Is College Right for Your Child?

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For young people, choosing the right career direction for the future may be challenging, especially when they aren't quite sure what they could actually see themselves enjoying doing in the long run.

Colleges and universities are still considered the traditional route—one that works for many. But how could you be sure that's the smartest choice for your child?

Thankfully, you have options for figuring it all out.

If your child struggles to pinpoint a specific career interest, talking over what they're passionate about could help narrow the field. Do they enjoy helping those less fortunate? A career working in the nonprofit and social justice realm may be ideal. Do they thrive on working with their hands, to build systems or repair things? A career in construction, mechanics, welding or another trade offers increasing promise. Are they always coming up with new and creative ways to see the world around them? Encourage a business route, to grow their entrepreneurial spirit!

Consider taking time to browse with them the many areas of study offered at colleges and universities as well as trade and technical schools. Your child may discover a subject they didn't realize they could pursue at an institution or one not previously contemplated.

Have frank conversations about classes and related costs and how that factors into their options. Are you helping out with tuition and any room and board or are they handling it on their own? Assess scholarship opportunities and financial aid responsibilities early on, so there are no surprises down the line.

For help with career and college readiness and to learn about in-demand careers, Kent Intermediate School District works directly with West Michigan students in grades seven through 12 to provide career exploration opportunities, such as job shadows and industry tours. They partner with educators involved in grades K-12 to bring career exploration into the classroom through lesson plans, special training and more. Kent ISD also periodically hosts "Parents as Career Coaches" workshops, which equip parents with talking points, suggestions and tangible opportunities to help guide their child in the right direction.

Make campus visits a priority—in person or virtually—to get a feel for what learning and life will be like in that particular setting and city. Think beyond the name of the school. Do the values of the school align with those of your child and with their goals? Connect with friends, family or colleagues who attend or have attended a desired school. They may be able to provide real-world insight and perspective not often gained during orientation or via research alone.

Once your child is ready to learn more, set up meetings with academic advisors and counselors. Coming prepared with a list of questions—and an open mind—is always a beneficial approach. Community colleges, such as Grand Rapids Community College, are ideal for mapping out degree paths and homing in on laying the foundation for further learning, if your child is interested in a four-year degree.

It's important to consider how your child learns best. Is in-person learning critical? Or does working online at their own pace allow the flexibility they need? Also note any skills that could use improvement. Many institutes make resources available to improve study skills, time management, goal setting and test-taking methods.

Be open to the idea of your child taking a gap year! This period, most often spent abroad immersed in other cultures or volunteer work, could be a great way to gain real-life experience and unique job qualifications that set them apart. Though there are still some stigmas associated with taking a gap year, the practice could offer your child increased self-discovery and opportunity, and deeper knowledge in their passions and how this translates to a potential career route.

Ultimately, your child should be the one driving the vehicle to decide their future—without unwanted and unneeded pressure. Show them you believe in their decision-making skills! Offering strong parental support, no matter their path, helps ensure they're able to move forward into the world, ready for success.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of West Michigan Woman.


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