Helping Students See High School as a Stepping Stone to Their Future

By Manesseh Moore

For decades, many students have viewed high school as a hurdle to jump. Once that high school diploma is in their hands, they are free of the legally mandatory entity that has forced them to take classes they don’t want to take and to do homework they don’t care about. They can go on to college or trade school and choose the area they want to study, they can go to work and start making money, or they can enter the military. Developmentally, most high school students are still not mature enough to look past the near future and into the big picture without being forced and they don’t see high school as preparation for their future. They instead see the courses they have to pass and the credits they have to obtain in order to move on with their lives.


Schools recognize this and some have taken drastic steps to tie the high school experience to career preparation. There are schools who have invested in the career academy model, with all of the students choosing a different career area to pursue and taking prescribed classes geared toward preparing them for those careers. Other schools use a career advisory program in which teachers advise small groups of students in course selection and career preparation based on their career goals. With programs like these, students are constantly hearing that what they do in high school can prepare them for their future. However, not all schools are fortunate enough to have these programs in place. In many situations, the only outlet that school counselors have for career guidance is during mass course registration for the next school year. That time with students has to be used to its maximum potential. So what can school and career counselors do to lead students to the realization that high school is more than a hurdle where the only outlet they have is course registration? These practical steps can help:


  1. Before students enter high school, have them pinpoint a career cluster that they are leaning towards. Have them research the needed skills for career success in that cluster and then identify the core courses that target those skills. This can be done as a part of a Career Orientation class at the middle school or junior high level or as a research paper assignment in an English class. Counselors should work with teachers to insert this assignment into the curriculum before students enter ninth grade. Once the core classes are identified, encourage students to challenge themselves in those areas by taking advanced classes or electives offered in those areas.


  1. When students are choosing courses for their freshman and sophomore years, encourage them to get their basic graduation requirements out of the way. Many states require an art class, a PE class, or an oral communication class amongst others. When students can complete those classes during their freshman and sophomore years, it leaves many more openings for electives during their last two years that will prepare them for life after high school. These electives should be the courses that help them explore their career interests and teach them skills in preparation for their chosen career.


  1. Classify all the electives offered at your school by career clusters. Create a chart or reference page for students that show them what electives they should be taking to prepare them for their career area. During course registration, encourage students to choose from those electives when selecting those courses. Encourage them to take courses in any career areas that they are even possibly considering as a method of narrowing down their career choice. This may help them solidify their career decisions and give them exposure to the types of courses they will take after high school to reach their career goals.


  1. Create prescribed curriculum for varying career areas. This could be sample four-year plans for students interested in various career clusters. They can look at these sample plans to help them lay out their own. For students who are goal-oriented and mostly decided on a specific career, you can provide this resource for them. Include core classes they should take with the appropriate challenges as well as electives that will benefit them in preparing for their career selection. Not all students will take advantage this, but it is a valuable resource for those who choose to use it.


  1. Identify extracurricular activities offered at your school that build needed career skills. Educate students about those organizations that promote these activities and how they can benefit them in the future.


Though not all school counselors have the opportunity or the outlet to do career guidance on a regular basis, these practical suggestions can help make the most of the time they are given. Students need the realization that high school is a stepping stone and not a hurdle to their future. It benefits students, communities, and society at large when students take advantage of the opportunities given them.



Manesseh MooreManesseh Moore is a school counselor at Alma High School in Alma, Arkansas where she works with ninth through twelfth grade students on academic, career, and personal issues. She led the implementation of the Career Action Planning program at her high school and is currently working with teachers and students to create a culture of career awareness. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History Education and taught Social Studies in the high school setting for six years before becoming a counselor. Her Master’s Degree is in School Counseling and Leadership. She is currently pursuing her Career Development Facilitator certification. She can be reached at manesseh.moore@gmail.com

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Jennifer Warren   on Wednesday 04/02/2014 at 05:19 PM

Hi Manesseh,

Thanks for sharing this great article on the importance of starting career preparation in high school! I'm a Certified Career Coach that works with high schools to prepare students for life after graduation, and it surprises and disappoints me that often this important topic is not given the time or priority it needs. I'm excited to see more schools starting to give more attention to this topic and believe it will be beneficial for their students in the long run!

Tom Schelstrate   on Thursday 04/03/2014 at 09:21 AM

As an educator in the high schools setting for over 30 yrs, I do believe students need to be doing meaningful work in high school. I do not necessarily believe, however, that a specific career emphasis is for everyone. Students should be learning and practicing skills which apply to a multitude of career paths - the most important of which are being able to work with and empathize with a variety of people and the practiced skill of disciplining yourself to do what you don't necessarily want to do. Everything else will fall into place once these two skills are learned and practiced.

Rebecca Dedmond   on Wednesday 04/16/2014 at 07:47 AM

Thanks for the article and the comments... both of which are critical for youth today. I do believe there is a fine balance of what is required.

Paul Nichols and I just finished a three-part webinar series, "The Need for Comprehensive Career Development" on information that is proving to be very exciting and motivating to students. It gives them more ownership for creating and managing their own career paths. NCDA has it archived if you missed it.

In addition, please visit my website Freshmantransition.org for best practices and to retrieve my validated and nationally recognized Standards for transitioning youth through middle school years (drop down) as well as the Standards for transitioning from middle school to high school and creating a 10-Year Plan to transition through post-secondary education and into the work world. I believe what each of you discuss is covered in the Standards that are meant to be implemented for all students.

Victoria Driver   on Tuesday 04/29/2014 at 02:59 PM

Tom Schelstrate wrote that he did not believe that a specific career emphasis was for everyone. He is correct about that however I do not believe that for most high school curriculum is relevent unless the content or at least the skills acquired through learning and learning how to learn are connected to the school-to-work transition. The student may not have a specific occupation in mind but does need to find the first stepping stone on their career pathway. It could be as general as The Sciences or semi specific as Engineering but not what specialization or Business administration but not necessarily in a specific industry or even type or workplace. Few can afford the time or cost of a general education and for most being a professional student is a thing of the past because it is just too expensive.

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.