How To Solve For Kids That Have No Post-Secondary Plan 

March 5, 2024

At this point in the year, many high school seniors are checked out of the current year and focused nearly entirely on their next step. Whether they are headed to a college or straight to a career, the proverbial “senioritis” has often set in. For students without a plan, disengagement at this point in the year can be catastrophic to their long-term trajectory. There is only a limited number of days for them to receive the unique support that secondary counselors and teachers are able to provide–and that will disappear once they graduate. 

There is still time at this point in the year to engage students in a way that will help them avoid the abyss of not knowing what they will do next year. Counselors can use the time left to identify students who do not have a postsecondary plan, reach out to them, and provide accessible interventions that will guide them to put things in place to continue forward movement after graduation. 

Identifying Students Without a Plan

The first step in supporting these students is identifying the students that are in need of additional layers of engagement. Schools might create a survey for all students asking what their plans for the next year are and include an option for those who are unsure. These could be filled out as part of a structured advisory period or disseminated digitally through a digital platform. Schools or districts with an existing college and career readiness platform that tracks goal-setting and action items towards that goal can more easily hone in on students who might not have next steps in place. 

Counselors might check in with students who designate that they do not have a definitive plan and those who do not give any feedback, as some students may be hesitant to explicitly say that they do not know what they are going to do after graduation. And counselors, educators, and support staff should pay special attention to those who may be at risk of not graduating from high school as nearly all plans are predicated on receiving a high school diploma. 

Strategies to Support Students in the Near Term

For some students, thinking about their future and the weight of each individual decision is overwhelming and paralyzing. This is especially true for students who have made it to the end of senior year without a tangible plan. Counselors might work with students to focus on a single next step, rather than make a series of decisions and plans for the next several years. By scaffolding the conversation with more accessible, attainable, and realistic actions, many students will be more able to outline a plan for the summer and/or the following school year. With this approach, students can get started on a productive path that opens them up to options in the future. 

  • Share information about community college. Community college can be a very good option for many students and often have ongoing deadlines for application and registration. Counselors can share information about local community colleges, talk about the financial value of these institutions, and discuss taking general education requirements with plans to transfer or more interest-specific courses to identify possible future career paths.  
  • Discuss local trade schools. Students who are unsure if college is the best next step should consider trade school options. While too-often overlooked by students and families, trade schools can be a good fit for a student who is unsure of what to do after graduation. Trade schools create a structured path toward learning with a quicker on-ramp to a career.  Students who go to a trade school often complete their education in less than two years and are able to secure a position that pays a living wage. Additionally, the requirements to attend a trade school are much less rigorous as compared to four year colleges and universities. Counselors can help to introduce students to local trade schools and discuss which type of trade might best align with students’ skills and interests. 
  • Identify work based learning opportunities that align with students’ interests. Whether a paid internship, summer job, or volunteer position, the right opportunity at the right moment can be pivotal in a student’s journey. These experiences can help students to find purpose or spark passion–both of which are foundational to finding a fulfilling future career. Counselors might do an assessment of a student’s transcript and other experiences to identify strengths and interests and then match those to some type of work-based option. This student-centric approach to identifying next steps can help a student to make connections between what they enjoy doing, how they prefer to learn, and what they want to do in the future.  
  • Connect students to community mentors. As graduation date approaches, it is important for students to have people in their lives who can provide continued support. Counselors might put together a group of community members who are willing to give their time to be a continuation of support for students upon graduation. These volunteers might check in on students throughout the summer, talk with them about their future plans, and offer advice and encouragement. These connections can provide a key bridge of support between high school and postsecondary life. 

Focus on Forward Momentum (Even in Small Steps)

The most critical piece of this work is to make sure students do not get stuck or permanently stalled when faced with their future. It is important to remind students that they do not have to make decisions for the rest of their lives right now. In fact, very few careers reflect a linear path. Coach students that it is truly okay if they change their plans at some point. But, it is vital that they continue to learn, grow, build skills, and try new opportunities in order to work toward future career development. Even simply trying a new summer job or seeking out training for a volunteer opportunity can maintain progress after high school. Students–especially those who are struggling with how to move forward–need to see high school graduation as a catalyst for future learning and growth rather than an ending. 

