Before College: Middle School’s the Time to Help Your Children Start Focusing on Career Directions

Andy’s the newest market research staff member for a firm helping technology companies develop branding and positioning strategies for their products. He received a bachelor’s degree in public relations from his state’s leading public university last December, but spent five and one-half years, or 11 semesters, getting that degree.

Andy’s college-related expenses for 11 semesters added up to over $135,000. That’s almost $37,000 more than the costs incurred by classmates who graduated in 8 semesters, or 4 years. Not surprisingly, Andy borrowed about $38,000 in student loans — $11,000 more than the average for his university’s 4-year (8 semester) degree earners.

What took Andy so long? Once he selected public relations, he needed just 7 semesters to graduate. But he spent 4 semesters previous semesters trying out 3 other majors — economics, psychology, and journalism.

College is a very expensive place to “find oneself.” So the faster students zero in what they want to do in terms of the careers for which different majors prepare them, the more affordable college will be.

Nevertheless, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports the median number of months for first-time undergraduates to earn their bachelor’s degrees is 52, and that graduating 60% of these “four-year” degree-earners takes 5 years. Another NCES study found that about 30% of all undergraduates change majors within three years of starting college, with 9% switching majors multiple times.

So, as a parent, you want your Pre-College Finance Plan to help ensure your children zero in on career “clusters” that’ll interest them and that their talents match.

The middle school years are a good time to start doing this. By then, you’ve been observing your children at play and in school for many years, giving you important insights into what they are and aren’t good at as well as what they do and don’t enjoy. Sharing this information with middle school guidance counselors and teachers can help them steer your children toward various career awareness tools including, but not limited to aptitude surveys and interest and preference questionnaires.

Armed with the results of these tools, you and their middle school counselors and teachers can advise your children about:

  • Books and periodicals that, while read for fun, will also inform them about assorted occupations;
  • Classes that’ll prepare them for high school courses related to particular pursuits;
  • Extracurricular activities that’ll help them refine skill sets not taught in classes — e.g. leadership, responsibility, teamwork;
  • Job shadowing and mentorship opportunities; and
  • School speakers to help better understand careers that’ll be good matches for them.

The reference made above to career clusters is intentional. It’s not necessary to decide in middle school that your children must be brain surgeons — there’s still time to get that specific. On the other hand, middle school isn’t too soon to recognize their abilities for and interests in, say, business or science. And remember, doing this can generate big college cost savings!

College Affordability Solutions helps parents or students select strategies for their Pre-College Finance Plan. We never charge them for doing this. So contact us at (512) 366-5354 or to schedule consultations with us.

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