PART 1: 10 Tips For Parents To Get Your Child Ready For College And Careers

I just finished recording a video briefing about parent mindsets for the National Career Pathways Network conference, occurring virtually on October 15. The topic of parent mindsets about careers and colleges has been burning within me for a while, so it was exciting to get it organized, recorded and submitted.

AFTER you finish reading this post, if you want to learn more about the conference and to register, go to

I finished off the session with tips for parents to help them think a little more holistically about college and careers. In addition to how they can help their children prepare for career and life success.

I’ve got 10 tips total, but I’ll share the first five tips here and the remaining tips on my next post. As I develop our work around CareerSmart Parenting, we’ll be creating resources for parents and educators.

Note: At the end of this post, you will be able to download a free Employability Skills List detailing the skills students need to build!

TIP 1:
Communicate with your child that graduating from high school is VERY important.

For most readers, it might seem obvious, but it needs to be said. Why? It is not really viable at all to drop out of high school and think you can make it in life without having to work in multiple low-skilled jobs. Eventually getting a high school diploma and some postsecondary education and training. Not only is completing high school non-negotiable, but almost everyone will need some additional education and training beyond high school.

TIP 2:
Communicate with your child that working hard in middle school and high school is NOT just about getting into college.

Too many students get frustrated with school – it’s either very hard for them, or they’re bored stiff. Therefore, they do not want to spend MORE time in college, assuming they’ll be equally frustrated or bored. So, for some children, playing the college card may not be very motivating.

Encourage them that — whatever he or she wants to do in life, even if it doesn’t involve going the four-year college route — he or she is going to need to be able to read well, be a learner, write and speak well, do basic math without making mistakes, and have a grasp of science, history and civics. And, of course, participating in athletics and the arts just makes life even more enjoyable. Try to get the idea across that none of us can have our best life if we don’t develop our learning and communicating skills. We’ll come back to this in Tip 5 which relates to employability skills list.

TIP 3:
As a parent, it may be necessary for you to intentionally learn more about the world of work.

The world of work is vast and exciting, and as parents, we want to be well versed in many interesting career options in healthcare, information technology, manufacturing, business, sales and marketing, construction trades, and in other technical trades. The world is changing fast and almost all jobs are integrating more and more technology; but most jobs will still exist in the future in some form or another, just with more tech.

Now, the biggest online career information tool is called O-NET Online, run by the U.S. Department of Labor. You can access it here.

This can be a little overwhelming. The good news is that there is also an organizational framework called Career Clusters, which simplifies the career universe a little bit. The Career Clusters model organizes occupations into about 80 career pathways and then into 16 Career Clusters. You can view the O-NET information through the lens of the 16 Career Clusters here.

TIP 4:
Start learning now (when your child is in middle school ideally) about the postsecondary education search, application and funding process.

Even though I went to college myself in the late 1970s, I did the bare minimum effort during the application process and my parents took care of financing, which was so much cheaper back then. So, when our children started approaching college decisions, it seemed like my wife and I had to figure things out from scratch, and particularly when it got to filling out financial aid forms, it got really complicated.

Particularly, if you are a parent who didn’t participate in college yourself, it can be very intimidating. But there are some good resources out there to help parents learn about the process, but many of them seems to be more geared toward the traditional four-year college route. Here’s a website aimed at parents from the College Board and another from ACT.

Just be aware that they may not emphasize how important it is for your child to have a well-developed career understanding, so that he or she isn’t just choosing a campus based on the location, or the athletics or amenities. But they are choosing a college and a major informed by some well-explored career options. Your child doesn’t need to have a firm career decision when they apply for postsecondary admissions, but at least some viable options that are informed by career exploration and self-discovery.

In short, here are some things that parents will need to get a handle on relating to postsecondary education:

  • The process of postsecondary search with a career focus
  • Searching and visiting technical programs, community colleges, private colleges, and public colleges and universities
  • What to know about private, for-profit training schools and “colleges,” some of which are expensive and don’t offer real value
  • Why postsecondary tours and open houses (even virtual ones) are important,
  • College admissions testing (for four-year college admissions)
  • Applying for college loans, grants and scholarships (and how to access fee waivers for lower income families.)
  • The factors in helping your child find the best postsecondary fit.

TIP 5:
Encourage your child to develop strong employability skills.

Employability skills include “academic skills” like reading, speaking, writing, and computation. But also habits and behaviors like work ethic, follow-through, teamwork, and using professional office technologies. This would also include technology etiquette, like when to not text and when to not be on the phone. At the end of this post, find out how to get a free downloadable copy of the Employability Skills List Definitions that NC3T uses within its CareerSmart Classrooms System.

One of the best ways to start developing these skills is by getting a part time job and/or volunteering for community-based projects. You can use our Employability Skills Definitions to build your child’s self-awareness and have a new vocabulary for thinking about these important skills. Some skills help get you hired and some help you get fired!

Hope these tips help. Stay tune for my next post to get tips six through 10!

Hans Meeder is President of the National Center for College and Career Transitions (NC3T) ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools to help community-based leadership teams. We help them plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.


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