Helping to prepare your teen for life after high school is one of the most important
tasks you'll have as a parent. It can be hard to imagine your baby as an adult. But
with the right approach, helping your teen move into adulthood can be rewarding.
Going to college, getting a job, or taking time off are common choices teens face.
Here's how you can help your adult-to-be make the best decision.
College or Technical School
Although you may remember starting your own college search in the fall of your
senior year, many teens these days need to get started earlier because of the extensive
research involved and the deadlines for early admissions programs to competitive programs.
In fact, many students begin as early as the fall of their junior year.
A good preparation for your teen is to sit down and start writing — this
is great practice for the application process. Teens should list their goals as well
as their accomplishments, even if they haven't yet decided on a field of study. Ask
your teen to write down a list of:
academic and personal strengths and weaknesses
grade point average (GPA)
SAT, ACT, or AP scores
Next, teens should think about and list the qualities they're looking for in a
college: do they want to go away to school, stay close to home, or take online courses,
Armed with this preliminary information, it's time to begin the research. Guidebooks,
the Internet, and counselors at school are particularly helpful resources. As your
teen chooses potential schools, start visiting campuses and talking with students
who go there.
Experts suggest narrowing the choices to a diverse mix of about six to 10 schools
where the odds range from low to high for gaining admission. Applications should be
filled out completely and neatly, including the essay, which your teen should revise
until confident that it's his or her best work. Many schools offer help in these areas.
And don't cross college off the list because you're afraid the tuition will be
too steep. Many kids can receive financial help. For info about scholarships and other
programs that may help, ask:
the school counselor
the colleges' financial aid offices
your employer, who might offer scholarship programs
Federal aid programs are also available and can be researched online.
If college isn't an option or your teen needs extra time to earn money for tuition,
going directly into the work force offers many choices and benefits, such as health
insurance and tuition reimbursement programs.
Entering the military can be an excellent choice for a teen who feels uncertain
about the future. Discipline, earning money, saving for college, learning a trade
— all of this is often possible in the armed forces. Veterans are also entitled
to many benefits both while in the service and after.
However, your teen should carefully explore all the pros and cons of a military
career. After all, if teens don't like the service or if the thought of going to war
seems too scary, they can't easily drop out. If your teen wants specific training
through the military, make sure the contract he or she signs includes that.
Getting a job immediately after high school remains a good choice. Teens who go
this route need to learn how to search for employment, write a resume, and develop
Many companies reimburse their employees for continuing education in areas related
to their employment. Your teen should ask about this benefit through the human resources
departments of potential employers.
Another option is an internship. Over the course of a year, your teen could potentially
participate in two or three internships to explore career choices. But most internships
are unpaid, so planning ahead is crucial if your teen needs to save money for living
Internships provide participants with the opportunity to learn about many facets
of a particular career. They're also a great way to make contacts and develop mentoring
Taking Time Off
For some teens, taking a year off between high school and the "real world" can
be beneficial. This can be a good time to travel, do community service, or even live
in a foreign country before the responsibilities of life make it harder to do so.
Community service organizations offer a wide variety of choices that teens can
match with their skills and interests. Americorps, for example, offers hundreds of
programs across the United States with a small stipend, plus a chance to obtain money
for college or vocational training. Many religious organizations provide community
service programs as well.
However, teens should keep in mind that a brochure may look different from reality,
such as with work and service camps in developing countries. They should expect difficulties
but know that the rewards of community service often outweigh the hardships —
and can actually change the direction of a person's life. Speaking with previous participants
should give a more realistic view than promotional material.
And taking time off doesn't necessarily put a teen at a disadvantage for college
admission. For many teens — especially those who choose an internship or international
service — it can actually be an advantage.
While researching colleges, find out if they have delayed admissions programs.
If not, ask the colleges what their position is on students who take time off and
a teen's chances of getting in if he or she reapplies.
It's Your Teen's Life
When the subject concerns the future, some teens may try to shrug it off. Here's
how to get the ball rolling and keep communication flowing:
Really listen to your teen and resist the temptation to provide unsolicited advice.
If your teen is struggling to make a decision, a story or two about a tough choice
you had to make could be very reassuring.
Provide respect and support while giving up some control. Trying to direct your
teen's future probably won't be a benefit in the long run. This is the time for teens
to develop decision-making and problem-solving skills.
Prepare your teen to be self-sufficient away from home. This includes making major
decisions regarding dating, drugs, alcohol, and sex, as well as mastering day-to-day
living skills (cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, paying bills, and managing
Don't be afraid to set limits on how much you can financially support a teen who
decides to take time off. It's important for teens to learn independence.
Where to Get Help
The Internet is a good starting point for researching information on your teen's
interests. Also enlist the help of school counselors, who can help steer kids in the
right direction or refer them to other good sources of information.
And don't overlook your local library. In addition to books and magazine articles
on subjects of interest, the librarian can be a wealth of information.
There are many associations, both local and national, for thousands of occupations.
Find out where they're located and get information how to pursue particular career
Your teen may also be able to attend meetings or arrange to interview people at
their workplaces to find out more about what they do. Make use of friends, relatives,
or others you know in different industries. After all, there's often nothing more
flattering than having someone ask about what you do.
Finally, resist the temptation to lecture and try to remain supportive and enthusiastic,
even if your teen keeps changing his or her mind. Your teen needs your positive influence
during this transitional time.