The big question
Children are often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As they complete their secondary school years, this question becomes increasingly important. Early career planning is helpful, but flexibility is even more important. It’s common for students to change majors in college, and for students who don’t pursue higher education immediately after high school to later enter college or technical school.

About half of New Jersey’s high school graduates enter four-year colleges, a choice that can lead to many promising careers. But community colleges, technical schools, and military service also offer education and training that can prepare your child for such opportunities.

Everyone has dreams. They key to achieving those dreams is more often than not hard work, commitment, and passion. Your child’s school will help him or her lay the foundation for achieving their goals, but as parents, you can help him or her plan for the future.

Do your research
In order to achieve their goal, children need to do their research. One way to research a career field that interests them is by talking to other people who have attempted the same goal. Whether they were successful or not, they can provide valuable insight. For instance, if your child is interested in becoming a doctor, he or she can make an appointment to talk with your family doctor about the process and requirements. Reading books about the career is also extremely useful. Your child will probably enjoy reading about famous people in the field, whether that field is space exploration, education, or race car driving. Go online with your child to research web sites devoted to your child’s career fields of interest. You might find a professional association for that field that has student membership. This can be another way for your child to talk to people currently in the field. They can find out what a typical day is like in this career; what the salary is; and learn about related fields.

Be a volunteer
Experience can be a great instructor. Is your child interested in a career working with children? Urge him or her to volunteer at a camp or after school program. Are they artistic? Find out if there are any community art projects in your area – or start one! Volunteering is a great way to learn more about a career field, meet others with the same interests, and gain valuable experience that could help your child find a job down the line.

Why goals matter
Setting goals is an important – and proven – path to success in any field. Helping your child to set short-term and long-term goals enables him or her to visualize their future and appreciate the hard work and discipline it will take to achieve their goals. It can also help them understand the value of studying subjects they currently do not enjoy by providing them with a big picture of how school will help prepare them for life. School staff and families… the more we work together, the more we’ll help our children.

Consider all the options
Be sure you and your child understand his or her options. Your child’s counselor at school can help by reviewing your child’s strengths and interests, possible career paths, and the education needed for those fields. Information on college entrance requirements, costs, and financial aid are also available from the counselor, as well as the school library and Internet. In addition, many high schools provide career exploration and school-to-career programs that help young people make informed decisions about career choices. If senior year approaches and your child has not chosen a career path, don’t worry. Most colleges allow students to enroll without initially declaring a major field of study so they can complete the more general course requirements while deciding that degree to pursue. What’s most important is that your child receives a well-rounded K-12 education that will provide the necessary foundation for whatever path he or she eventually chooses. A strong foundation in the core subjects will also ensure that your child is prepared for the High School Proficiency Assessment, a rigorous state test which all students must pass in order to graduate from high school. It may be tempting for you to plan your child’s life – what you think he or she should be, or perhaps what you wanted to be. But your child’s feelings and interests may be drastically different from your own. Each child is an individual with special talents and capabilities. Schools and families need to help each child recognize and develop those talents. We believe when families and schools work together, our children are the winners.

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