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After graduation, there’s no “one size fits all” plan

Helping your senior navigate the future

Q: “I’m a parent to a senior who is struggling to find a plan for after graduation. How do I help guide him through the process while giving him space to make his own decisions on his future?”

The exciting news is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” plan anymore. Back in the day we were told that to get a good job, we needed to go to college and get a four-year degree – and all the debt that comes with it. Now, young people can customize their after-graduation plans at a range of prices. There are still great jobs available with a traditional college degree, but there are also excellent opportunities with online school, two-year and technical programs, apprenticeships and internships, and more.

Of course, all those options can be daunting too. In order for your student to feel empowered to make this big decision, there are some ways you can help. First, it is important for your student to know what he or she likes. Career inventories are often done in school, but can also be found online at home for free (just Google “career interest inventory”). Then, take a look at the results and brainstorm. If they like to work with their hands, there are technical programs such as carpentry and welding. Do they love to create? They might think about graphic design. On the flip side, what do they dislike? If they wouldn’t be happy with a desk job, but enjoy the outdoors, they might like wildlife management or fisheries science. Sit down and make some lists!

The second thing to do with your student is determine priorities and budget regarding post-graduation plans. If the college campus experience is important, complete with football games and all (Go Bison!), it’s time to look for scholarships, learn about student loans, and sign up for work study programs on campus. If it’s more important to your student to earn a degree as cheaply as possible, they might live at home (with your blessing, of course) or share an apartment with roommates while working and attending classes online. They might even get free tuition at Williston State College depending on your county of residence (check out

It is important to remember that a degree is not the end-all, but rather a means to an end: the desired career. There is no need to get a Bachelor’s degree just to have one; but if your student wants to be a teacher or engineer, then a degree is essential. Your student should find out what their desired career requires for school and training; some careers, such as plumbing or sheet metal, can even be pursued via paid apprenticeship instead of school.

If graduation is looming and your student is still truly undecided, there is no need to rush into anything. They can work on a low-cost Associate’s degree while working and exploring career options. It’s also getting easier to go to school later in life with the increase in online and distance programs, which can be reassuring for undecided students as they will not be “stuck” in any career. Finally, explore, explore, explore! Ask friends, family, or businesses to job shadow, and spend time researching careers online.

With some discussion, planning, and a little creativity, your student’s options after high school are truly limitless.

Rachel Meuchel is a counselor at Watford City High School. She resides on her family farm with her husband and two sons. Find her at