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Why haven’t we gotten it right on how to guide students beyond secondary school?

Until this type of “planning” is incorporated into the student’s curriculum in secondary school, it will continue to be something that students, parents, schools get wrong.

Two things here: I use the word “planning” because what I believe needs to be done is more than just “university and career advising”. I also say “get wrong”. Allow me to explain both within the framework of what I passionately believe is missing in secondary school education globally.

Number 1. “Planning”. For now I’ll use this term. (“Life-beyond planning”?) For now, I want to get this across: Students need a holistic, embedded-into-the-curriculum, structured, non-judgmental “planning” course in high school to help guide them to their next steps beyond high school. To avoid getting too deep into semantics and thus loosing sight of the point of this post, I worry about calling this kind of holistic “prep” I am proposing with the terms “college” or “university” or “career”. Bottom line: Secondary schools need to adopt and embed a comprehensive programme into their existing curriculum for all secondary students, and by the penultimate year, this should be an actual class that meets weekly and regularly. To limit it just to “university” or “career” also sets some students up for failure who will not go on to university or “decide on a career” at the age of 17 (absurd for 99% of human beings at this age anyhow). Right now every and any school does this insufficiently. Some don’t do it at all.

There is not enough time and guidance given and offered to help students learn about themselves, their options post-secondary school and start to gauge which path will be best for them. I do this with a handful of private clients. It takes a good two years—and these are intensive years. Yet, this should not be limited to a handful of students and families. How can we incorporate this type of course into an academic curriculum? Schools who scoff have no idea that their students are struggling and instead just following the masses into what they should or should not be doing at this stage. As adults we know there’s huge risk in this. Follow the masses and lead a dull, unsatisfying, not-catered-to-my-interests-and-strengths kind of life. I feel very passionate about this because I see it everyday with each of my clients. They come to me with a set plan or idea of a plan which is then twisted and turned and challenged and deconstructed and then ultimately reconstructed and built without a glimpse at what the Jones’ are doing and 100% reflective of what that student wants—and will be successful doing. But, how would they have known this if they hadn’t gone through the process? And, this is where I find if students really commit to going through the university admissions process properly and honestly, a lot of this can get discovered. But, not enough are encouraged to approach the process with only their own interests in mind. I digress.

Number 2. I said “get wrong”. Schools generally believe they are preparing their students appropriately for their next stage which will most often be university—and mainly through their academic curriculum. Of course there are volunteer and sports as well as leadership and extra help opportunities for most students to take advantage of at any high school. But, schools are missing one giant pink elephant standing in the room: While students are gaining these leadership and problem-solving skills, becoming literate in new subject areas they are not being guided to understand better who they are and what their options can be after high school (and based on who they are as individuals—their interests, passions, character, etc.). A list of possible universities doesn’t help. Listening to and mimicking what the neighbor’s older son did is forgetting that the student in question is a totally different human being. Who is helping these kids discover and champion themselves and in doing so guiding them to universities, programmes, work and opportunities that suit them, the individual, specifically? Sometimes a teacher will be able to do this with one student or two. Sometimes an administrator finds a connection with another student and can mentor him. But, these are one-off cases outside of the roles these professionals have and in addition to their massive workloads. Students need a well-choreographed approach to deciding their next step in life.

Aside from the implementation costs of doing what I propose, there would be a lot of eye-rolling from those who believe that this is not concrete enough. That it doesn’t warrant status as an actual course or required class. I would ask administrators to consider this: When is the last time you took a decision that was not genuine to your own interests?

How did it turn out? Now imagine taking the giant decision—and with sufficiently fewer years of experience on this planet to learn from mistakes—of what to do after high school. How are you equipping your students to do take ownership over this?

My book comes out this month and is published by Wiley & Sons.

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