Planning Your Future

There are multiple steps students take when deciding what careers they would like to pursue and what training they will need to achieve their goals.  The best way to make a good choice regarding college majors or career options is for students to explore their hobbies, favorite classes, how they interact with people and their own personality. It is normal to switch majors or careers based on new information, interests or life experiences.  Let’s get started!

Inventory Your Interests and Talents

When students combine their talents with their interests, a long rewarding career is ahead for them.

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Employability Skills

Employability or work skills are divided into two types – hard skills and soft skills.  Hard skills are related to the required job tasks – building a cabinet, writing software code or operating a machine.  Soft skills are those skills related to personal traits, attitudes and personality.  Following are 10 important soft skills:  (Can we use “hover-over” terms to show their definitions?)

Communication Skills
You listen well, you don’t swear at work or have a bad attitude, you can ask for what you want clearly, and you’re not afraid to ask if you don’t understand something.

Decision-making Skills
When you must make a decision, you think carefully about all your choices, ask for advice and choose the wisest option for the situation at hand.

You have excitement and/or passion for your work whether you are leading a team or serving as a contributing team member.

Others can trust what you say, as demonstrated by your actions. You are honest with others, and you value confidentiality, loyalty and dependability.  You admit your mistakes and correct them.

Positive Attitude
Example:  showing up to your team’s game ready to give it your best. You are excited and ready to go, even if the chances of winning are low and it’s going to be hard work.

Problem-solving Skills
If you see a problem, you don’t wait for someone else to solve it. You research options and find a way to fix it.

Accepting that life does get hard at times and does change. It’s about being able to change, ask for help and keep going.

You are dependable and reliable, and others know they can count on you to get the job done. When you manage yourself, you are in control of what you do and say in a way that doesn’t harm yourself or others.

You help each other to achieve a goal. You make sure you do your part, you get along with everyone and you respect your coach or manager.

Willingness to Learn
You show that you’re happy to learn new things and what you need to know to do your job. Example: your coach says you need to work on your skills. You don’t get too upset but take it calmly and try hard to improve.

Situations where soft skills come into play:

  • Class projects
  • Clubs or StuGo committees
  • Sports
  • Church activities
  • Scouting
  • Volunteering
  • Part-time neighborhood jobs

Take the Soft Skills Evaluation to help you pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses.

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Your High School “To-Do” List

LEAF’s High School Timeline for Juniors and Seniors will help students and parents plan for their future by understanding what tasks need to be done and when they need to completed.

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Planning for College

Students who decide to pursue a degree at a two- or four-year institution after high school should begin planning during their freshman year in high school.

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Researching College and Campus Visits

Visiting a College Campus

Visiting college campuses can be a valuable when selecting the right school. Visits offer a first-hand look at a college’s academic programs, facilities and atmosphere. It is best to start visiting campuses in the spring of your junior year. To make the most of a college visit, some pre-planning is necessary.

Individual Visits versus Campus Visitation Days

Many college campuses have visitation days in the spring, summer and fall, offering information to you and your parents or guardian in a group setting. Visitation days are a perfect way to get to know a campus at the beginning of your college search. However, they may not allow the opportunity for one-on-one contacts that an individual visit can. You may need to schedule an individual visit to meet with an admissions counselor, a financial aid officer, coach or other college personnel. You may attend several visitation days in the spring and summer, and then as your list of colleges narrows, you will revisit some of them in the fall.

Checklist for a College Campus Visit – Here are some things to look for during a visit:

  • Attend a class – Is the quality of teaching, the class size and atmosphere conducive to your learning style? Try to avoid breaks and vacations when visiting.
  • Investigate the campus environment – Take a campus tour. Visit residence halls, student centers, dining facilities, the library, etc. Informally interview students and faculty. Does the campus provide comfortable living quarters? What kinds of students attend this school?  Do you see yourself fitting in? Can you envision living, eating and studying at this school?
  • Check into academic programs and student activities – Does the college offer the field of study or major that you want?  Are there social activities, clubs, fraternities, sororities, intramural athletic programs, etc. on campus that interest you?  Are there opportunities for volunteering, especially in your areas of interest?  Are internship opportunities or co-op programs available that correspond to your major?
  • Meet with an admission counselor – Learn more about what courses are required for your academic major. Discuss the chances for success for admission, graduation and career opportunities.  Verify the admission requirements.
  • Ask about financial aid opportunities – What percentages of students receive financial aid? What scholarships are available and how do you apply? Determine the actual costs of attending that college.  Do they have institutional aid available?
  • Job or work-study opportunities – If you plan to work while in college, inquire about job opportunities available both on and off campus.
  • Safety – What is the crime rate on campus, and what types of security measures are available?

On your way out of town, jot down a few thoughts about campus life. Make a list of what you liked and what you didn’t like.  By the time you finish touring all the campuses, your notes will be invaluable to help you remember your impressions of each college tour.  Students who can’t visit a campus can always do the next best thing –– take a virtual tour.

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College Admission Application and Essay

Once students have narrowed their college choices, they need to apply during the fall of their senior year. The key to making the college application process less stressful and complicated is to start early and stay organized.

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ACT and SAT Tests

Most four-year colleges require students to take the ACT or SAT as part of the admissions process.  

The ACT is an achievement test that measures what a student has learned in high school. Students will be familiar with the structure of this test since they have taken achievement tests throughout their K-12 career. Students who prefer straight-forward, knowledge-based questions tend to do better on the ACT.

The SAT is an aptitude test that measures a student’s test-taking abilities, with an emphasis on the knowledge and skills needed for college readiness. Students with strong vocabulary, reading comprehension and analytical/problem solving skills tend to do well on the SAT, which aligns closely with the Common Core Standards.

It is recommended that students take the ACT and/or SAT the before their senior year. This allows enough time to retake the test during fall of their senior year, if necessary.  It also ensures meeting admission application deadlines and academic scholarship deadlines. To learn if a college prefers one test over the other, check the college’s admissions website.

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Alternatives to College

Even though all students need additional training and education after high school, two- and four-year institutions are not the only option. Students can learn new skills in apprenticeship programs, earn certificates, and utilize vocational training through Career Technical Education while still in high school, or join career training programs offered by the military.

Career Technical Education (CTE) allows students to learn job skills their junior and senior years of high school. Many CTE programs allow students to earn college credit if they complete the program and continue on to a two-year institution.  Students in CTE courses also may be able to complete industry certifications and/or join a labor union during the program. Typically, students must apply to CTE institutions during their sophomore year of high school.

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Apprenticeship is a combination of on-the-job training and related instruction in which workers learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation. Apprenticeship programs can be sponsored by individual employers, joint employer and labor groups, and/or employer associations.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an apprenticeship is on-the-job learning in traditional industries such as construction and manufacturing, as well as new emerging industries such as health care, information technology, energy, telecommunications and more.  Students who are accepted into apprenticeship programs are paid a salary and usually learn using a combination of industry-specific classroom coursework and hands-on learning.  The length of the apprenticeship depends on the program and complexity of the occupation.

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Military service is a way to see the world and learn valuable skills that can be transferred into civilian life. Many enlistees would not have the opportunity to attend college or purchase a house without the benefits associated with military service. The opportunity to learn responsibility, focus and discipline can benefit enlistees for life. People in the military learn how to make decisions in extreme conditions and function in periods of stress – traits critical in civilian life. However, it is important to have a thorough understanding of the risks, as well as the benefits, of military service, and what the commitment to a career in the Armed Forces involves.

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