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School counselors advise students and parents to begin career planning early

High school seniors all across the state are thinking about their futures after graduation -- but this process probably started at least three years ago.

optical form of an examinationoptical form of an examination with pencil
Optical form of an examination optical form of an examination with pencil. iStock photo

High school seniors all across the state are thinking about their futures after graduation - but this process probably started at least three years ago.

Guidance counselors across Stark County emphasized the importance of students and their families getting a jumpstart on planning for the future whether that means entering the job force or pursuing higher education or training.

On Thursday New England High School hosted a crash course focusing on a variety of things students need to be aware of when looking into different paths post-high school.

The course is put on through a grant through the Bank of North Dakota and is free for all seventh grade to senior level students and their parents. Each year the Center of Technology and Business, which helps put on the course, picks 10 rural high schools around the state and asks them to host the course.

While there students and their parents can learn about different job opportunities across the state, the importance of planning their school schedule early to fulfill all their necessary credits for state scholarships and budgeting after graduation, among other things.

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Deidre Hillman, the program director at the Center for Technology and Business, said that she usually finds that attendees realize how expensive college is and the importance of beginning to plan early, she said.

"The whole point is that we are going to rural communities that don't have these resources readily available, so kids that are in Bismarck and Minot and in the bigger towns throughout the area, they've got resources readily available to them," she said. "Our impact and the ability to come out to these schools and spend an evening with them and their parents and answer any questions that they might have and give them some tools and resources to look at, that's a huge impact."

About 60 people attended New England's event last week, said Lynn Dvorak, the school's career advisor.

"It's a way for them to start planning, looking ahead on their course takings for their high school years, and a way for parents to look at the cost of colleges and how they are going to pay for those kinds of things," she said.

New England teachers sit down with parents and students to help them fill out financial aid forms as well, she said. These students will be legal adults soon, meaning they will be responsible for their school loans or any other financial obligations they might have. She also noted that students should be aware that their career interests may change and to be ready to change programs from the one they might initially begin when they go off to school.

"You don't want to come out with that big debt, so you want to be looking at those scholarships, financial aid," she said. "Take that time your senior year to apply for everything you can because it's the best time you're going to get those scholarships."

Schools in the area offer interest inventories to their students, some even before high school, to begin matching children based on their interests and skills with potential careers to consider. Once they reach high school, students and counselors work to create a four-year class schedule to ensure that they are able to satisfy all the class requirements in order to make them more competitive for four-year universities as well as to satisfy the class requirements required by the state to be eligible for the state scholarship.

The state offers both academic scholarships and scholarships for student interested in career and technical education. If the student meets the standardized testing requirements in addition to satisfying their specific class requirements, then a student is eligible to receive $1,500 per year for four years, said Bobbie Olson, the school counselor at South Heart High School.

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She stressed the importance of students getting some sort of work experience whether through a part-time job, job shadowing or volunteering to help students decide what kinds of things they might be interested in pursuing long-term. She also noted the important role extracurricular activities can play in this deciding process.

"Students that have never had a job, or have never been involved in any other type of clubs or extracurricular activities, they tend to not realize what's out there," she said. "If they can get any type of experience through the work force or through job shadowing, then that is very helpful. Then they can kind of learn what they like and what they don't like."

Olson said she is seeing schools take on a larger role in this process noting that family dynamics have changed over the years. Now both parents are more likely to be working and may have less time to spend with their children discussing things like college and the workforce.

Schools in the area help students set up days to shadow people at work, help them with their resumes, host mock interviews and organize days for students to go visit college campuses, job fairs or college fairs.

"I know our teachers are excellent at incorporating life skills beyond high school within their curriculum," said Heather Schieno, the guidance counselor at Trinity. "I think that there's always active conversations about what to expect when you leave high school and what are employers going to expect, and what are some experiences."

North Dakota pays for high school juniors to take the ACT - a standardized test colleges look at when considering students - one time. Students may then retake the test for a higher score if they desire. Schools in the area incorporate ACT test practice into their curriculums with practice tests or direct students to websites where they can practice.

With college entrance becoming increasingly competitive, Maxine Hauck, a school counselor at Dickinson High School, said she has found that students are taking college preparation more seriously, partially because the FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid - became available on Oct. 1 this year rather than its traditional Jan. 1 date. With this significant financial aid component available in the fall, more students are taking an active role in looking into ways to finance their post-secondary education.

"This generation of students do have a good idea of what they are interested in and what works for them and what doesn't, so that is a huge plus," Hauck said.

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Ultimately, schools are working to provide students and their parents with information about all the opportunities available whether they are considering joining the workforce after graduation or pursuing some sort of training.

"I think that it's just really important because kids need to be exposed to what's out there," Schieno said. "Technology forces us to change so quickly, and one of the challenges as a counselor is that right now we are preparing kids for careers that don't even exist because of the rapid pace and change in technology, and so it's just really important for kids to be cognizant of what's out there and to have the exposure to the skills that they are going to need."

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