How Families Help Career Planning for High School Students

Navigating the Crossroads Together: How Families Support Career Planning for High School Students

Discover how families support career planning for high school students in our recent article.

By Megan Okrand, contributing writer

In this article

Imagine you’re handed a roadmap for a cross-country trip, but it’s missing some crucial details. Perhaps the destination is clear, but the landmarks, the turns, the fuel stations — these vital pieces are absent. That’s the reality for many high school students embarking on their post-graduation journey.  

As students venture into uncharted territory, they face a landscape riddled with uncertainty and decision-making crossroads. The excitement of the open road is palpable, but without a clear guide the journey can be daunting. Hurdles emerge, acting as roadblocks that can hinder students from reaching their desired destinations. This underscores the vital importance of robust career planning for high school students, providing the necessary tools to navigate and overcome these obstacles. 

Much like a compass on a road trip, family engagement is an indispensable tool for this journey.  It’s the involvement of parents and guardians in shaping the trajectory of their children’s future. As a driving force, family engagement not only provides essential support but also contributes to a holistic approach that goes beyond academics. Family engagement helps students find a meaningful sense of direction on their route, ensuring them a smoother journey towards a successful future. 

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High school family engagement: Building bridges for future success

In the bustling halls of traditional high schools, school counselors are champions, assisting hundreds of students each — a dynamic challenge. It’s a commendable feat, but it can be tough for students to get personalized attention for their career explorations. 

Research reflects this struggle, highlighting the importance of school counselor availability on student outcomes. Yet, it’s not a dead end; it’s a starting point for a more collaborative and uplifting approach to career planning.

High school, with its unique challenges, often leaves caregivers wanting to be involved in their students’ learning but unsure how to navigate this unfamiliar territory. High school is markedly different from elementary and middle school in terms of where and when families are usually included. Recognizing this shift, a strategic solution is key.

Enter the Family Engagement Team. Composed of families and caregivers, dedicated educators, and passionate school counselors, this team is the driving force behind a supportive network, sowing the seeds for robust discussions, informed decision-making, and a collective commitment to helping students flourish in their future plan. 

A multiethnic team of educators gather around a table in a classroom and collaborate.

And in exciting news, ParentPowered is expanding our family engagement programs into high school. Starting in the 2024-2025 school year, parents of soon-to-be graduates will also be able to receive text messages that help them engage their children in college and career readiness. If you’re eager to learn more about how our high school family curriculum can empower both parents and students, click here!

Igniting conversations and nurturing dialogue

Initiating conversations about personal interests, career aspirations, and goals is key to understanding and guiding students effectively. Parents play a crucial role in this dialogue, with research suggesting that open and engaging conversations with teens have a significant impact on a student’s career trajectory. Here are a few prompts schools can encourage parents to use to spark meaningful discussions:

  • What activities or subjects do you genuinely enjoy?
  • Have you thought about what career paths align with your strengths? 
  • Are there specific industries or fields that you find intriguing
  • What goals do you have for your future, both short-term and long-term?

To foster open communication between schools and families, educators and school staff can initiate regular updates on students’ academic progress and career plans. Regular parent-teacher conferences provide a structured platform for discussing individualized career paths, addressing concerns, and sharing successes. This creates a shared understanding of each student’s unique journey toward career success. 

Additionally, establishing forums for discussions about students’ career interests and goals ensures that the education ecosystem collaborates effectively. Online platforms can be utilized to facilitate ongoing conversations and information sharing, creating a collaborative approach to career planning for high school students. 

Download our communication resource for teens and parents to build active listening skills!

Empowering parents as advocates

To empower parents as effective advocates for their children’s post-secondary plans, a multifaceted approach is beneficial. Recognizing the intricacies of educational choices is valuable for parents advocating for their children. Schools can host workshops, webinars, and informational sessions to explore the advantages of different types of postsecondary education, including associate degrees, vocational education, or community college pathways, providing parents with insights to navigate these options.  

