For decades, high school students have been divided into two groups: college-bound and non-college-bound. Students who are designated as college-bound are funneled into advanced classes from an early age, targeted for leadership activities, and given intensive instruction on college search, financial aid, and scholarship applications throughout their junior and senior years.

On the other hand, “non-college-bound students” have been left to determine their own pathway, thus leaving almost 40% of non-college-going (2- or 4-year) students without a plan. Students entering the trades, hospitality, or other careers that don’t require a 2- or 4-year post-secondary education must learn how to navigate the workforce independently without the constant attention given to their college-bound peers. To add to their detriment, research and documentation are sorely lacking regarding preferred practices for preparing students for non-college life after high school.

In reality, all students are ultimately career-bound and must be addressed as such. By focusing on the career at the center of the pathway planning process, we can help students make deliberate decisions to pursue the career that best fits their interests, skills, and values. In developing a detailed pathway plan for each student, regardless of their plan for post-secondary education, we can ensure that all students are set up for a successful future regardless of the duration of education that takes them to their first career.

It’s time to turn the tables and take a career-centric approach to future readiness. Schools and districts should begin to involve all students in the pathway planning process by making their career their end goal—and then adding education and/or training as a stop along the way.

About the Author

Kim Oppelt, Ed.D is the Vice President of Career Readiness and Development at Kuder. Dr. Oppelt has over 20 years of experience in career and college readiness, both as a licensed school counselor and in educational technology. Throughout her career, Dr. Oppelt has worked with districts and state systems throughout the country to design and implement successful pathway planning processes, developed products and programming for K-12 students, and has conducted research on the experience of students as they develop their own career pathways. Dr. Oppelt has a B.A.S. in Health Education from the University of Minnesota Duluth, a M.S. in counseling from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and a Doctor of Education from St. Mary’s University.