I think we have just completed our last FAFSA (free application for federal student aid) — after six kids and 10 years. Pop the champagne cork!
I know families who are just beginning this process. Bless you, and before you start evaluating where your student will attend school or start a career, remember — not everyone should go to college. Not everyone is cut out for college. And kids can get great training for careers at career schools in a much shorter term. Here’s my take on teens and careers:
1.You know your child. Encourage, but don’t take over in decision making. Your teen has to figure it all out. Help, but remind yourself that next year the regimented school days will be over. Your teen has to figure out what and where they will be all day, every day for the next year and the year after that and then some. No one can predict the future, but you and your teen have to have a plan.
2. It’s difficult to determine a career path at age 18. Kids don’t all learn to tie their shoes at a magic age. Career decisions are no different. Some kids just know what they want before they earn a high school diploma, but others change their minds. More than once — possibly for years. You have to let them do it and support them. When they change their minds — on schools, careers, jobs, classes — make them do the legwork. Don’t. Do. It. For. Them. Just don’t. Been there, done that with six kids. All but one kid changed career plans at least once. Let them do the research and move forward. Examples: Three changed majors, and one wanted to change schools. We told them all to go see advisers and find out what they would lose and what they would gain. And what it would cost. Success in all cases.
3. If you have an athlete looking at sports scholarships — be careful. Your teen needs to spend the next four years or more training for a career — not just advancing his or her high school sports career — unless they can turn it into a career. Most parents and kids make good choices — a school that matches career needs — not just athletic ability. But some folks lose sight of the career when the carrot of reduced debt for four years is dangled as a huge benefit. And sometimes it’s not as huge as you might think. Make sure your teen is ready for the pressure of college and athletics — they’re not in high school anymore. Not all kids can handle it. There are wonderful success stories out there, but if your student signs up for an intense 5- or 6-year degree that will require year-round schooling, remember what the college goal is: a career.
4. College tuition, fees and room and board cost thousands of dollars per year. The lowest tuition might be under $10,000 per year, and if your teen lives at home, he or she might get out with $40,000 in debt in four years, but that’s not the norm. It’s usually more. And that’s just the tuition. College is serious business and serious debt. Many kids benefit from waiting a year to attend school or finding other careers that require career schools – a much cheaper option than a 2-year or 4-year degree. Don’t think that college is a rite of passage and just let your teen sign up and see what happens. Be smart — have goals.
If you are stressing about your teen’s future, stop. Kids are amazing at figuring out things on their own with a little help from parents, teachers and others. Everyone needs guidance, but don’t go crazy with control. Enjoy watching your son or daughter become an adult. None of it is easy, but it’s so rewarding — especially when they’re working in careers they love. Sigh. We are almost there with all six. Your kids will do it, too. Just be patient.
Pam Parker is the editor of Lake Erie LifeStyle, Her Times and House to Home at the Erie Times-News in Erie, Pa. She is the mom of three, stepmom to three and step-grandmom to one. All six kids attended post-secondary education.