As the school year begins, so does the pressure young adults feel from being asked “What do you want to do with your life?” Having a high school senior myself, I see the stress that actually began when she was in middle school. The college landscape has changed dramatically over the last 20 years which is detailed in the documentary The Ivory Tower. In addition, with the rising cost of higher education, the US is facing a rolling debt of $1,297,127,331,078 at time of writing this from Higher Ed, Not Debt, a multi-year campaign of dozens of organizations dedicated to tackling the crippling and ever-growing issue of student loan debt in America. To add insult to injury, in the unfortunate event of a death, student loans could still be required.
What fuels the fire is the obsession by some parents to get their child into the best school possible, believing that their young adult will only be successful if they attend the best possible school. There is no better book than “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be” by New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Brunt. It’s a testament to the college you attend has less impact on identity, success and happiness than many assume. What he calls the “industrialization of the college admission process” in recent decade’s amounts to a speedup abetted by expensive personal coaches, proliferating online applications and the inevitable U.S. News & Report rankings. It almost becomes more about the parent’s journey than the young adult. Going to the school that is the best fit for the student’s personality and learning style is much more important.
Even with high school students beginning college with credits, the amount of time for them to graduate is longer than would be expected. The focus of measurement has been on college admissions, not college graduation. A new initiative, Time is the Enemy is a report created by Complete College America, a nonprofit organization working to significantly increase the number of Americans with a college degree or credential of value. Between 1970 and 2009, undergraduate enrollment in the United States more than doubled, while the completion rate has been virtually unchanged. Seventy-five percent of today’s students are balancing some combination of families, jobs, and school while commuting to class. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only a quarter go full-time. The Time is the Enemy report outlines:
1. Part-time students rarely graduate
2. Poor students and students of color struggle the most to graduate
3. Students are taking too many credits and too much time to complete
4. Remediation is broken, producing few students who ultimately graduate.
All of the statistics, reports and passionate articles is what led me to assess “what is missing” for our young adults. When visiting college campuses to learn what makes them unique, I had a college admissions counselor tell me they are being asked to come to elementary schools to talk to students about “What do you want to BE when you grow up?” I hear this question asked of young people often among my family and friends, all said with good intentions. The Occupational Outlook Handbook, the bible for career counselors, produced in 1940 by the U.S. Department Labor and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is 7 pounds, 3 inches thick and 1417 pages full of information. How do we honestly expect a young person, with limited world experiences, to even begin to know what is possible? I don’t believe people truly understand what that question does to a young person, especially an 8 year old. I encouraged the admissions counselor to change her question in the future and ask “What do you LOVE to do!”
What a person loves to do has a direct correlation to happiness in learning and ultimately a career. Report after report highlights this truth; however, very little time is focused on helping people quantify what this means to them individually. High schools routinely give interest inventory assessments. However, very few counselors have the time to do the in-depth interpretation that is THE most critical piece. The purpose of taking an inventory assessment is to analyze the results. With high schools now pressing students to select an educational “endorsement” in their 9th grade year, and then not allowing them to change after the end of their 10th grade year, students are making decisions in a vacuum earlier and earlier with limited formal guidance. A student I worked with in Utah mentioned on her initial information form that she hated science. During our meeting I asked “Why did you pick science as your educational track for your high school path if you feel that way? Her answer…”Because my older sister did it.” Four years in high school on a science track and was not her passion. And what did her results show? She cared about themes relating to the artistic and social options. I’m just glad she learned it before her parents paid for a degree that she really wasn’t interested in.
Fortunately, there are many interest inventory assessments on the market. It is critical that you use an empirically based assessment like the STRONG Interest Inventory. Finding a person who is qualified, has expansive experience in not just higher education but other business environments, and is passionate about helping young adults identify who they are is also important. Spending time having the conversations that are focused on them is the answer to the problems we are having in higher education. We have taken a shot gun approach to helping college bound kids because it’s time consuming to help them one-on-one learn their natural gifts and how those translate to a degree and career that will fulfill them. I’m not talking about hiring college coaches who assist with filling out the applications and focusing on getting them into Ivy League schools. I’m talking about professionals who care about the student, helping them digest the assessment data and listening to what they are and aren’t saying. The agenda should be about what’s right for the student and should not be only for the individuals who can afford $2K a student for college coaches.
The top reason’s for people leaving a job is career disengagement, feeling unsatisfied, frustrated and unfulfilled. Helping young adults to “know themselves” is the ultimate in career fulfillment, which is why I’m exactly where I am supposed to be…helping young people so they “Proceed with Confidence” on whatever path they love.