These statements may sound familiar:
- Parents with lower education levels do not expect their children to go to college.
- Families living below the poverty level do not have the capacity to dedicate time and/or energy towards their child’s college aspirations.
- Single parents do not have goals and aspirations for their children.
The National Office for School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA) identified these statements, among others, as common public beliefs regarding college and career readiness for diverse populations. These incorrect assertions serve as roadblocks to the success of many students. However, these statements are lacking merit.
Regardless of a child’s background, family involvement in education is a major factor in the academic success of any student. Parents can steer the direction in life that their child takes, and they also can benefit from guidance themselves.
Keys to success
The transition from a successful school experience to a successful career does not occur simply in the final year of high school. Proper planning and extended preparation is needed to set a child, and a family, for victory.
College and career readiness extends well beyond deciding which job a student wants when they become an adult. Here are areas in which parents need understanding and involvement in order to ensure a smooth transition for their children.
- Development of appropriate academic habits
- Exploration of financial opportunities
- Consideration of postsecondary options
- Taking inventory of career interests
There is a fine line between independence and abandonment when it comes to a child’s academic habits. When a student is young, it is commonplace for a parent to clean out a backpack or double-check a homework assignment. As they get older, the responsibility for school shifts from the parent to the student.
The transition is an important part of growing up, but a parent should never fully relieve themselves of guard duty. Allowing a child to make a mistake and recover is crucial for responsible independence, but when a parent does not maintain a presence in the academic world, a student may develop negative work habits or dig themselves into a pit of low performance and apathy that they cannot climb out of it. A parent should maintain a constant vigil over their child’s academics and encourage positive habits while providing enough space for them to have the freedom to succeed or fail on their own.
The world of postsecondary costs, loans, grants, and scholarships can be very intimidating. This is especially true for low-income families who may miss out on valuable cost-saving opportunities simply because they were not aware of these options.
However, information is easier than ever to access with a minor amount of research. Federal student aid information from the U.S. Department of Education is available that includes all the different programs and eligibility requirements.
Many states offer tuition assistance based on academic performance and family income status. These programs may begin considering students as early as middle school, which is why it is important to be proactive in this process and begin sooner rather than later.
Involving a child in this process may help them understand the long-term plan for their college and career readiness. If they see that the grades they earn in eighth grade may lead to a scholarship worth thousands of dollars, they may decide to take their selection of classes more seriously.
Not everyone is expected to follow the same path after high school. As a society, we have moved past the belief that all roads must lead to a four-year university. If the goal is to ensure postsecondary success for a child, it is important to involve them in the discussion of options available after high school.
A child with an aptitude for video production may find a career in technology as a more direct route to their career goals. Those seeking smaller class sizes with a less-expansive campus could benefit from a community college, where credits may transfer to the university level. This level of planning can extend to the high school, where courses worth college credit may be offered as early as a child’s sophomore year.
Developing a plan early can not only save money, but it also can save time and effort for the student. Open-mindedness and early preparation are the keys to success.
When a child is young, they have high aspirations for what they want to be when they grow up. Some of these career goals are built from passing interests, while others are created by parental influence. However, as a child gets older, their interest areas become more defined. That 7-year-old veterinarian may have a high aptitude for automotive repair.
Parents can help their children delineate their career interests through continuous conversations related to their interests and skills. A wide variety of interest inventories are available for students, as well as professional advice from their school guidance counselor. Be careful not to place all your eggs in one basket based on the results of a single aptitude test. A child’s interests and skill set continue to evolve with age. Keeping options open allows for investigation and exploration of a wealth of career options.
A report by the Institute for Higher Education Policy found that parents are crucial in guiding their children through a college preparatory curriculum, and middle school students generally cite their parents as their top resource for academic planning and support.
College and career readiness can be an overwhelming topic for any parent. With early preparation, open lines of communication, and student involvement, preparing for life outside of school can be seen as an adventure rather than a chore.
Dr. Jason Perez is the executive director of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness for the Oklahoma State Department of Education with 14 years of educational and administrative experience at the elementary level. He also serves as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.Learn More: Click to view related resources.
- "A Parent’s Guide to College and Career Readiness: A Guide to Help You Support Your Child’s Dreams," University of Minnesota College Readiness Consortium
- "Counselor Connection," National Office for School Counselor Advocacy
- Alisa F. Cunningham, Wendy Erisman, Ph.D., and Shannon M. Looney, "From Aspirations to Action: The Role of Middle School Parents in Making the Dream of College a Reality," Institute for Higher Education Policy
- "Federal Student Aid," U.S. Department of Education