Exploring the Options for Your Graduating Teen Who is Just Not Ready for a University

For some of us we still recall the fear and anticipation of the first day of our last year of high school. Our senior year was one of the first times in our almost adult lives where we were full of trepidation and excitement, anxiety, and aspiration… we were on the verge, at the edge of that precipice, that would determine where we would go, what we would do, and who we would become. As we looked down the barrel of our 12th grade year, we were eager for the thrill of our upcoming football season, but sad, because we would attend our last homecoming. We were elated to make our plans for prom, but poignant because this would be our final hurrah. And we were full of hope and enthusiasm as we walked across that stage to accept our diplomas, yet frightened at the same time watching our childhood slip away.

This incredible mix of emotions plagues every soon-to-be graduating senior and is basically a rite of passage – one of many into adulthood. For some, this journey is simpler, yet no less scary, as oftentimes these young adults have set plans, good grades, outstanding achievements, and a goal for their future. For others, this time can be absolutely terrifying as they have no direction, no set plans, and no idea of what they want to be when they grow up.

Our school system in the United States is not really the best at assisting these struggling teens with their decisions or direction for the future. We seem to be a country with a compass that points toward college/university level studies, and if that isn’t the direction for your young adult they are oftentimes left floundering with no guidance as to their other options. As a parent you need to be prepared for this, because the rampant emotions plaguing your already stressed teen make this time very trying for you all. The truth is there are a variety of college/university alternatives available and many are likely better suited to your child than the “one size fits all” approach of the U.S. education system, so get informed and get involved so your young adult can start out with the best and brightest future.


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If your child needs or wants a structured and disciplined setting so very different than the frat life of a university, one of the various branches of the United States Military may be the choice for him or her. With a variety of options from the Navy to the National Guard, with incredible long-term educational and financial benefits, hands-on training and experience, hundreds of career paths, travel opportunities, and leadership development, this choice is worth exploring for your young adult. No matter what city, state, or town you live in there is a military recruiting office nearby where you and your child can meet with, plan with, and be guided by a recruiter with the knowledge and understanding of what your child needs to do in order to serve his or her country.

Job Corps

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This nationwide education and hands-on vocational training program available to students ages 16-24 accepts young adults with or without a high school diploma. Administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Job Corps program will help your child obtain a high school diploma or GED, or if they’ve already obtained one, assist with vocational and academic training. The program includes a life skills component and provides housing, meal plans, and transition services for all youth accepted and successful. Job Corps provides individualized instruction to meet the needs of each student and their employers. Students are set up with internships that will likely lead to long-term, stable, high-paying employment in some of the fastest growing fields. Utilizing a holistic approach, Job Corps integrates academic, vocational, employability skills and social competencies through a combination of classroom and on-the-job training experiences.

Vocational or Technical Training Programs

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Some of the fastest growing, income-producing programs in the country are vocational or technical certificate courses in automotive, cosmetology, law enforcement (fire and police), dental assisting, practical nursing, and welding. With the rise in university educated individuals, there has been a decline in many hands-on service industries paving the way to high-paying jobs in many of these formerly popular areas of employment. Vocational and technical programs are available online and at many of the local community colleges, allowing students to obtain a certificate in one year or less and helping them start a steady paying job while their peers are still in school. Fast forward four years and as their peers are graduating they are already working their way up the ladder in their chosen field.

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Several of these type programs lead to future careers that will at a later time finance any further education your child may decide to obtain in order to switch career paths or to simply advance in his or her current field. With most of these vocational programs being low or no-cost they are a benefit to the student and the family. Whether you have a teen who just isn’t ready for the rigorous academics of university life or simply needs a more hands-on education, a vocational program can set them up for a lucrative career or allow him or her to obtain some useful life skills (such as auto mechanics or A/C Technology) while maturing that first year after high school.

Community College Associate or Bachelor Degree

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Although your teen may be academically ready for college courses, maybe he or she isn’t ready to leave home, or at least wants to remain close-by, which in some cases may be ideal for the student and the family. Community college may be the solution to your graduating senior’s post-high school plans. Usually located in even small towns and cities, community colleges oftentimes offer a variety of both two and four year college degree options, including work-study programs and matriculation to larger schools and universities if and when desired.

General studies, education, and business degrees are just some of the standard offerings at this level. Many students receive their A.A. degrees and then transfer to a larger university at 20(ish) rather than 18, being more mature and socially ready for the university experience. Financially, this option is a benefit to the families as the same general education requirements (English, College Math, Social Sciences) cost significantly less per credit hour at the community college level than at the university level, and then simply transfer over, especially if an A.A. degree is obtained before entry into the larger university or college.

“As a graduate-degree level educated individual and the parent of a graduating senior with no direction, I can tell you this is a difficult time in the life of both you and your young adult. As I sit on hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, I cannot imagine telling my 18 year old to simply go to college, take on the level of debt that is likely to be obtained, and to do so for no apparent reason at this time. Our nation’s graduates have recently taken to social media telling the truth about the value of their higher education, and although I am not here to discourage university studies, I do believe that it is not for everyone, and we should be more selective in our choices for our children.

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Unfortunately, even with scholarships and grants, the majority of university students are still being burdened with some amount of student loan debt; post-graduate students even more so. Most are then graduating and still unable to obtain jobs in their chosen field, much less jobs that pay what these former students expected to make and need to make in order to simply make ends meet.

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Many of our children are graduating just believing they are “supposed to go to college” without actually having any sense of what they want to do or where they want to end up in life. That said, we as parents need to be the ones helping them make these tough choices. Although I do believe university level academics are suitable for some, I do not believe that we should be herding young adults who aren’t ready for that level of responsibility into an arena whereby they graduate and are still unemployable. With the variety of options available to our teens, simply research and explore what is out there before making any commitment, and realize that college is not for everyone, and that is okay.” – Kristin

For more tips on what to consider when furthering your young adult’s education, check out our Rules for Sending Your Crew to College as they apply to Military and Vocational Programs as well.

Photo Credits: Kristin dePaula, Pixabay

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Kristin dePaula
Kristin dePaula
Kristin is a Montessori Mama who spends her days working as a lawyer with at-risk youth and her nights chasing her 4 boys on their latest adventure. She spends a significant amount of time in the kitchen creating healthy, organic, and delicious meals for her family, reading books with her boys, and at the soccer fields. Aspiring to make a difference in lives of others one child at a time, Kristin is passionate about social justice, early literacy, and early childhood education. While she loves scarves and boots, Kristin lives at the world's most famous beach with her husband, kids, extended family, and enough pets to open a zoo.

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