7 things every high school student should do this summer

Like Michigan’s streets, the road to college has never been bumpier for Michigan students and parents. In April, a record number of college applications led the media to wonder, “Can anyone get into college?” In May, disappointing financial aid packages changed the question to, “Is college worth it?” It’s now June, and members of the class of 2014 are off to put their plans into action, while current high-school students and their families are left wondering, “What do I do now?”

Summer gives everyone a chance to stand back and look at the big picture of life after high school. If you have questions that just won’t wait for answers in August, take these seven steps to build a solid summer foundation in postsecondary planning:

1. Understand that more learning is a must. In this economy, a chance at a reasonable living depends on more school after high school. This doesn’t have to include a degree from a four-year college, but a bachelor’s degree has the best record of financial security, since four-year college graduates have the lowest unemployment, and make upwards of $500,000 more in their lifetime than high school graduates. Certificates and two-year degrees offer their own benefits, so the message is clear: 12th grade is not the end of the road for formal learning.

2. Spend two hours building a career map. The best part about learning after high school is that you have more choices in what you can learn, where you can learn, and how you can learn. The best first step in understanding some of your options is to complete a career exploration search. These computer-based searches give you a list of possible (that’s possible) careers based on your answers to questions about what you like to do. Once you get your list, you can find out more about each career, including wages, job prospects, and required training, including classes you should take in high school. Many high schools have a career search program you can use free; so do most community colleges. Do some looking around, and be sure to talk with a counselor about your results.

3. Visit tech centers and college campuses. It’s one thing to learn about education or training options online, but nothing compares to seeing a school in action. Visiting a local college campus or tech center gives you a feel for what’s possible for you. It’s best to see these programs when they’re in full swing in the fall, but if summer is the only time you can go, call the institution, and make your plans. Be sure to prepare a list of questions in advance — a good list of tips can be found here.

4. Check your high school schedule. How well you learn after high school depends on how well you learn in high school, and that means taking the most challenging classes you can handle. Scheduling won’t start again until mid-August, but make a note to contact your high school, and make sure your classes will best prepare you for your goals. Again, this is where your high school counselor can help.

5. Build your plan for paying now. There are all kinds of ways to meet your postsecondary learning goals, and most have a wide array of price tags, including public universities, community colleges with strong certificate and transfer programs and private colleges that offer significant merit scholarships. Learn how to maximize your options by visiting the Federal Student Aid website and Fastweb.

6. Check your high school counseling office’s website. Your local school counselors have helped hundreds of students make strong choices about life after high school. Most high schools have a website with resources they’ve discovered that help their students build strong plans. Take a look at those options, and stay in touch with your counselor. They may be busy, but they’re never too busy to help a student committed to building a better tomorrow.

7. Help get the best college advice to everyone. Students and parents are often surprised to discover that many school counselors are never trained in college counseling. Most counselors know how to give career advice, but many have had little or no training in helping students find the one-, two-, and four-year colleges that will help meet their personal and career goals. Counselors themselves say they don’t have enough training in college advising, but progress in this crucial area has been slow in coming.

A bill in the Michigan Senate is trying to change that. Michigan Senate Bill 902 would make sure all new school counselors are proficient in college counseling, so they can help students make strong decisions about life after high school. The counselors I’ve trained know this kind of proficiency makes a huge difference in working with Michigan families. After taking a course in college counseling, they’ve gone back to their schools and helped more students make better college plans in less time than they needed before they took the course.

Contacting your state senator about Senate Bill 902 makes sure no Michigan family has to make important college decisions alone, including yours. You can find your senator at this site. Better yet, stop by their local office this summer, and let them know what’s at stake.

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Sun, 06/29/2014 - 9:31am
Like your list. I'd also like to see a list for kids who are not going to college or may not be able to afford college right now. These are the kids that really need some guidance with getting a job, saving money, paying for expenses, etc.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Wed, 07/02/2014 - 3:11pm
Patrick O'Connor: Here are some suggestions that might help someone: A. Get a summer job. Look for one that pays well and one that aligns with what you want to be doing in 10 to 20 years. Do a good job and put it on your resume. I recommend observing the professional that also work there. See or find out what they consider a good work ethic to be. Find out what they don't like about high school people. Collect references and maybe get a few Letters of Recommendation. I had three teachers help me find a great one for Engineering. It provided enough income with scholarships to get me through with little or no debt. You might check with your favorite teachers, but you might also attend some meetings with these folks. Ask them about scholarships and who else you should be talking to. 'What do employers want?' Save some money for college. You will value things more if you buy them with your own efforts. Learn what it means 'To earn a buck.' SCORE: this is the service corps for retired executives as close to your area as possible. Tell them what you want to do and listen to what they have to say. Lions: Knights of Columbus: Veterans of Foreign Wars (VA): Chamber of Commerce: B. Learn the mistakes people make when they have little or no money experience. They buy things on credit. They buy on impulse and over-commit themselves. You may have to make some of these mistakes to learn them. That is OK too. I have one son that learns like me, he has to take the hard knocks to learn, and then sometimes not so well. The other son learns from the mistakes others make and is as sharp as a tack. Start yourself a bank. I started mine when I was 11 years old and had a paper route. I put all my money in it, and almost never spent any. When my brothers found out, they began to borrow. 'Lend me $2 and I'll pay you back $3.' They always made up the deal so I didn't feel like a creep charging too much. They began to call me a 'miser' after King Midas. Soon I had three watches and other little things and lots of cash laying around. I thought it kind of felt good have some money, rather than spending as fast as one gets it. It is also a good idea to start an account for something you want. If you want a car, put a tiny amount in the account and flow a little with each pay check. This not something you owe. It is something you are building. Check out lower cost ways of doing things. My first car was $25. I had to rebuild the engine. I did this when I was 15, and when I got my license on my 16th birthday, I had my own car and no debt. Have fun. - Leon