By Camila Dos Santos, M. Ed., Program Coordinator of the Healthy Relationships Initiative

Helping your high schooler plan for life after graduation is stressful on the entire family. Many parents may find themselves worrying about their child’s future, especially if attending a traditional college is not a part of the plan. While it can be hard for parents to accept that their children’s hopes and dreams may not align with their own, it’s important for parents of teens to consider the following:

  • A planned gap year can be beneficial. For years, there’s been a stigma associated with taking a gap year, but for many students, a carefully planned gap year can lead to a better sense of purpose and a positive impact on academic performance. Spending time working full-time or enrolling in a service organization can help young adults develop additional skills that help prepare them for the real world, whether that includes graduating from a traditional college or not. Time spent building real-life skills can prove to be helpful for whatever your teen decides to do next.
  • Every child’s timing differs. Many high school seniors may not be emotionally or academically prepared to find success at a traditional college. Students who lack the academic skills or independence may need additional time to foster those skills. Enrolling in 1 or 2 community college courses, or working on specific academic skills with a tutor, may be what your teen needs right after graduation. For many students, taking the time to fine-tune their academic skills can help them find more success and stability at the post-secondary level.
  • Skilled workers are in high demand. America is facing a shortage in skilled workers and tradespeople, yet American high school students are taught that attending a traditional college is the way to long term success. As such, traditional-college enrollment rates in the US have risen by nearly 4 million since 2000. This presents an opportunity for the student whose plan isn’t to attend a traditional college. They incur no debt, make good money, and have the potential for professional growth. For many students, the path to trade school is a potential path to a fulfilling career, entrepreneurship, and personal and financial success.
  • Arranging for alternative experiences can help your teen figure it out. Many high school seniors are unaware of the many opportunities that are available to them outside of a traditional college experience. Helping your teen set up a job shadowing experience, or an internship in a particular industry can help them sort through their options. Guilford County offers many paths for students in Greensboro and High Point who are not on the traditional path to college, such as the Guilford Apprenticeship Program (GAP), where students can actually get paid for time spent in class, while receiving hands-on job experiences and earning an Associate degree. Winston-Salem offers a similar program, LEAP, which allows students to earn college credits while conducting on-the-job training through a partner employer or business. Other ideas can include connecting your teen with college counselors or a life coach, and scheduling tours at both traditional and vocational schools to help them determine the right fit for their future. Supporting your teen in identifying and seeking out these alternative opportunities shows them that you are on their side, while also ensuring that they are considering all of their options.

It can be hard to accept that you do not share the same dreams for your teen as they do, but it is important to show them that they have your support and love no matter what they choose through healthy communication. The Healthy Relationships Initiative offers tools for parents to connect with their teens, including conversation starters to work through conflict and learn more about your teen’s values. Encouraging open discussions with your teenager will lay the groundwork for future discussions, which may come in handy if and when your teen’s plans change.


Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. We offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form here.