Empowering Parents to Prepare Their Middle/High Schoolers for Post-School Transition

By Jaimie Patterson

Graduation is a time in life that parents and students pray for and love when it arrives. However, very few parents realize the importance of their role in getting students ready for the post-graduation world. Some parents began by speaking with students about college and four-year institutions at an early age, while others wait until senior year in high school to begin preparing their child for the transition. By senior year, most students are ready for school to end. Therefore, they are unlikely to listen to any parental guidance at that time. Career development specialists usually begin working with students in the eighth grade, but experts suggest that students should start preparing for college and the post-school world in the sixth grade (Ma, 2012).

Guide to Post-School Transition

Preparing for college in middle school can be difficult for parents, especially, when they do not know where to start. The suggestions below will help simplify the process involved. Career development specialists, teachers, and school counselors are encouraged to share the guide with parents.

  • Talk about college- Parents often feel that their child does not listen to them when they are attempting to guide them. Parents need to know that this is usually not the case. They need to recognize that they have considerable influence on their child overall. Parents could use this power by starting the conversation about the child's interest and the career they want to have when they are older at a younger age. This will help the child to be open to discussions and then ready to explore/decide at the appropriate time.
  • Make the school your partner- It is crucial that parents are just as involved in school activities and meetings as they are in the child's other areas of life. The child is now at an age where they will explore different opportunities while searching for their interests and ultimate career. As a parent, you can enlist the help of teachers, counselors, and career development specialists in the school. Ask them to discuss, for instance, the results of the career assessments and help to identify some of your child’s likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Get involved in your child’s choice of classes- Use this time in middle school to help your child find their strongest and weakest subjects. As your child enters high school, help them choose their classes carefully, according to their abilities and needs, seeking input from the school counselors and teachers. For example, If your child has expressed an interest in medicine, help the child to choose their science and math classes appropriately in consultation with the school. They may want to take an extra science or math as an elective class. Make sure that they select courses to meet their requirements and choose electives that will be beneficial to them in the end.
  • Get savvy about college cost- It is essential to know all the financial resources that are available and their requirements well ahead of time. Because rules and requirements regarding financial aid and scholarships often change, it is best to start researching early and make frequent follow-ups to maximize the opportunity.
  • Encourage your child to read- Students may perform poorly in college due to lack of strong reading skills. Reading assignments are different in college than they are in high school. The assignments are more frequent and more intense. Therefore, starting early to develop good reading skills and habits will serve them well in college and their chosen career.
  • Don’t wait to get your student help with study skills- Watch your child while they are doing their homework or studying for a test. If you notice that your child has difficulty reading, focusing or studying, middle school is the time to get assistance from school resource personnel. Help students form good study habits as early as possible. It will benefit them in the future (GreatSchools Staff, 2017).
  • Encourage involvement in extracurricular activities- Participating in extracurricular activities in addition to taking classes while in school is an important demonstration of well-roundedness. Colleges look for extracurricular activities on a student’s application for admission. When students engage in these activities early, they maximize their opportunity to gain entrance to their preferred college. As a parent, look into the available Advanced Placement classes, clubs, and organizations that they can join and be sure to include community service projects.

Istock 1404754471 Credit Famveld
Other Options after High School Graduation

While most parents want their child to attend college, this, however, may not be what the student wants. There are other options for students besides a four-year institution that will help them reach their career goals. Technical programs and community colleges are great ways for students to learn the skills they need without having to accrue an enormous debt or spend 4-6 years in college. These are a few easy steps to start helping students explore alternative options.

  1. Research community colleges, programs, and technical schools that may offer a pathway to the chosen career
  2. Be sure the research includes the examination of the program requirements and how the program prepares the student for employment upon completion.
  3. Inquire and enroll in technical programs at their high schools that could help students gain some knowledge in their area of interest.

Parents, in conjunction with the schools, are an important contributor to the successful post-school preparation of their children. Through these early and active engagement efforts, parents may be able to pave the way to viable options for students' career choices. Career development specialists aid this transition throughout middle and high school while encouraging parents to do the same.

Editor's Note: this article originally appeared in Career Convergence in 2017.
It is included here now due to the release of a new resource for parents:

Exploring Career: A Guide for Parents and Children

Discovering a career is a driving force as students make decisions about their future. Motivate your child to think about their career goals and the multiple pathways they can take to reach them. The Family and Caring Adult Table Talk Guide was created in 2023 by BigFuture, a program by the College Board, in collaboration with NCDA.



Ma, J. (1 April 2012). Why to start preparing for college in sixth grade. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonma/2012/04/01/why-to-start-preparing-for-college-in-sixth-grade/#5a4317a44e29

GreatSchools Staff. (16 April 2017).  A middle school parent's college prep guide. Great Schoolshttps://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/middle-school-parents-college-prep-guide/



Jaimie PattersonJaimie Patterson is a Career Coach in West Memphis, AR who assists 8th-12th-grade students in developing a plan for life after graduation. Jaimie believes that all students can learn and have a successful adult life enjoying the career of their choice. Jaimie has helped students find part-time and summer jobs, prepare college applications, prep for the ACT, and apply for scholarships. Jaimie is a certified Career Development Facilitator and holds a Bachelor of Science in Mid-Level Education from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Ar. Ms. Patterson could be reached at jlpatterson@asumidsouth.edu

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Bragg Stanley   on Wednesday 11/01/2017 at 07:42 PM

Once again, "other" post-secondary options seem to take a back seat to the college option. We need to raise to the same level of respect all options after high school and give them equal treatment, especially as kids are beginning to form ideas about life after high school. Reports tend to indicate that the vast majority of 8th graders, when asked, tend to indicate "college" as their goal. What other options were they told about and how were those options presented? I look forward to hearing the perspective of others....

