January 1, 2022
By Jannean Dixon, M.Ed.
“I’m an adult!” That’s what I thought when I graduated high school, but I was so wrong.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Because of my indecision, it took me seven years to earn my undergraduate degree. I think back and wonder, if I’d spent a little more time exploring the real world, would I have had a more direct path? When I left high school, it seemed like the only options were to either go to college, or not. That binary choice system is now, thankfully, a thing of the past.
Your Teen Has Options
“College is not for everyone and we’ve tried hard to stress that to our kids,” shares mom of teens Cathi W. “It’s more important to find something you like and interests you than going to college just to go. We’ve spent a lot of time on Google looking up requirements for jobs and seeing what kind of education is needed.”
Local mom Chantell B. shares, “With E, her only option was college because she wants to be a doctor. B is a sophomore now and we have discussed both college and trade school as he is unsure what he wants to do. He has yet to find something that interests him, so I think he still needs time to cultivate his interests before we can even really get into options.” This “time to cultivate interests” is known as a gap year.
A gap year is a semester, or full year, that is taken as a break between the regular studies of high school and starting college. This time is not for Netflix binging and hanging out, but for experiential learning in the form of volunteering, working, traveling, or other ventures.
Let them use it before they lose it! All of the Spanish, French, or Mandarin your child took in high school can be put to use. Internships, community-based projects, and volunteering can be great options for young adults wanting to spread their wings and see the world. Camps for children, cruise ships, and au pair work are three popular options for working while traveling abroad.
Is your young adult unsure of their life path? Encouraging them to volunteer and explore options can be an invaluable tool to set them on the path for the rest of their life. Help your child research organizations aligned to their interests and beliefs.
Find and Develop Passion
Sometimes narrowing down a specific passion can be the hardest part of deciding what to do with the rest of their lives. Helping children explore their passions can help them to understand if they can turn their passion into a career. An internship or apprenticeship may be a great way for your teen to deeply explore their passion.
Joining the military has a lot of benefits: learning the discipline necessary for future endeavors, serving their country, career opportunities both in and out of service, money for education, and a sense of belonging to something greater than oneself.
“My father went to trade school and became a very talented electrician,” shares local dad Eric D. “He loved that he was often able to out troubleshoot the young electrical engineers in his department!”
There are many trades that offer job stability, opportunity for pursuing passion projects, and competitive wages, such as carpentry, technology, machining, and cosmetology. “Our son saw how much electricians make on HGTV one day, so we researched it together and he decided that’s his path–all because he wants to make decent money without going to college,” adds Cathi.
Work and Save Money
Mom Teresa M shares, “I told mine that as long as they lived in my house, they either had to go to college or go to work.” Whether it is a just-for-now job, a job with growth opportunities, or a hobby-turned-job, young adults can gain experience and expertise through work.
“After high school, I got a job at a local veterinarian clinic. I walked and curbed the dogs, cleaned the pet cages and clinic, and eventually earned the opportunity to assist the vet with patients. I loved it! When I got the job, I thought that I wanted to go to vet school. After working at the clinic for a couple of years, I loved my experience, but knew that I did not want to become a veterinarian,” shares college student Emma C. “I was very grateful for the opportunity to find this out before incurring the time and cost of vet school. With the money I’d saved, I was able to travel for a few weeks, then start college the next fall.”
Mother of teens Tamika W. reminds, “I allowed my children to decide because, if I chose for them, the careers may not be rewarding and they may not thrive and decide to give up.” As much as we might want to steer our children in the direction we would like for them to explore, ultimately it is up to them. If your kiddo is still unsure of their future path, point them to a career aptitude test such as the free test on whatcareerisrightforme.com.