Education Opinion

Pointing the Way to Careers, Then College

By Matthew Lynch — October 19, 2015 3 min read
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With the national ratio of students to guidance counselors at 477:1, why can’t we make their job easier, match students to career paths then to a college

By Wayne Sharp

Every 26 seconds, a student drops out of high school. Facing anxiety about their future and a fear of mounting student loan debt, a whopping 1.3 million students will drop out this year, meaning only 72% of America’s children will earn high school diplomas. Of the students who do make it to secondary education, 48% will drop out in the first two years. Another 50-70% will change their major at least once before receiving their degree.

It is more important than ever that our students are exposed to resources during their teen years to help them prepare for life after graduation, whether they choose a university or a trade school--or opt to go directly into the workforce.

It’s clear to me that something needs to be done to provide students with a sense of direction and purpose regarding their education earlier in life. But what?

I think it starts with helping counselors provide students with individualized attention that will match them to careers earlier in their school experience. This can save students thousands in loan debt--and save taxpayers from paying the costs of college dropouts, a combined $4.5 billion dollars a year in lost income and federal and state taxes.

A typical student’s story might go like this: At 12 years old, you take the basic courses like math, science, English, and social studies. Years go by, the time comes to think about college, and you have absolutely no idea what to do. The one overworked guidance counselor in your school tells you the outlook is good for engineers, so you go to college and start the courses--only to find you hate it. As a sophomore you decide to change your major, still unsure if it’s the right path. In your junior year you finally find your niche...as an art teacher. By this time, you’ve wasted an average of $60,000 dollars and two years trying to “figure it out.”

The truth is that an astonishing 92% of high school graduates have no idea what career path will best suit them. How is it that the vast majority of students are not provided resources to help them make the biggest decision of their lives?

To solve this problem, I created a free online tool called MyVerse. Designed to extend the reach of high school guidance counselors, it psychometrically matches individual students to various career paths to explore. Simply by asking students to pick their favorite and least favorite colors, the tool guides students into a career path that fits them.

My goal is one that I think all educators share: helping students make informed academic decisions by pinpointing what they’re naturally good at. If we inform students of what jobs they are suited to and guide them into a college and major they will enjoy, they are much more likely to find a career they excel in.

As teachers adapt to the Common Core, with its focus on translating what kids learn in school into the “real world,” exposing students to new career options and providing hands-on experience in different fields before they make the daunting decision of what college to attend just makes sense.

Nationally, the ratio of students to high school guidance counselors is 477:1. (In California, the ratio is an astonishing 945:1.) It’s nearly impossible for one person to give hundreds of students individualized career advice while finding each one the right major and college. The American School Counselor Association has the laudable goal of helping students explore their interests and connect coursework to life experience, but with nationwide budget cuts, counselors these days are being charged with tasks unrelated to their traditional roles, such as monitoring the school cafeteria, proctoring exams, or dealing with truant and at-risk students. Lending these overburdened counselors a hand in guiding initial meetings with students can be the difference between a student who drifts out of school and one who follows a clear path to a satisfying career.

With each worksheet, exam, and grade level, students edge closer to the fateful day when they have to choose a college. I believe we should empower the next generation to make this life-changing choice with a clear idea of where their options and aptitudes can lead them.

Wayne Sharp is the founder and president of MyVerse. You can connect with him via Twitter @myversedotcom.

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.