In many communities, certain educational pathways may face stigmas or stereotypes. By sharing real-life examples of individuals who have thrived through alternative educational routes, schools can reinforce the notion that each student’s journey is unique and valuable and emphasize that success takes various forms.

To further support parents as advocates, schools can provide resources that facilitate informed decision-making. This may include career resources, guides on understanding job market trends, the relevance of specific skills, and the potential earning trajectories associated with different educational and career paths. Informed parents are better positioned to guide their children towards choices aligned with their interests and future goals.

Driving career exploration through collaborative engagement

Just as engaged parents become key allies in shaping a student’s professional journey, schools play a vital role in crafting an environment that nurtures essential skills and connections, seamlessly bridging the transition from high school to a world of diverse career opportunities. Collaborative engagement among parents, schools, and the broader community amplifies the power of these efforts, creating a dynamic support network that enhances students’ readiness for the ever-evolving landscape of work and career exploration. 

How families can engage: Leveraging parents as career experts and mentors

Parents are a valuable yet often underutilized resource in a student’s career journey. Educational institutions can tap into the wealth of knowledge parents possess about various work experiences, weaving this insight into teen career counseling strategies. By recognizing parents as career experts and mentors, schools create a bridge between students’ aspirations and real-world insights. 

A Caucasian carpenter trains a black high school student on a wood-working machine.

Their firsthand experiences can be leveraged in various ways, such as:

  • Hosting career nights, either in-person or virtually, where parents share their professional journeys
  • Facilitating opportunities for internships and apprenticeships within parents’ networks, providing students with hands-on experiences
  • Incorporating parents into mock interviews, providing practical insights into the professional world

By positioning parents as valuable career experts and mentors, schools can bridge the gap between classroom learning and real-world application. This creates a collaborative ecosystem where parental insights complement formal education, enriching students’ understanding of career options, and fostering a more holistic approach to personal and professional development. 

How schools can engage: Collaboration with business and community organizations

Forging meaningful partnerships with local businesses is a cornerstone of providing students with insights into the job market and current industry trends. At the same time, teaming up with community organizations opens doors up for students to dip their toes into entry level jobs.  Research findings underscore the positive impact of such collaborations, assisting students in making informed decisions about their career goals and developing the skills and knowledge essential for the workforce.

Imagine, for example, a high school teaming up with a local tech company. This collaboration could manifest in guest lectures, internship opportunities, or even workshops that delve into the intricacies of the tech industry. Such hands-on experiences not only provide a real-world understanding of the profession, but also cultivate a direct link between students and potential employers.

Moreover, schools can facilitate partnerships with community organizations to integrate meaningful extracurricular activities, providing students with valuable experiences. By incorporating volunteer opportunities into the curriculum, schools expose students to potential employers and relevant work experience in authentic contexts.

Nurturing career development and holistic growth

Families and schools play pivotal roles in nurturing career development and holistic growth. Together, they create a foundation that supports students’ exploration of diverse interests, paving the way for informed career decisions and comprehensive personal development

How families can engage: Career panel discussions and workshops

Organizing virtual or community hub-based career panel discussions involving teachers, counselors, and industry professionals can bridge the information gap. These sessions allow parents to gain insights into various career paths, industry requirements, and the skills needed for success. 

Hosting workshops specifically designed to involve caregivers in the career planning process can be instrumental. These workshops can cover topics such as understanding the job market, guiding students in choosing valuable resources like industry-specific publications and online career assessment tools, and aligning academic pursuits with future career goals. This not only imparts practical knowledge but also strengthens the partnership between schools and parents.

By broadcasting these discussions and workshops virtually or bringing them into community hubs like libraries or recreational centers, schools ensure that parents with limited availability or resources can actively participate in demystifying the sometimes overwhelming world of college and career choices.

