Giving Guidance To High School Seniors

Kim has a 17-year-old with $30,000 set aside for his education. He wants to go to college and has no idea what he wants to do. How can Kim give him some direction?

QUESTION: Kim in Nashville has a 17-year-old son graduating in May. They have $30,000 set aside for his education. He isn't a good student but wants to go to college and has no idea what he wants to do. Kim is encouraging him to study some kind of trade. What would Dave suggest for giving this young man some direction?

ANSWER: Lots of people start their four-year degrees not knowing what they want to go to school for. A lot of people get their degrees and never use that particular degree, so it wouldn't be that unusual. That alone would not invalidate the need for education. It sounds like, though, that his primary reason for going to a four-year school is because that's what his friends are doing.

Just because he can swing a hammer doesn't mean he needs to. That's not the only option. Now, if that is what he wants to do, that's fine. I think you are right to be concerned that his motivation and lack of direction is not a good indicator that he completes a four-year degree. You've got to have a goal, and you've got to have a reason for going other than, "My friends are going to school." I know some of us started with not much more than that, and we seemed to muddle through.

What are their general personality traits and directions? I'm not opposed to a trade school if it's something he loves and it's not a default button you're pushing. I think you're sending him that way because he doesn't have another plan rather than that's where you think he ought to go.

Get with the guidance counselor at a local college. Check with some of the local colleges or universities, and ask them if they have guidance counselor tools. There may be a high school guidance counselor that's really up on it and can help you get that. Hit the bookstore. Hit the web. Try to find some simple testing that he can do. If you spend $1,000 on testing, it's a great $1,000 to keep you from wasting $30,000. I don't know that just because he took some vo-tech school classes means he necessarily needs to go to vo-tech, and I'm not sure why his grades are down. If he's not an academic, we don't need to send him to a four-year college. I'll go along with that. He's going to have to do his academics there. That's part of the deal.

It could just be a motivation issue and the crowd he's running with. He needs to be thinking about what he wants to do when he's 30 years old. Playing basketball is not an answer. Playing his Wii in his bedroom is not an answer. What do you want to be when you grow up? This is not the fireman and policeman deal here. What are you going to be when you're a man? Start having some of those talks. You need to invest some time into this process, and you're already running late. You need to do a whole bunch of stuff by Christmas. He should've already applied to a bunch of colleges.