At this point in the year, many high school seniors are checked out of the current year and focused nearly entirely on their next step. Whether they are headed to a college or straight to a career, the proverbial “senioritis” has often set in. For students without a plan, disengagement at this point in the year can be catastrophic to their long-term trajectory. There is only a limited number of days for them to receive the unique support that secondary counselors and teachers are able to provide–and that will disappear once they graduate. 

There is still time at this point in the year to engage students in a way that will help them avoid the abyss of not knowing what they will do next year. Counselors can use the time left to identify students who do not have a postsecondary plan, reach out to them, and provide accessible interventions that will guide them to put things in place to continue forward movement after graduation. 

Identifying Students Without a Plan

The first step in supporting these students is identifying the students that are in need of additional layers of engagement. Schools might create a survey for all students asking what their plans for the next year are and include an option for those who are unsure. These could be filled out as part of a structured advisory period or disseminated digitally through a digital platform. Schools or districts with an existing college and career readiness platform that tracks goal-setting and action items towards that goal can more easily hone in on students who might not have next steps in place. 

Counselors might check in with students who designate that they do not have a definitive plan and those who do not give any feedback, as some students may be hesitant to explicitly say that they do not know what they are going to do after graduation. And counselors, educators, and support staff should pay special attention to those who may be at risk of not graduating from high school as nearly all plans are predicated on receiving a high school diploma. 

Strategies to Support Students in the Near Term

For some students, thinking about their future and the weight of each individual decision is overwhelming and paralyzing. This is especially true for students who have made it to the end of senior year without a tangible plan. Counselors might work with students to focus on a single next step, rather than make a series of decisions and plans for the next several years. By scaffolding the conversation with more accessible, attainable, and realistic actions, many students will be more able to outline a plan for the summer and/or the following school year. With this approach, students can get started on a productive path that opens them up to options in the future. 

  • Share information about community college. Community college can be a very good option for many students and often have ongoing deadlines for application and registration. Counselors can share information about local community colleges, talk about the financial value of these institutions, and discuss taking general education requirements with plans to transfer or more interest-specific courses to identify possible future career paths.  
  • Discuss local trade schools. Students who are unsure if college is the best next step should consider trade school options. While too-often overlooked by students and families, trade schools can be a good fit for a student who is unsure of what to do after graduation. Trade schools create a structured path toward learning with a quicker on-ramp to a career.  Students who go to a trade school often complete their education in less than two years and are able to secure a position that pays a living wage. Additionally, the requirements to attend a trade school are much less rigorous as compared to four year colleges and universities. Counselors can help to introduce students to local trade schools and discuss which type of trade might best align with students’ skills and interests. 
  • Identify work based learning opportunities that align with students’ interests. Whether a paid internship, summer job, or volunteer position, the right opportunity at the right moment can be pivotal in a student’s journey. These experiences can help students to find purpose or spark passion–both of which are foundational to finding a fulfilling future career. Counselors might do an assessment of a student’s transcript and other experiences to identify strengths and interests and then match those to some type of work-based option. This student-centric approach to identifying next steps can help a student to make connections between what they enjoy doing, how they prefer to learn, and what they want to do in the future.  
  • Connect students to community mentors. As graduation date approaches, it is important for students to have people in their lives who can provide continued support. Counselors might put together a group of community members who are willing to give their time to be a continuation of support for students upon graduation. These volunteers might check in on students throughout the summer, talk with them about their future plans, and offer advice and encouragement. These connections can provide a key bridge of support between high school and postsecondary life. 

Focus on Forward Momentum (Even in Small Steps)

The most critical piece of this work is to make sure students do not get stuck or permanently stalled when faced with their future. It is important to remind students that they do not have to make decisions for the rest of their lives right now. In fact, very few careers reflect a linear path. Coach students that it is truly okay if they change their plans at some point. But, it is vital that they continue to learn, grow, build skills, and try new opportunities in order to work toward future career development. Even simply trying a new summer job or seeking out training for a volunteer opportunity can maintain progress after high school. Students–especially those who are struggling with how to move forward–need to see high school graduation as a catalyst for future learning and growth rather than an ending. 