A mature Asian mother stands with her high school daughter at graduation. Both smile for a photo.

As schools empower parents to actively contribute to their child’s career development, they create a support system that extends beyond the school walls, significantly impacting the trajectory of students toward successful and fulfilling careers. 

How schools can engage: New experiences for well-rounded development

Encouraging a well-rounded student experience involves schools actively integrating a variety of extracurricular activities. By diversifying the range of activities students are exposed to, they’re introduced to different interests and potential career paths.  

Picture a student engaged in coding workshops, discovering a passion for technology, or a budding artist, flourishing within the realm of painting or design. It’s important to cultivate a culture that motivates participation beyond the classroom. In fact, research from the National Center for Education Statistics shows a 10% increase in students feeling a strong sense of belonging when engaged in extracurriculars. 

Career exploration activities, notably career fairs hosted by schools, serve as immersive experiences that extend beyond traditional classrooms. These events provide students with invaluable career guidance, allowing them to engage directly with professionals from various fields.

Multi-ethnic team of high school age girls work on engineering science project at home.

By fostering these connections, schools not only broaden students’ understanding of potential career paths but also empower them to make informed decisions about their academic and professional journeys.

ParentPowered takes student development to the next level. Our high school curricula framework is designed around the critical components of college and career readiness and well-being and life skills readiness. Within the ambit of College and Career Readiness, parents and their students embark on a journey of self-reflection, career exploration, and goal setting. The framework guides them through vital aspects such as education/training research, meticulous planning, and preparation, all aligned with crucial career planning tools.

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Future-facing skills in career planning for high school students

When thinking about their post-secondary education plans, students need more than just dreams – they need a toolkit for success in the modern world. This includes fostering essential life skills and considering the mental health challenges they may encounter.  

Education administrators and caregivers can consider exploring developmentally appropriate methods to assist students in not only envisioning but actively planning for their futures. This includes the cultivation of skills vital for success in the modern world of work and community engagement. 

Executive function and self-motivation

Empowering students with executive function skills and self-motivation is foundational for effective career planning. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), these are the power duo for conquering the challenges of the professional world. 

How families can engage: Establishing routines, supporting autonomy

Parents play a crucial role in fostering executive function and self-motivation skills in their children. By collaboratively establishing daily routines, including dedicated times for homework, chores, and leisure activities, parents provide the structure necessary for the development of time management and organization skills. 

An Asian high school student works on her homework with a laptop open at home.

Simultaneously, gradually entrusting children with more responsibilities while offering guidance and support cultivates a sense of autonomy. Striking this balance is key to enhancing self-motivation and independence in children.

How schools can engage: Goal setting, time management

Through workshops or seminars focused on career development, students can be taught how to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) and create action plans for achieving them. This approach enhances executive function by breaking down larger career planning tasks into manageable steps, fostering a sense of purpose and direction.

Additionally, schools can offer time management training. Teaching students effective time management techniques, such as creating schedules, prioritizing tasks, and setting deadlines, can significantly improve executive function by helping students organize their thoughts and actions, ensuring they stay on track with career planning activities

Digital literacy and technological fluency

In our digitally-driven world, proficiency in technology is indispensable. A study by the World Economic Forum found that digital literacy skills are becoming increasingly important for success in all industries, not just the tech industry, making students who are equipped with digital literacy better prepared for the modern workforce.  

How schools can engage: Computer literacy and practical skills

To foster technological fluency, schools can implement actionable steps. These may include age-appropriate computer courses that cover not just basic computer literacy but also delve into practical skills that are directly applicable to their future careers like compiling a professional portfolio, writing a resume, and learning about job-search tools. 

This approach not only develops essential skills but also addresses the digital divide, providing equitable access to technology for all students. Consistent technology education enhances students’ confidence and adaptability with their digital literacy skills and tools.

