Youthentity column: Helping your high school student plan for the future

Kirsten McDaniel
Kirsten McDaniel

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

It’s all well and good to talk about financial responsibility, career development, and how to ensure our kids’ collective success — it’s quite another to develop and execute a plan in which milestones are outlined, associated costs are budgeted, and a full framework for accomplishing a goal is represented.

In order to make informed decisions, we need to help kids develop a plan to give a vision for what their future could look like. Through our Career Academy & YE University program, we lead students through the creation of a 5-year plan for three chosen fields, taking into consideration their heart (passion and interests) and their head (including desired lifestyle and other budget-related factors).

Though our Career Academy plan is quite detailed, there are steps you can take at home to outline possible career choices and help your child understand what is involved in making their dream job a reality — one that includes a 360-degree view of the certifications, degrees, costs, and return on investment for their future plans.

It’s also interesting to consider several statistics surrounding post-high school education. According to the Colorado Department of Higher Education:

Only about half of students who enroll in a post-secondary institution complete their degree

Only about 25% of ninth graders who graduate high school in four years and immediately enroll in a post-secondary certificate or degree program in the fall, complete their degree in 150% time

These statistics are obviously a bit startling, leading us to ask, why? And what about those who do not pursue or complete a four-year college degree? One of our hypotheses is that students lack — you guessed it — a plan and realistic timelines. Will a student need to work while taking classes? Is a graduate degree required for their field? What salary ranges can a student expect throughout their career? These are questions that can be answered in a Five-Year Life Plan.

In Career Academy, our Career Planning module (a.k.a. the Five Year Life Plan) aims to help ensure students choose the post-secondary education and training plan that helps them thrive professionally and financially, and help them develop a customized career and financial plan that outlines up to 20 years of projections, depending on career choice, while incorporating basic financial literacy. We typically ask our students to evaluate three career choices, investigating and researching for each choice:

What the work is about

Projected earnings

Education/training requirements including admissions to graduate school, if applicable

Costs of post-secondary education and training

How to pay for it

Course schedule and required prerequisites

Financial plan including school/training, paying off any debt, savings for retirement, projected earnings, cost of living and lifestyle choices

Our Career Academy Life Planning process is months-long, but basic life planning doesn’t have to be; a simple plan can be sketched in just a few hours (we offer a basic life planning resource at The benefits are many, as setting goals in tandem with financial literacy is an invaluable exercise.

A variety of factors can impact a person’s ability to complete a post-secondary program, and we aim to eliminate planning as one so that our community’s young people can move forward with confidence and eyes wide open. Fear of the unknown can lead to inaction; eliminating that ambiguity can only help move our youth forward in pursuit of happy, successful futures.

Kirsten McDaniel is executive director for Carbondale-based Youthentity, which submits a monthly column to the Glenwood Post Independent.

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