By Deva Dalporto
Helping students decide what to do after high school is no small task. This is especially true when it comes to assisting students who do not plan to go to college and want to follow a more untraditional path. We sat down with experienced guidance and career counselor Mrs. Lara Gueguen from Hays High School in Buda, Texas to discuss how to best help students who do not plan on attending university.
WeAreTeachers: What percentage of students at your high school go to college?
Mrs. Gueguen: About 55%-60% of the students at our school continue on to college.
WeAreTeachers: Why don’t the others go?
Mrs. Gueguen: It’s really a mix of reasons. Cost is a big factor. Skill-sets and academics play a role. And we have many students who are first-generation Americans and so they do not necessarily know about the resources out there.
WeAreTeachers: What is the best way to guide first-generation students?
Mrs. Gueguen: The best way to handle advising these students is to find out what their plans and goals are. You have to work on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, the process can take a long time. Often the students don’t even know what to ask. You have to have counselors who will go the extra mile to walk them through the process. Show them what to do. Help them one-on-one with applications. You’ll see the most progress if you’re very involved.
WeAreTeachers: How important do you feel a college education is in today’s world?
Mrs. Gueguen: I think it’s important for students to have some sort of post-secondary training—something beyond a high school diploma. It doesn’t have to be a bachelor’s degree at a traditional university. That’s not for everyone. But I think everyone should have a post-graduation plan. It could be the military, technical school, starting a business. Students can get lost in the shuffle if they don’t have a post-grad plan. If their only skill-set is being a high school graduate, it really limits their options in life.
WeAreTeachers: How do you advise students who don’t want to go to college?
Mrs. Gueguen: If students don’t want to go to college, we try to identify what jobs or careers they might be interested in. We help them figure out what is required to land those types of positions. We get them hooked up with the training they need. We help them get the skill-set needed to go into the career or field they want to start out in.
WeAreTeachers: What are some good alternatives to college for young people?
Mrs. Gueguen: Technical schools are a good choice. Community college is often a very good place to start for students who need to take developmental courses or want to continue their education but aren’t ready for a full college experience. We also have a lot of students who benefit from the services that the military provides. And many of our students want to join city services and become firemen or policemen—jobs that don’t necessarily need a college degree.
WeAreTeachers: Have you had any non-traditional “success stories”—stories of students who didn’t go to college but ended up being very successful?
Mrs. Gueguen: Yes! I worked with a student who had his own business cards in high school. The day I met him he handed me one, which was very unusual! It’s not every day a high school student has business cards. He had purchased some dry-cleaning equipment and was cleaning clothes for fellow classmates and other clients. After he left high school, he started his own dry-cleaning business. Today, he is very successful. And he did that out of his own ambition. That is another thing students who don’t want to go to college can do. They can start their own business. Entrepreneurship is a good alternate path to consider.
WeAreTeachers: What do you think are the benefits of not getting a college education?
Mrs. Gueguen: For students who are very self-aware and know they aren’t ready for a university environment, postponing or forgoing a college education can save a lot of frustration, disappointment, and financial stress. We have a lot of students who drop out of college or university because they can’t afford it or they weren’t ready for it or they can’t handle the rigor. If they hadn’t gone in the first place, they could have saved themselves some time and money.
WeAreTeachers: Have you ever had a student who wanted to go to college but didn’t have the grades? What did you tell him or her?
Mrs. Gueguen: Absolutely. Sometimes students realize that they should have worked a little harder in high school to get a good grade point average. For those students, I recommend starting off in programs that are open enrollment—like a community college or junior college—where they can accumulate credits. Or we encourage them to get experience in a field they are interested in. For students who want to go to college but didn’t quite make the grade, it’s all about stepping stones. They have to have an end in sight and make a step-by-step plan to get where they want to be.
WeAreTeachers: Have you ever had a student who had the grades but didn’t want to go to college?
Mrs. Gueguen: Sure. Sometimes there are family struggles or personal issues that prevent a student from going to college even though he or she is a high achiever and you think they belong on a college campus. We have students who are responsible for earning family income. It often depends on how much value is placed on higher education in their families. If it isn’t a priority, even high-achieving students often don’t consider it an option. And we’re seeing many students and families that are afraid to get into debt. Especially when the job market isn’t very good. That can hinder students who would otherwise want to go to college.
WeAreTeachers: Have you seen a decline in college applications due to the struggling economy?
Mrs. Gueguen: Yes. I believe sometimes it is because there is less scholarship money available. When there isn’t as much financial aid and the economy isn’t doing well, we definitely see a decrease in enrollment.
WeAreTeachers: What is your best piece of advice for a guidance counselor or teacher who wants to help students successfully prepare for life after high school?
Mrs. Gueguen: This might be really simple, but I think the most important thing is to remember how you make your students feel. Students can be really easily discouraged and how you treat them can make a strong impression. They will always remember what you say. Someone once told me that when a student comes into your office, he or she will remember 10% of what you say, 20% of what your office looks like, and 70% of you made them feel. If you’re positive toward your students, you can make a lot of progress with them!