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Do Your Homework! Choosing the Right Post-Secondary Path

It’s not too early to start planning for the Fall, especially for those teens graduating high school. However, deciding what to do for the rest of their professional lives can seem daunting, if not overwhelming. After all, a post-secondary education is one of the most significant investments - both personally and financially - that a person will make in their lifetime. Often, this investment is supported by parents and the pressure to choose a discipline wisely and perform well can create a lot of family stress.

 “The truth is many students are unaware of the vast career options available. They often choose based on limited exposure, and often those choices aren’t satisfying. Many students end up getting a sense of what careers appeal to them through a post-secondary trial-and-error approach. It’s a method that’s common and costly,” says Nina Reilly of Headway Advisors, a Calgary-based company specializing in academic planning. 

“Taking steps to create an academic plan of attack - regardless of how far along the student is in their post- secondary pursuits - can make a difference of thousands of dollars in the long run, not to mention overall personal satisfaction.”

Research shows 20 per cent of Canadian post-secondary students will drop out this year because of poor program fit. However, it’s not all bad news. There are steps current post-secondary students or teens leaving high school can take in conjunction with their family support systems that will lead to a well-executed post-secondary experience and ultimately, an enjoyable career.

TALK IT OUT – Reilly explains, “Parents can start by having a casual conversation in an environment that is comfortable for their teen. Communicate with your child in advance that you want to have a conversation with the intention of exploring their career options. Don’t spring the topic on them over dinner,
for example, because that can leave your child feeling put on the spot. It’s important for parents to relate to their teen and remember they process information differently than an experienced adult. They may need some time to gather their thoughts and get clear on what even interests them.”

DO YOUR HOMEWORK - LITERALLY! – From there, Reilly encourages teens to take the lead while parents facilitate tangibles, such as when they will have the next conversation to discuss the information the child has gathered. This can include connecting with various contacts, including academic advisors or even professionals already practising in the field your teen is interested in. “Don’t be afraid to set a hard, but reasonable date. Give your teen a week or 10 days to do some research, send some emails or make some calls. Let them know at the beginning that you’ll be expecting them to inform you of what they have discovered,” says Reilly.

START WITH THE BASICS – Even for teens who are not struggling with which post-secondary program to choose, there is a lot of value in doing an exercise on reflection: What extracurricular activities interest them? Who inspires them and why? Working through these answers helps the student and their support network realize what values resonate most with the budding young professional. 

CALL IN REINFORCEMENTS – Don’t wait for red flags such as academic probation or worse, a failed term to reach out for support. There are organizations out there that can help distinguish a student’s strengths, interests and ambitions in order to align post-secondary options. Using a myriad of assessments and professional partnerships, these types of organizations can customize an academic road map for each student and position them for optimal success.

For more information or to book an assessement with Headway Advisors, visit

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