How to Help your Students Plan for their Future


In this guest blogpost, Amanda Chamberlain, Founder of Pathways Consulting, explains why it is difficult for parents & teens to talk about career and college planning, and what parents can do to help their students plan for their future.

There are several reasons why it's difficult for your student to talk about their future:
ANXIETY...Many teens feel pressured to have an answer when well-meaning adults ask them about their college and career plans. They are under the mistaken impression that all of their peers have it figured out, and they’re the only one who doesn’t have a clue.
INDEPENDENCE...Teens are developmentally becoming more independent and trying to figure out who they are in the world. Some resist conversations with parents and don’t want to hear their parents’ opinions. Students may also fear their parents will try to control the process and take over making decisions.
FEAR...Others are desperate for someone else to make the decision for them. Most teens are aware that college is expensive, and they don’t want to make an expensive mistake. There’s a lot of fear when you believe that you make this decision once and are locked in.

Parents often feel unsure of how they can help with the process. They care so much about giving their kids a good start that their anxiety can cause their teen to either rebel or retreat even further. Unfortunately, there’s no guidebook for parents about navigating this territory.

So, how do parents tend to handle these discussions?

There are three categories that describe most parents. The first category is those who avoid the discussion altogether and hope that their kid will just figure it out on their own or discuss it with advisors at school/college. On the opposite end of the spectrum are parents who exert pressure for their teens to go into a particular field or college, confident that they know what’s best for their kid. Either approach can backfire.

Having a passive approach can lead students to graduate without any clue about what they want to do next. They may get 30 minutes with an advisor, but that’s not enough to make an educated decision. There are more resources at the campus career center, but very few students take advantage of them. Yes, they may stumble upon a career that suits them perfectly, but do they really want to take that chance? It’s an expensive risk!

Trying to force your teen into a career that you pick for them may work in the short term, but what about the next 4+ years? Will they have the motivation to study and finish the degree? Will they change their mind a few years after graduation and start over with a different degree? According to Forbes, 1 out of 4 newly trained physicians wish they could start over and choose a different career. Not a great result for all the time, money and effort they put into their education.

What’s the third approach?

What I advise is that parents take a proactive approach with their kids. Start the discussions early without any pressure. Listen to your teen’s ideas without being judgmental or critical. Keep an open and curious attitude, asking questions without being directive. Only provide career or college suggestions if asked. Encourage them to explore lots of options and help provide resources as they do so. Some families set up quarterly meetings to keep track of progress and plan what needs to happen next.

How can parents help their teens identify their personality, interests, skills and values?

As a parent, you have known your child longer than anyone else. You probably notice things about their personality and skills that they aren’t even aware of yet. Without being obvious about it, you can compliment them on their skills or the positive character traits you see in them. Ask about their interests and provide opportunities for them to learn more. Find out what they value and dream of for their future.

Here are some resources for free online assessments:
● 16 Personalities:
● My Next Move (O*Net):
● Interest Profiler:
● An online skills card sort:
● An online values card sort:

Why is it so important for students to research careers? How can they go about doing it?

In terms of career decision-making, ignorance is NOT bliss. The more informed a teen is about careers, the better their chances of choosing something that is a good fit. Television shows and movies can glamorize professions - CSI leaps to mind! Most students have limited exposure to careers, and there are hundreds they have never even heard of. It’s important to broaden their exposure to careers before they hone in.

Parents can encourage students to go into any career with their eyes wide open. There are a variety of ways to do that. The first and easiest is online research and even watching some career videos:
My Plan Career Videos
Career One Stop Videos
My Next Move Career Videos
Career Connections Career Videos

The next step is speaking with some professionals in the field (aka "informational interviewing") and even doing a job shadow. If they are still interested after that, I recommend that they volunteer or do an internship in a related job setting. There are a lot of teens who love animals and are interested in becoming a vet. Actually observing a surgery or the suffering of sick animals might quickly change their mind.

What are some ways you can encourage them to gain experience?

My daughter is a junior in high school and one of our requirements for her is to do an internship or volunteer job in the field she wants to major in. If we’re going to invest money into her education, I want to make sure she understands the choice she is making and is willing to work at it. Many families are not encouraging their teens to work in part-time or summer jobs or get experience through volunteering or an internship. This hampers their ability to build a resume that impresses college admissions or future employers. Consider these resources for gaining experience:



How can we move forward with this process as a family?

It’s important that you recognize that you are in a supportive role along this journey. Although you may be anxious for your teen to make up their mind so you can move forward with college decisions, it’s important to be patient while still moving along the process. Recognize that this can be a scary time for your teen and provide encouragement, setting a positive tone of exploration and learning. Some families meet monthly or quarterly to discuss the status of career research, course selection and plans to set up volunteer/internship opportunities. You have an important role in helping your child launch, and it can help set the tone for your relationship as they move into adulthood. You’ve got this!

About our guest blogger: Amanda Chamberlain graduated from college with honors, got her diploma and had absolutely no idea what she was going to do next. After a few years of poverty, she wised up and went back to grad school to get her master’s degree in career counseling. She's spent most of her career teaching and guiding students in high school and college settings. She currently works as a career counselor at Impact Group and SKEMA International Business School at North Carolina State University, and is also a speaker on career development for both students and professionals. Her focus is helping students AND their families map out a plan for career success. Amanda's passion is helping students make intentional choices that will lead them to successful and fulfilling careers. If you are interested in more information about Pathways Consulting, go to or email Amanda at



About Author

Page Cvelich

College/Teen Program Manager

Page Cvelich has brought a wealth of knowledge to the Work/Life Center from prior experience as a high school guidance counselor and parent education coordinator. Page has been responsible for setting up a high school college and career center, designing a career exploration program for teens and serving as a counselor at a backpacking camp in the Rockies. In her role as Teen/College Program Manager, Page enjoys interacting with small groups of parents and teens, as well as consulting one-on-one with parents and referring them to resources so that they are better able to provide the support and encouragement their kids need.

1 Comment

  1. You made a good point that assessing one's personality is also important when it comes to determining which degree program to take for college. My son might need the help of a virtual college planning consultant in the future because he is still quite unsure about what path he should take. I think he should just follow his passions and not worry too much about it.

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