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At this point in the year, many high school seniors are checked out of the current year and focused nearly entirely on their next step. Whether they are headed to a college or straight to a career, the proverbial “senioritis” has often set in. For students without a plan, disengagement at this point in the year can be catastrophic to their long-term trajectory. There is only a limited number of days for them to receive the unique support that secondary counselors and teachers are able to provide–and that will disappear once they graduate. 

There is still time at this point in the year to engage students in a way that will help them avoid the abyss of not knowing what they will do next year. Counselors can use the time left to identify students who do not have a postsecondary plan, reach out to them, and provide accessible interventions that will guide them to put things in place to continue forward movement after graduation. 

Identifying Students Without a Plan

The first step in supporting these students is identifying the students that are in need of additional layers of engagement. Schools might create a survey for all students asking what their plans for the next year are and include an option for those who are unsure. These could be filled out as part of a structured advisory period or disseminated digitally through a digital platform. Schools or districts with an existing college and career readiness platform that tracks goal-setting and action items towards that goal can more easily hone in on students who might not have next steps in place. 

Counselors might check in with students who designate that they do not have a definitive plan and those who do not give any feedback, as some students may be hesitant to explicitly say that they do not know what they are going to do after graduation. And counselors, educators, and support staff should pay special attention to those who may be at risk of not graduating from high school as nearly all plans are predicated on receiving a high school diploma. 

Strategies to Support Students in the Near Term

For some students, thinking about their future and the weight of each individual decision is overwhelming and paralyzing. This is especially true for students who have made it to the end of senior year without a tangible plan. Counselors might work with students to focus on a single next step, rather than make a series of decisions and plans for the next several years. By scaffolding the conversation with more accessible, attainable, and realistic actions, many students will be more able to outline a plan for the summer and/or the following school year. With this approach, students can get started on a productive path that opens them up to options in the future. 

  • Share information about community college. Community college can be a very good option for many students and often have ongoing deadlines for application and registration. Counselors can share information about local community colleges, talk about the financial value of these institutions, and discuss taking general education requirements with plans to transfer or more interest-specific courses to identify possible future career paths.  
  • Discuss local trade schools. Students who are unsure if college is the best next step should consider trade school options. While too-often overlooked by students and families, trade schools can be a good fit for a student who is unsure of what to do after graduation. Trade schools create a structured path toward learning with a quicker on-ramp to a career.  Students who go to a trade school often complete their education in less than two years and are able to secure a position that pays a living wage. Additionally, the requirements to attend a trade school are much less rigorous as compared to four year colleges and universities. Counselors can help to introduce students to local trade schools and discuss which type of trade might best align with students’ skills and interests. 
  • Identify work based learning opportunities that align with students’ interests. Whether a paid internship, summer job, or volunteer position, the right opportunity at the right moment can be pivotal in a student’s journey. These experiences can help students to find purpose or spark passion–both of which are foundational to finding a fulfilling future career. Counselors might do an assessment of a student’s transcript and other experiences to identify strengths and interests and then match those to some type of work-based option. This student-centric approach to identifying next steps can help a student to make connections between what they enjoy doing, how they prefer to learn, and what they want to do in the future.  
  • Connect students to community mentors. As graduation date approaches, it is important for students to have people in their lives who can provide continued support. Counselors might put together a group of community members who are willing to give their time to be a continuation of support for students upon graduation. These volunteers might check in on students throughout the summer, talk with them about their future plans, and offer advice and encouragement. These connections can provide a key bridge of support between high school and postsecondary life. 

Focus on Forward Momentum (Even in Small Steps)

The most critical piece of this work is to make sure students do not get stuck or permanently stalled when faced with their future. It is important to remind students that they do not have to make decisions for the rest of their lives right now. In fact, very few careers reflect a linear path. Coach students that it is truly okay if they change their plans at some point. But, it is vital that they continue to learn, grow, build skills, and try new opportunities in order to work toward future career development. Even simply trying a new summer job or seeking out training for a volunteer opportunity can maintain progress after high school. Students–especially those who are struggling with how to move forward–need to see high school graduation as a catalyst for future learning and growth rather than an ending. 

