Published Online: March 26, 2013

15 Tips for Getting Students Focused on College and Careers

Last year, Childersburg High School in Talladega, Ala., embarked on an initiative to make students more college- and career- ready. As a teacher at Childersburg, I'm proud to be involved in this college and career program, which requires bold action, targeted initiatives, and a fresh approach to teaching and learning. And the program is working so far.

We've found that students at Childersburg High School want to be at school. This year, since we've increased our focus on careers and college, dropouts have declined 86 percent. Tardiness has declined 19 percent, and more than 80 percent of students are involved in clubs, sports, and other school organizations.

Here are 15 ways we've created a college- and career-focused culture at our school. Which ones might work in yours?

1) Host a mock-interview day. Recruit volunteers and have them interview every student in your school, not just upperclassmen. Arm your students with the tools they need for this important scenario: résumés, cover letters, communication skills, business attire, and professional attitudes!

2) Establish a speakers series. Invite the world to your school. Our students have learned from college recruiters, career specialists, community activists, recent graduates, and others with unique skills, talents, and information. Expose students to the world through those you invite to school.

3) Plaster college pennants everywhere. Never underestimate the power of a visual message!

4) Decorate classroom doors with teachers' alma maters' décor. Students want to know more about teachers, and sharing this information can establish great connections to higher education possibilities.

5) Create a college-checklist bulletin board. Provide handouts for each grade level with "to do" lists. Be sure to share with parents as well.

6) Build a fully functioning college and career library. Students need a space to explore careers and colleges more deeply. Provide brochures, pamphlets, books, online resources, ACT practice packets, and financial aid information to your students.

7) Create ambience. If possible, play classical music in hallways to create a professional feel in your building. Students should feel like they are coming to a professional workplace.

8) Create ID badges for students and staff. These communicate a workplace feel. Give special privileges to students who have their card with them at all times.

9) Dress the part. Have "professional dress" day at least once a month. Reward students for their participation, and be sure to set guidelines and inform parents and students with plenty of notice.

10) Hold a spring interview day. Hold real interviews for actual positions at school such as science-lab assistant, college and career student counselors, library and office assistants, and SWAT (Students Willing to Assist With Technology). Unlike mock-interview day, this time the interview really counts.

11) Establish a college-campus tour program. Offer tours once a month to area colleges and universities. If you can, include a teacher on staff who graduated from that school. Also, arrange for former students from your school who attend that college to have lunch with your students. Students like hearing from recruiters, but they love hearing about a college from their friends.

12) Go to college in high school. Organize an opportunity for students to conduct research for term papers in a college library. Arrange assistance from the university's education majors. Be sure to allow time for a campus tour while there.

13) Start a "College Day." Dress in college colors, play college fight songs in the hallway, and have students sign "pledges" listing their schools of choice.

14) Hold a nontraditional career day. Ask seniors to invite someone in their field of interest to school for a morning. Each student sets up a station with a project board of information about that career. Arrange the stations as if in an exhibit hall. Other students walk around, allowing the seniors to play host and answer questions.

15) Use digital portfolios. Tools like Google Sites allow students to share coursework, reflections on learning, and other products from their studies. If all teachers require students to share their work in the portfolio, students will place great value on the tool. Consider creating senior projects or requiring seniors to present their complete high school portfolio prior to graduation.

Students care about their futures and will respond with great passion and enthusiasm when the adults in their life show them how much they care as well. In a recent survey we administered to students, one student wrote, "I am most happy to see the increase in student involvement and how students are more intrigued with school." Another student shared, "I was glad to see the change in students’ attitudes when they got to school and saw all of the work the teachers, student leadership team, and others had put into it. I'm excited to see CHS have a complete turnaround!"

You can download more information about these initiatives here. What other ideas do you have for preparing students for college and careers?

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