12/07/2015 01:54 EST | Updated 12/07/2016 05:12 EST

Teens Should Start Planning Their Futures Early

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The dreaded question of "what are you going to do after school?" haunts many teens and parents. It looms in the distance like a storm, unavoidable and increasing in intensity the closer it gets.

As an educational and career consultant with iSolve Consulting who specializes in working with teens, I see all too often the dangers of not taking the time to plan. Research has shown that school achievement is the number one cause of student stress. There is increased pressure to achieve grades, be involved in extracurricular activities and make decisions for their future, all while navigating the social and emotional roller coaster of high school. And if you are unfortunate enough to have fallen "between the cracks" of the educational system your future plans may seem even more confusing, unattainable, or not worth trying for.

The landscape for students today is different than it was for their parents. Admission requirements have changed, new programs have been created and there are more schools to choose from. The choices for students of all academic levels have increased significantly. Postsecondary institutions of all sizes are offering more and more new programs in an effort to stay relevant and attract students. Although this presents wonderful opportunities for students, it also adds to the confusion and complexity of these decisions.

With more and more students attending some form of postsecondary education, the need for students to plan strategically for their future has increased. More importantly, the sooner students begin to plan, the less pressure they will feel and the better prepared they will be.

This applies to all teens, regardless of their current academic achievements. The risks of not planning are high. High school only lasts for so long and decisions need to be made. Unfortunately, many teens, although stressed about their future, leave these decisions until their final year of high school.

So, how can we help teens plan for their future?

Start early

Begin these conversations in the early high school years. This does not mean that a student needs to make any firm decisions in grade eight or nine, but it will help them start considering their options, and more importantly identifying their interests.

Explore careers

The ultimate goal of post-secondary is to prepare students for a career. Spend time discussing and reviewing these. Review market projections for job growth sectors. Search employment sites for job postings. Watch career videos. When a student is able to see a career direction that sparks them, everything else falls in line.

Plan your high school courses carefully

Many students choose their high school courses without looking at admission requirements. By the time a student is in grade 12, it is too late for them to change their courses. However, this is often the first time a student will start to review entry requirements. The result is that students may miss a class they need, may load up on classes they do not need (potentially bringing their GPA down with a heavy academic load) and may not be aware of other requirements (personal essays, portfolios, relevant experience, etc.).

Think about your personality and learning style

Consider what type of postsecondary program career would suit you best. The better you align this, the happier and more successful you will be.

Be strategic

Consider not just the program and whether it will interest you, but more importantly what the program will offer you in the long term. Look at what the job prospects would be and what industries it would apply to. Try to choose a program that will provide you with the most options. Since your work experience is going to be limited, your degree and any project, co-op, or internship experience you gain during your studies is what an employer will be basing their decision on and, more importantly, what will make you stand out.

Take the time to plan

Postsecondary education is expensive and the decisions are impactful. Take the time to research careers and program options. In order for students to feel motivated, engaged and succeed, they need to be able to envision their future -- and feel excited about it!


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