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Is college really the best choice for your teen?

It’s that time of year when high school seniors grab their diplomas and toss their graduation caps into the air. While college is the expected next step for many of these grads, it’s not always the best choice for everyone. What other options are out there and how can parents help their teens find their own path — without college?

Does your teen plan to attend college after high school graduation? Many teens are ready to start working and making a path for themselves in a career that doesn’t require college, while others have a few goals in mind to accomplish before settling into the adult world. College isn’t for everyone, and some teens are better off considering other options right away, rather than attempting a year or two of college halfheartedly.

Next step not always college

We checked in with author and CEO Patrick Bet-David about his tips for teens considering a different path than college. Bet-David’s own path to career success took him from the military to Morgan Stanley. “I think college is a system that we’ve all kind of bought into and haven’t really ever questioned,” he shared. “Does someone really need four years to earn a degree? Why not two years? Why not a year and a half? Many of the engineering courses nowadays need to constantly update their curriculum because of how quickly things are changing,” he adds. “But if a kid wants to be a doctor, lawyer, civil engineer or a specific trade, then college is necessary.” Bet-David recommends that parents let their kids go to community college for two years, then decide if it’s wise to invest in the next two years based on the discipline shown by their child.

Likes and dislikes

How can parents help guide their teens into careers that will work best for them? “I would spend more time as a parent trying to figure out what my child enjoys doing and what he’s good at, than pushing him in a direction that I want him to go towards,” says Bet-David. “Not only will trying to please Mom and Dad not fulfill him, but it could potentially have long-term effects of resentment towards them.” Parents can do this with their children from an early age, and help them learn about themselves in relation to a career they might enjoy or not.

Widen your experience, then narrow it down

We asked if a variety of experience makes young adults more valuable to employers. “I think having several jobs and experiences can bring a ton of value to a future employer, but I do believe that the earlier you find out which industry you’ll be a part of, the larger the victory you’ll have in the long term,” Bet-David says. He recommends that young adults determine the industry they plan to be in for at least 10 years.

Options to consider after high school

Bet-David offers the following list of potential avenues to pursue for graduates not heading to college.

  • The military: Bet-David lists the military as one of the best options for the undecided because, “it teaches discipline, independence and teamwork, responsibility, camaraderie, honor and leadership skills that can be applied to almost anything in life.”
  • Travel: For graduates who are able, he recommends they, “see the world, learn about different cultures and see how other people live and do business. Spending time overseas will broaden and mature you, and employers are impressed when they see this on a resume because it shows real world experience in a foreign environment.”
  • Master your trade: “You might recall former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s comments that pursuing a plumbing career might be a better choice than going to Harvard, and to his point if you have a special talent or skill that solves a problem that people are willing to pay for, master it and let it make you rich.”
  • Volunteer: Sometimes volunteering is a great way to experience jobs in various fields. “If you’re undecided about what you want to do, seek several volunteer opportunities in various fields to learn more about these industries,” Bet-David shares.
  • Find a mentor: Finding someone you trust and who is already successful can be a golden opportunity. “Talk to them, discuss different options and try to get some clarity, directions or first steps to take.”
  • Start a business: “It’s very common for 18- or 19-year-olds to have an idea and turn it into a successful business,” he shares. “Imagine how many kids didn’t because they were influenced to take the traditional route of college despite aspirations of starting a business.”
  • Get into sales: Starting off in a sales position in almost any industry is valuable experience teens can leverage later on. “It teaches important people and communication skills, and most importantly, sales teaches people to think on their feet and work around objection,” he adds.
  • Focus on relationships: Face-to-face relationships are important, no matter which route you choose after high school. “Attend in-person networking events, invite the CEO of a company for a cup of coffee and just get to know as many different people in as many different fields as possible,” Bet-David recommends. “You never know who might be able to help you or who you’ll be able to help.”

More on teens after high school

Should you let your teen backpack through Europe?
How to prepare your teen for the real world
Legally an adult: What to know when your child turns 18

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