At this point in the year, many high school seniors are checked out of the current year and focused nearly entirely on their next step. Whether they are headed to a college or straight to a career, the proverbial “senioritis” has often set in. For students without a plan, disengagement at this point in the year can be catastrophic to their long-term trajectory. There is only a limited number of days for them to receive the unique support that secondary counselors and teachers are able to provide–and that will disappear once they graduate. 

There is still time at this point in the year to engage students in a way that will help them avoid the abyss of not knowing what they will do next year. Counselors can use the time left to identify students who do not have a postsecondary plan, reach out to them, and provide accessible interventions that will guide them to put things in place to continue forward movement after graduation. 

Identifying Students Without a Plan

The first step in supporting these students is identifying the students that are in need of additional layers of engagement. Schools might create a survey for all students asking what their plans for the next year are and include an option for those who are unsure. These could be filled out as part of a structured advisory period or disseminated digitally through a digital platform. Schools or districts with an existing college and career readiness platform that tracks goal-setting and action items towards that goal can more easily hone in on students who might not have next steps in place. 

Counselors might check in with students who designate that they do not have a definitive plan and those who do not give any feedback, as some students may be hesitant to explicitly say that they do not know what they are going to do after graduation. And counselors, educators, and support staff should pay special attention to those who may be at risk of not graduating from high school as nearly all plans are predicated on receiving a high school diploma. 

Strategies to Support Students in the Near Term

For some students, thinking about their future and the weight of each individual decision is overwhelming and paralyzing. This is especially true for students who have made it to the end of senior year without a tangible plan. Counselors might work with students to focus on a single next step, rather than make a series of decisions and plans for the next several years. By scaffolding the conversation with more accessible, attainable, and realistic actions, many students will be more able to outline a plan for the summer and/or the following school year. With this approach, students can get started on a productive path that opens them up to options in the future. 

  • Share information about community college. Community college can be a very good option for many students and often have ongoing deadlines for application and registration. Counselors can share information about local community colleges, talk about the financial value of these institutions, and discuss taking general education requirements with plans to transfer or more interest-specific courses to identify possible future career paths.  
  • Discuss local trade schools. Students who are unsure if college is the best next step should consider trade school options. While too-often overlooked by students and families, trade schools can be a good fit for a student who is unsure of what to do after graduation. Trade schools create a structured path toward learning with a quicker on-ramp to a career.  Students who go to a trade school often complete their education in less than two years and are able to secure a position that pays a living wage. Additionally, the requirements to attend a trade school are much less rigorous as compared to four year colleges and universities. Counselors can help to introduce students to local trade schools and discuss which type of trade might best align with students’ skills and interests. 
  • Identify work based learning opportunities that align with students’ interests. Whether a paid internship, summer job, or volunteer position, the right opportunity at the right moment can be pivotal in a student’s journey. These experiences can help students to find purpose or spark passion–both of which are foundational to finding a fulfilling future career. Counselors might do an assessment of a student’s transcript and other experiences to identify strengths and interests and then match those to some type of work-based option. This student-centric approach to identifying next steps can help a student to make connections between what they enjoy doing, how they prefer to learn, and what they want to do in the future.  
  • Connect students to community mentors. As graduation date approaches, it is important for students to have people in their lives who can provide continued support. Counselors might put together a group of community members who are willing to give their time to be a continuation of support for students upon graduation. These volunteers might check in on students throughout the summer, talk with them about their future plans, and offer advice and encouragement. These connections can provide a key bridge of support between high school and postsecondary life. 

Focus on Forward Momentum (Even in Small Steps)

The most critical piece of this work is to make sure students do not get stuck or permanently stalled when faced with their future. It is important to remind students that they do not have to make decisions for the rest of their lives right now. In fact, very few careers reflect a linear path. Coach students that it is truly okay if they change their plans at some point. But, it is vital that they continue to learn, grow, build skills, and try new opportunities in order to work toward future career development. Even simply trying a new summer job or seeking out training for a volunteer opportunity can maintain progress after high school. Students–especially those who are struggling with how to move forward–need to see high school graduation as a catalyst for future learning and growth rather than an ending. 

