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.