De Jackson   on Wednesday 11/01/2017 at 08:49 PM

Outstanding article. I constantly echo the same thoughts to my peers, constituents and writings. Keep up the good work. We GCDFs have to get the word out there.

Catherine Hughes   on Thursday 11/02/2017 at 05:29 AM

I agree with Stanley Bragg - all post-secondary options should be regarded as equally valuable. It is interesting to see that there are similarities between the the US and Australia in relation to perceptions about college versus and vocational and technical education. In Australia there are many calls for schools to promote vocational education and training to the same extent as which univeristy is promoted.

Megan Reed   on Thursday 11/02/2017 at 08:42 AM

Excellent suggestions! I teach an online course to educators that supports Career Advising to students in Ohio. I will be sharing this article with them.

Janet Blount   on Thursday 11/02/2017 at 10:41 AM

Enjoyed your article. As a career coach, who is developing programs to help parents of elementary and middle school students become career awareness / career exploration advocates for their children, your article supports that there is a need for such programs. I will be reaching out to you directly.

Mary Johnson   on Thursday 11/02/2017 at 10:42 AM

Good article. I would agree a bit with the comment that mentions not enough focus on other options other than a 4 year college. Nothing was mentioned of on-the job training programs, apprenticeships or military - all equally valuable students if we are to reach every student, not just some of the students. I would add that the skills needed that are mentioned for year are just as important for the community colleges and technical schools so perhaps should be included with the main discussion rather than separate from the 4-year college track.

Also vital to succeeding after college are skills like showing up on time/everyday, attitude, and being a life-long learner.

Cortez Washington, Director, Career Services    on Monday 11/06/2017 at 09:47 PM

Fantastic article Jaimie. The information you provided can help hundreds of parents aide their children. It seems your within your purpose.

Anna Kausler   on Friday 11/10/2017 at 01:09 PM

Wow! That is fabulous :) I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I have no doubt that it will be a help to many parents, as well as educators.
Keep up the good work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bob Tyra   on Saturday 01/06/2018 at 01:38 PM

I agree with Bragg. When did community college stop qualifying as college?!

China Yang   on Friday 05/31/2024 at 04:07 PM

I enjoyed how this article highlighted other options after school rather than a four-year degree. Some parents may not know of those options because they are unaware of the other opportunities. When I was growing up in an immigrant household, being a first-generation student, the only education option my parents knew of was a four-year college. Let's continue spreading awareness and advocacy for technical schools/programs.

Grace Cormier   on Saturday 06/01/2024 at 02:26 PM

Since guardians and caretakers have considerable influence regarding their child's career interests and development, I believe honesty and support is an incredible tool. Being able to guide the student to their fullest potential using strategies such as involvement and resources will serve as an influential factor in post-school paths. I agree that not enough emphasis is put on technical programs and community college. Not only are these options under appreciated, they are both beneficial regarding personal timeline or finances.

Micol Striuli   on Sunday 06/02/2024 at 11:35 AM

I also agree that it is of foremost importance to have parental involvement when transitioning to college. Even as students develop into young adulthood, parents, like counselors, must serve as a guide to helping them discover their interests and to also be realistic about cost and what courses to take.

Korrie L.   on Sunday 06/02/2024 at 07:52 PM

The involvement of parents in their child's knowledge and choice of career and college is astronomical. Students choose what they know, and their basic knowledge comes from the conversations at home and what they experience in real life. Starting the conversation early in the home will inevitably set students up for success by being able to properly plan. In many cases, college isn't the best path for students, but the push for a college education only increases in society today. Having parents be the root of the conversation for both career paths or college paths is imperative for students success

Justine C.    on Sunday 06/02/2024 at 08:54 PM

There is so much I love in this article such as parent involvement in study habits and daily reading, creating a partnership between the student and school. However, the notion that the child should begin thinking about strengths and weaknesses in 6th grade is a bit too early in my opinion. Students entering 6th grade have not even started understanding their identity, let alone strengths and weaknesses. There are those fortunate children who know exactly what they want to be when they grow up, but I am a firm believer, lets let children be children until it is time for high school. Keep the study habit, reading and relationship building with teachers and faculty, just let the kiddos be kids.

Marcela Garces   on Monday 06/03/2024 at 12:34 PM

I love this article. I have been talking to both of my children about college since they were toddlers. My son decided that college is not for him (right now), and my 10-year-old daughter is ready to be a doctor tomorrow. There is so much power in supporting your child's dreams. Thank you!

Leah Abbate   on Monday 06/03/2024 at 06:12 PM

I believe this article brought up an important component to the success of students’ post-graduate futures. At the high school level, often, parents tend to become more removed from their child’s education. I think it is extremely beneficial for parents to be educated on how to support their child’s college and career exploration and ways they can encourage their child to develop appropriate skills (i.e. reading skills, positive study habits, well-roundedness) which they can utilize in their future. I also agree with this article in that preparation should start much earlier than high school. While this “preparation” will look very different depending on the student’s age, I believe it is important to expose young children to different careers and options they have for their future. By initiating conversations about college and careers at a young age, a seed will be planted which will grow and mature as the child does.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.