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At this point in the year, many high school seniors are checked out of the current year and focused nearly entirely on their next step. Whether they are headed to a college or straight to a career, the proverbial “senioritis” has often set in. For students without a plan, disengagement at this point in the year can be catastrophic to their long-term trajectory. There is only a limited number of days for them to receive the unique support that secondary counselors and teachers are able to provide–and that will disappear once they graduate. 

There is still time at this point in the year to engage students in a way that will help them avoid the abyss of not knowing what they will do next year. Counselors can use the time left to identify students who do not have a postsecondary plan, reach out to them, and provide accessible interventions that will guide them to put things in place to continue forward movement after graduation. 

Identifying Students Without a Plan

The first step in supporting these students is identifying the students that are in need of additional layers of engagement. Schools might create a survey for all students asking what their plans for the next year are and include an option for those who are unsure. These could be filled out as part of a structured advisory period or disseminated digitally through a digital platform. Schools or districts with an existing college and career readiness platform that tracks goal-setting and action items towards that goal can more easily hone in on students who might not have next steps in place. 

Counselors might check in with students who designate that they do not have a definitive plan and those who do not give any feedback, as some students may be hesitant to explicitly say that they do not know what they are going to do after graduation. And counselors, educators, and support staff should pay special attention to those who may be at risk of not graduating from high school as nearly all plans are predicated on receiving a high school diploma. 

Strategies to Support Students in the Near Term

For some students, thinking about their future and the weight of each individual decision is overwhelming and paralyzing. This is especially true for students who have made it to the end of senior year without a tangible plan. Counselors might work with students to focus on a single next step, rather than make a series of decisions and plans for the next several years. By scaffolding the conversation with more accessible, attainable, and realistic actions, many students will be more able to outline a plan for the summer and/or the following school year. With this approach, students can get started on a productive path that opens them up to options in the future. 

  • Share information about community college. Community college can be a very good option for many students and often have ongoing deadlines for application and registration. Counselors can share information about local community colleges, talk about the financial value of these institutions, and discuss taking general education requirements with plans to transfer or more interest-specific courses to identify possible future career paths.  
  • Discuss local trade schools. Students who are unsure if college is the best next step should consider trade school options. While too-often overlooked by students and families, trade schools can be a good fit for a student who is unsure of what to do after graduation. Trade schools create a structured path toward learning with a quicker on-ramp to a career.  Students who go to a trade school often complete their education in less than two years and are able to secure a position that pays a living wage. Additionally, the requirements to attend a trade school are much less rigorous as compared to four year colleges and universities. Counselors can help to introduce students to local trade schools and discuss which type of trade might best align with students’ skills and interests. 
  • Identify work based learning opportunities that align with students’ interests. Whether a paid internship, summer job, or volunteer position, the right opportunity at the right moment can be pivotal in a student’s journey. These experiences can help students to find purpose or spark passion–both of which are foundational to finding a fulfilling future career. Counselors might do an assessment of a student’s transcript and other experiences to identify strengths and interests and then match those to some type of work-based option. This student-centric approach to identifying next steps can help a student to make connections between what they enjoy doing, how they prefer to learn, and what they want to do in the future.  
  • Connect students to community mentors. As graduation date approaches, it is important for students to have people in their lives who can provide continued support. Counselors might put together a group of community members who are willing to give their time to be a continuation of support for students upon graduation. These volunteers might check in on students throughout the summer, talk with them about their future plans, and offer advice and encouragement. These connections can provide a key bridge of support between high school and postsecondary life. 

Focus on Forward Momentum (Even in Small Steps)

The most critical piece of this work is to make sure students do not get stuck or permanently stalled when faced with their future. It is important to remind students that they do not have to make decisions for the rest of their lives right now. In fact, very few careers reflect a linear path. Coach students that it is truly okay if they change their plans at some point. But, it is vital that they continue to learn, grow, build skills, and try new opportunities in order to work toward future career development. Even simply trying a new summer job or seeking out training for a volunteer opportunity can maintain progress after high school. Students–especially those who are struggling with how to move forward–need to see high school graduation as a catalyst for future learning and growth rather than an ending. 