How families can engage: Media literacy

On the homefront, schools can actively encourage parents and caregivers, including those without direct access to technology, to engage their child in discussions about media literacy.  Families can guide their teenagers in discerning credible sources, fact-checking information, and understanding the influence of media on perspectives and opinions. These discussions are not only crucial for learning how to evaluate information but also provide an opportunity for families to share diverse perspectives and insights, contributing to a well-rounded understanding of media in today’s digital landscape.

Analytical thinking and problem solving

For high school students strategically mapping their career paths, the development of analytical thinking skills is pivotal. Recognizing the significance of this skill, schools can implement tangible strategies. 

How schools can engage: Case studies and real-world problem solving

Incorporating case studies relevant to various professions, creating real-world problem-solving scenarios aligned with different career paths, and integrating critical thinking exercises into the curriculum provide practical experiences. 

A Navajo woman and high school teacher teaches math to her students in a classroom. Image taken on the Navajo Reservation, Utah, USA.

Moreover, schools can foster a growth mindset by encouraging students to view challenges as opportunities for development. Collaborative projects that mimic workplace problem-solving dynamics further enhance analytical thinking and instill the problem-solving skills crucial for their future careers in any capacity.

How families can engage: Discussions during meal time

Families can engage in discussions and debates on various topics, fostering lively conversations with their teen at the dinner table, in the car, on the bus, or whenever they have a chance to spend time together. Parents and caregivers can encourage their teen to express their opinions, support their arguments with evidence, and consider opposing viewpoints. This helps develop analytical thinking and effective problem-solving through reasoned dialogue.

As the landscape of education evolves, supporting student mental health emerges as a critical component of student success. More than ever, students aren’t just battling assignments; they’re wrestling with challenges to their overall-being that can throw a wrench into their career planning.

In 2021, the CDC delivered a wake up call: more than 40% of high school students experience periods of intense sadness or hopelessness. This is a rallying cry emphasizing the urgent need for a comprehensive approach that integrates mental health considerations into career planning initiatives.

Recognizing the potential impact of career planning on mental health underscores the importance of strategies guiding students professionally while prioritizing their emotional welfare.

To comprehensively address the intricate relationship between career planning and mental health, schools can collaborate closely with mental health professionals. Integrating mindfulness and stress reduction techniques into career counseling sessions and incorporating workshops on emotional resilience equips students with tools for navigating career challenges while maintaining mental well-being.

Schools can also organize virtual informational sessions, arrange support groups, and provide resources for parents and caregivers to understand the challenges their children might be facing during the career planning process. Additionally, involving parents in creating a positive and supportive atmosphere at home can significantly contribute to the mental health and career preparedness of students. 

ParentPowered provides outstanding online resources that include valuable activities and tips, ensuring caregivers are well-equipped to handle the big emotions that career planning can evoke. Our new high school curriculum emphasizes Well-being and Life Skills, addressing core areas like independence and executive function, financial literacy, relationships and community engagement, reflective decision-making, and mental health. The inclusion of these topics highlights the framework’s commitment to developing essential soft skills, preparing students not just academically but also for the challenges of life after high school.

By prioritizing mental health considerations, education administrators can pave the way for a more effective and inclusive approach to career readiness that prepares students not just academically, but emotionally and practically for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

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Empowering futures through digital high school family engagement

Implementing a comprehensive family engagement program is a transformative step toward nurturing the holistic development of high school students. ParentPowered stands out from other digital family engagement solutions by seamlessly integrating academic and well-being components, empowering parents to play an active role in their child’s journey through high school. Through the framework’s guidance, parents become instrumental in their teen’s successful transition to adulthood.

Join an upcoming info session to discover how ParentPowered’s family engagement programs grow alongside your students.

About the author

Megan Okrand is a former High School History teacher turned writer taking her passion for education outside of the classroom and into the World Wide Web. Megan holds a master’s degree in secondary education and teaching from the University of Southern California as well as a master’s degree in art history, criticism, and conservation from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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