that had provided a structure to their lives. This is a life passage that requires knowing yourself well enough to imagine who you are about to become. Where will you be? What you will be doing? Who will be with you?

Your son’s struggles to do well, or at least well enough, in his final year may be because he can’t see beyond it. A clearer picture of where he would like to see himself after graduating may help him to find his motivation to get himself there.

Community College
What is a bit less mysterious than living away from your family and starting college at the same time? Not moving out, and going to the local community college is an option that offers more flexibility, including living at home, than most four-year colleges. Many families use the community college for a less-expensive start on the four-year degree path. The atmosphere and pace may be less formidable, too. Anne Arundel Community College has many more part-time students than full-time, with a more diverse age range than traditional colleges and universities. Since it is the community’s college, it also offers a plethora of noncredit courses in a variety of subject areas – certificate programs, foreign languages, and “just for fun” topics such as cooking, dance, and other hobbies. Lest we forget, fun and hobbies add enjoyment to one’s life. There is a full spectrum of clubs and activities as well as a few on-campus jobs. These factors open students to a peer group with a variety of life experiences to share with each other. Courses are offered online, too.
With his alternating days schedule your high school student could try out a course during the spring semester which starts the middle of January. This would give him the advantage of knowing what community college life is like before committing to a four-year school right after high school. Students, non-students, and parents are welcome to the annual College Fair at AACC  – a good chance for your son to take a broader look at what’s out there, either for a last minute application for next fall or to see where he might want to transfer to when he knows better what he wants out of college.

Career Planning
College courses, and before that even, high school classes, are much more meaningful if the student sees some relevance to his future employment. Does your son have any idea of his ideal work setting? Has he had a chance to chat with many adult friends and relatives about what they do for a living? Has he been exposed to volunteer work? A part-time job, even short-term, gives a young person a perspective about work, and about himself, that he can’t learn from anyone else’s stories. Babysitting and lawn work are excellent experiences even if they don’t pay minimum wage. (You’re not charging him room and board, yet, right?) Career counseling is a free service of some colleges, including AACC .

Personal Life Goals
For many teens, independence is a strong motivation. Even for the short-term, getting his high school education completed satisfies a step along the path to moving away from home. Has your son talked about what he’d like his life to be like when he is truly on his own? Things such as a car, a home, pets, electronic entertainment, travel, and the mundane necessities of food and clothes cost money. A reliable means to these ends is a steady income from employment, which, if he can follow the simple logic, comes from investing in one’s education in order to have marketable skills. Rather than a lecture, use opportunities to connect the dots for him between what his parents earn and what the family can spend. Unfortunately many people find discussions with our children about money almost as uncomfortable as discussions about sex. Fortunately, financial literacy has become a recognized subject area within the critical field of life skills, with specific talking points that parents can and should address.

Gap Year
Since you mentioned upper level courses and fatigue, your son might benefit from knowing he can have a year off. A runner can pull out that extra oomph when the finish line is within focus. Following high school immediately with college may feel to a burnt-out student like he’s on a never-ending track. Consider the option of following high school with a break from school. A “Gap Year” has become common enough that it has a name. According to a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. teens conducted by Ameritrade, more than a third of them were thinking about taking a gap year before going to college. It’s not as risky as it sounds – as long as it doesn’t turn into a year of goofing off. The American Gap Association – yes, there is such an entity – reports that gapping students end up more likely to graduate college, and with higher grades than students who plod right ahead without a break. The key is what he or she will be doing with that gift of time off. The AGA actually conducts Gap Year Fairs to help you choose. There are AGA accredited programs including experiences abroad. Travel, volunteer work, refining an artistic or athletic talent, helping out with the family business, or snagging a cool internship, could turn out to be very beneficial. Finances are an important consideration in planning for college, so an extra year gives more time to save up for tuition, housing, and books.

Once your son has a better idea of where he is headed, it will be easier for him to accept the help of a tutor, ask to a re-take a test, make up missing work, take on an extra credit assignment, or whatever will enable him to buckle down to make it to graduation.

Dr. Debbie

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