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At this point in the year, many high school seniors are checked out of the current year and focused nearly entirely on their next step. Whether they are headed to a college or straight to a career, the proverbial “senioritis” has often set in. For students without a plan, disengagement at this point in the year can be catastrophic to their long-term trajectory. There is only a limited number of days for them to receive the unique support that secondary counselors and teachers are able to provide–and that will disappear once they graduate. 

There is still time at this point in the year to engage students in a way that will help them avoid the abyss of not knowing what they will do next year. Counselors can use the time left to identify students who do not have a postsecondary plan, reach out to them, and provide accessible interventions that will guide them to put things in place to continue forward movement after graduation. 

Identifying Students Without a Plan

The first step in supporting these students is identifying the students that are in need of additional layers of engagement. Schools might create a survey for all students asking what their plans for the next year are and include an option for those who are unsure. These could be filled out as part of a structured advisory period or disseminated digitally through a digital platform. Schools or districts with an existing college and career readiness platform that tracks goal-setting and action items towards that goal can more easily hone in on students who might not have next steps in place. 

Counselors might check in with students who designate that they do not have a definitive plan and those who do not give any feedback, as some students may be hesitant to explicitly say that they do not know what they are going to do after graduation. And counselors, educators, and support staff should pay special attention to those who may be at risk of not graduating from high school as nearly all plans are predicated on receiving a high school diploma. 

Strategies to Support Students in the Near Term

For some students, thinking about their future and the weight of each individual decision is overwhelming and paralyzing. This is especially true for students who have made it to the end of senior year without a tangible plan. Counselors might work with students to focus on a single next step, rather than make a series of decisions and plans for the next several years. By scaffolding the conversation with more accessible, attainable, and realistic actions, many students will be more able to outline a plan for the summer and/or the following school year. With this approach, students can get started on a productive path that opens them up to options in the future. 

  • Share information about community college. Community college can be a very good option for many students and often have ongoing deadlines for application and registration. Counselors can share information about local community colleges, talk about the financial value of these institutions, and discuss taking general education requirements with plans to transfer or more interest-specific courses to identify possible future career paths.  
  • Discuss local trade schools. Students who are unsure if college is the best next step should consider trade school options. While too-often overlooked by students and families, trade schools can be a good fit for a student who is unsure of what to do after graduation. Trade schools create a structured path toward learning with a quicker on-ramp to a career.  Students who go to a trade school often complete their education in less than two years and are able to secure a position that pays a living wage. Additionally, the requirements to attend a trade school are much less rigorous as compared to four year colleges and universities. Counselors can help to introduce students to local trade schools and discuss which type of trade might best align with students’ skills and interests. 
  • Identify work based learning opportunities that align with students’ interests. Whether a paid internship, summer job, or volunteer position, the right opportunity at the right moment can be pivotal in a student’s journey. These experiences can help students to find purpose or spark passion–both of which are foundational to finding a fulfilling future career. Counselors might do an assessment of a student’s transcript and other experiences to identify strengths and interests and then match those to some type of work-based option. This student-centric approach to identifying next steps can help a student to make connections between what they enjoy doing, how they prefer to learn, and what they want to do in the future.  
  • Connect students to community mentors. As graduation date approaches, it is important for students to have people in their lives who can provide continued support. Counselors might put together a group of community members who are willing to give their time to be a continuation of support for students upon graduation. These volunteers might check in on students throughout the summer, talk with them about their future plans, and offer advice and encouragement. These connections can provide a key bridge of support between high school and postsecondary life. 

Focus on Forward Momentum (Even in Small Steps)

The most critical piece of this work is to make sure students do not get stuck or permanently stalled when faced with their future. It is important to remind students that they do not have to make decisions for the rest of their lives right now. In fact, very few careers reflect a linear path. Coach students that it is truly okay if they change their plans at some point. But, it is vital that they continue to learn, grow, build skills, and try new opportunities in order to work toward future career development. Even simply trying a new summer job or seeking out training for a volunteer opportunity can maintain progress after high school. Students–especially those who are struggling with how to move forward–need to see high school graduation as a catalyst for future learning and growth rather than an ending. 

