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What’s the Purpose of High School?

Updated: Jul 30

There’s nothing scarier than sending your child halfway across the country for college and suddenly wondering as a parent if you’ve “done everything right.”


At our house, preparation for this next chapter tends to focus on basic life skills like cooking, banking, time management, how to handle stress, and various things that we believe will help our children become independent and responsible adults.


When it comes to studying and the academic foundation our kids have, we have always looked to the teachers in our childrens’ lives as the experts regarding what they learn, developing strong study habits, and guiding them down an educational path which best prepares them for college.


But recently, there’s been a rumbling of dissatisfaction among parents and education experts regarding how well our high school programs are preparing students for college. An increased need for remediation, and high college dropout rates are causing some to question our current system.


We’re digging into the issue in our blog this week.


A Majority of Kids Are Not Prepared for College

If high school is primarily focused on getting kids to college, why are our kids so unprepared for this chapter of their lives? Consider the following statistics:


40-60% of college kids require remediation

This means a majority of high school graduates are not prepared to take college level courses.


College graduation rates are about 60%

Flip this statistic, and you have almost 40% of undergraduate students dropping out of college. And a large percentage of those kids drop out before their sophomore year.


50% of college graduates didn’t apply to entry-level jobs because they felt underqualified

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, if the majority of kids are unprepared for college, they are more likely to feel unprepared for life after college.

Most High Schools Lack Resources to Support Alternative Paths Beyond K12

As the reality of these college statistics start to resonate with many of us, we’re seeing parents, educators and even some students expressing their concern.


A recent article in The Hechinger Report, shared a Hispanic student’s account of her high school experience:


“At school, students struggle to find college and career resources. It is common to hear students complain about slow responses from the guidance office. As a junior in high school, my lack of access to quality college and career information has been particularly stressful. Although I’m researching my options, I fear that it’s not enough.”


But the issue isn’t limited to Hispanic communities. It’s a topic we’ve seen quite a bit of chatter around for the last several years, across all demographics.


Consider the role of today’s high school counselor. As this article points out, many counselors have been trained with the sole purpose of sending students to college (whether it's in their best interest or not). Few counselors have the resources to support students who choose to follow an alternative path like going directly into the workforce, taking a gap year, or attending a trade school or technical college.


3 Tips to Supporting Your Child’s High School Journey

With college enrollment rates dropping, it’s obvious more students are questioning if college is the right path for them. But where should our kids turn to learn more about these alternative options?


1. Encourage your child to explore a variety of interests in high school.

It’s just as important for your child to discover what they like as it is to discover what they don’t like. Very few high school students stay on one path for their entire professional career. It does happen, but it’s not the norm.


Encourage your child to take a variety of electives, get a part-time job, try an online course or certification. Have discussions with them about what they might want to do after high school.


2. Help your child seek out resources

Does your child have a particular interest? Or two or three? Check the programs and resources offered by their high school. If your child’s interests are not being met, look at resources in your local community or search online.


Some resources to get your started:

3. If college is the desired path, do your research

There are so many reasons to choose a college, and each child will likely have their own process for choosing the school they feel is the best fit. A few tips we’ve used with our two oldest kids:

  • Make a list of everything your child feels is important about what a college offers. Include the more straightforward items like cost, size of school, areas of study and location. But also consider things like school spirit, alumni engagement, and other qualities that may be a bit more subjective in your review.

  • Visit the school. This has obviously been incredibly challenging during the pandemic. But once you narrow your list of options, take the time to visit campus and get the “gut feel” about whether or not your child can see themselves there.

  • Talk to current students about their experience. Find out if your high school has any students there you can talk to. If not, reach out to friends or to the college itself for a referral. There’s also several Facebook groups (e.g. Grown and Flown is a favorite) that have parents willing to connect students to share their experiences.


Join the Discussion

We spend approximately eighteen years preparing our children to “leave the nest.” What that journey looks like for one child, can be completely different for another. And with the pace of change, largely driven by technology, our children are likely to work for several different organizations in their lifetime with a constant need to learn new skills.


How can we (as parents) better prepare our kids for life after high school?



About the Author

Jennifer Larson is an entrepreneur, charter school founder and mother to four children. Connect with her @startupjen.

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