Teen Milestone: What next after school?

Teen Milestone: What next after school?

How you can prepare for your child’s next steps in life and be there to support their choices.


Every teenager is different, and some know what they want to do with their lives from the age of 11, while some of us take until 21, 31 or even older before we know where we’re heading next! There are many options, but here’s a taster for some of the main choices your teenager might want to make.

The A Level minefield
The problem with being 15 is that whatever A Level choices you make, you’re going to narrow your future options considerably. Hedging bets is no longer an option as it was at GCSE, and unless your teenager has their heart set on a definite long-term goal – medicine, say, or fine art – they’ll have to do some major soul-searching about their aspirations and abilities. Bear in mind, too, that some subjects naturally go together – maths and the sciences, languages, ‘essay’ subjects like English and history – so following those tried-and tested groupings isn’t such a bad idea. And many top-flight universities are allergic to A Levels ending with the word ‘studies’, so stick to the old-fashioned subjects if that’s where your ambitions lie.

From school to work
Further and higher education simply do not suit everyone, especially if your child has an interest or talent that might be better explored outside a school environment. While it’s true that growing numbers of graduates in the job market do mean that in more and more career areas expect some form of higher qualification to get on the first rung of employment, this isn’t always the case by any means. And many teenagers will respond better to getting into hands-on training whilst at work rather than staying in formal education. If your child is lured to work by the thought of financial independence, it’s worth having an honest conversation about his or her potential and properly weighing up the pros and cons of leaving school versus what they are realistically going to earn. Don’t forget that student loan repayments and the rise of internships mean graduates in many fields are less likely to make a great deal of money when they first leave college, anyway. And education is something that can be returned to later if your teenager feels that leaving school now really is the right path to follow. Let your child spend some time perusing recruitment ads and talking to agencies before they decide which way to go, so they get a feel for what companies are looking for from school leavers.

Choosing a university
It’s crucial for prospective students to visit as many places as possible before they decide: the university that looks great on its website and offers a fun-sounding course might turn out to be grim in reality. The location and the people are just as important as the facilities: your child may thrive in a city environment, or prefer a campus with a bit of greenery around it; they may find the gigging opportunities more important than the number of sports teams. Their research resources should stretch far beyond the universities’ own publicity material – try websites like www.thestudentroom.co.uk, which has great in-depth write-ups by current and recent students, as well as advice on what A Levels you’ll need to get in.

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Call in the experts
It’s typical: just at the point where they’re most in need of your superior wisdom, teenagers take it into their heads that they know everything and you know nothing. Trying another tack may help: online personality quizzes – like http://ipersonic.com/career are a fun way of considering options, but don’t take them too seriously and beware of hidden charges for the ‘full’ version. More importantly, make sure that your child goes to every talk and meeting held at school, and call on any acquaintances or contacts who can give them the inside-track on the relative merits of, say, accountancy versus sword-swallowing as a long-term career.

Saying goodbye
It’s natural for your teenager to feel anxious about leaving their friends and relationships behind – no matter what you say, everyone knows that life will change in all kinds of ways once they move on from the security of school. Don’t try to laugh off their worries, but encourage them to talk about their hopes and fears. In some cases, a toxic friendship can be brought to a natural end, but for some, real heartbreak will be on the horizon.

Savvy tip
Above all, remember that it’s your teenager’s life, and ultimately they have to follow their hearts.

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