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At this point in the year, many high school seniors are checked out of the current year and focused nearly entirely on their next step. Whether they are headed to a college or straight to a career, the proverbial “senioritis” has often set in. For students without a plan, disengagement at this point in the year can be catastrophic to their long-term trajectory. There is only a limited number of days for them to receive the unique support that secondary counselors and teachers are able to provide–and that will disappear once they graduate. 

There is still time at this point in the year to engage students in a way that will help them avoid the abyss of not knowing what they will do next year. Counselors can use the time left to identify students who do not have a postsecondary plan, reach out to them, and provide accessible interventions that will guide them to put things in place to continue forward movement after graduation. 

Identifying Students Without a Plan

The first step in supporting these students is identifying the students that are in need of additional layers of engagement. Schools might create a survey for all students asking what their plans for the next year are and include an option for those who are unsure. These could be filled out as part of a structured advisory period or disseminated digitally through a digital platform. Schools or districts with an existing college and career readiness platform that tracks goal-setting and action items towards that goal can more easily hone in on students who might not have next steps in place. 

Counselors might check in with students who designate that they do not have a definitive plan and those who do not give any feedback, as some students may be hesitant to explicitly say that they do not know what they are going to do after graduation. And counselors, educators, and support staff should pay special attention to those who may be at risk of not graduating from high school as nearly all plans are predicated on receiving a high school diploma. 

Strategies to Support Students in the Near Term

For some students, thinking about their future and the weight of each individual decision is overwhelming and paralyzing. This is especially true for students who have made it to the end of senior year without a tangible plan. Counselors might work with students to focus on a single next step, rather than make a series of decisions and plans for the next several years. By scaffolding the conversation with more accessible, attainable, and realistic actions, many students will be more able to outline a plan for the summer and/or the following school year. With this approach, students can get started on a productive path that opens them up to options in the future. 

  • Share information about community college. Community college can be a very good option for many students and often have ongoing deadlines for application and registration. Counselors can share information about local community colleges, talk about the financial value of these institutions, and discuss taking general education requirements with plans to transfer or more interest-specific courses to identify possible future career paths.  
  • Discuss local trade schools. Students who are unsure if college is the best next step should consider trade school options. While too-often overlooked by students and families, trade schools can be a good fit for a student who is unsure of what to do after graduation. Trade schools create a structured path toward learning with a quicker on-ramp to a career.  Students who go to a trade school often complete their education in less than two years and are able to secure a position that pays a living wage. Additionally, the requirements to attend a trade school are much less rigorous as compared to four year colleges and universities. Counselors can help to introduce students to local trade schools and discuss which type of trade might best align with students’ skills and interests. 
  • Identify work based learning opportunities that align with students’ interests. Whether a paid internship, summer job, or volunteer position, the right opportunity at the right moment can be pivotal in a student’s journey. These experiences can help students to find purpose or spark passion–both of which are foundational to finding a fulfilling future career. Counselors might do an assessment of a student’s transcript and other experiences to identify strengths and interests and then match those to some type of work-based option. This student-centric approach to identifying next steps can help a student to make connections between what they enjoy doing, how they prefer to learn, and what they want to do in the future.  
  • Connect students to community mentors. As graduation date approaches, it is important for students to have people in their lives who can provide continued support. Counselors might put together a group of community members who are willing to give their time to be a continuation of support for students upon graduation. These volunteers might check in on students throughout the summer, talk with them about their future plans, and offer advice and encouragement. These connections can provide a key bridge of support between high school and postsecondary life. 

Focus on Forward Momentum (Even in Small Steps)

The most critical piece of this work is to make sure students do not get stuck or permanently stalled when faced with their future. It is important to remind students that they do not have to make decisions for the rest of their lives right now. In fact, very few careers reflect a linear path. Coach students that it is truly okay if they change their plans at some point. But, it is vital that they continue to learn, grow, build skills, and try new opportunities in order to work toward future career development. Even simply trying a new summer job or seeking out training for a volunteer opportunity can maintain progress after high school. Students–especially those who are struggling with how to move forward–need to see high school graduation as a catalyst for future learning and growth rather than an ending.