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The spring semester is always a great time to begin talking with juniors about their post-high school pathways. A good first step is to talk about whether college is the right path after high school. Here are three things to consider as you support your students.

Does it matter whether your students see themselves in college?

Have you ever wondered if students might be more likely to enroll in college if they had a more realistic perception of what college really is? As educators, we know “college” doesn’t always look the way it does in popular culture, which is why one of the most important things we can do to support our students is to help them see themselves as college students. When students see themselves at college, it not only makes them more likely to apply to college, it makes them more likely to perform better in the classroom. We know from self-determination theory (SDT) that “relatedness” describes having a sense of belonging or connectedness to other people. When combined with other important psychological factors, “relatedness” drives intrinsic motivation, which impacts the types of goals students set. So it stands to reason that if we help students see themselves in college (“relatedness”), they are more likely to experience higher academic achievement and higher rates of going to college.

What type of postsecondary pathway is best for your student’s career goals?

Knowing which type of degree or credential is necessary for a given career may be second nature to you as an educator. But do your students know which degrees and credentials they need based on their career goals? One of the best ways to support students is helping them understand the different postsecondary pathways. In general terms:

A Certificate or Associate’s degree is focused narrowly on a job or industry and is often obtained at a community or technical college. While the average earning potential for a person with an Associate’s degree is lower than a Bachelor’s degree, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows there are more than 20 careers requiring an Associate’s degree with salaries of more than $50,000 per year.

A Bachelor’s degree often provides students with specific content knowledge and experience on top of a well-rounded core curriculum. This broader academic experience can provide a wider range of career options for students. Not only do people with Bachelor’s degrees make more money on average than those who do not, the average unemployment rate tends to be lower as well.

What types of colleges are out there?

With more than 4,000 degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the United States, it can feel overwhelming to students who don’t know where to begin. Helping them understand , but there are some key-types of institutions that these can be sorted into. Typically, we would sort institutions by types of credential offered. A community and/or technical college will offer Certificates and Associates (or “a two-year degree”). There are also 4-year institutions that offer Bachelor’s degrees, often in addition to Associate’s degrees. Layered within this, there are also institutions tailored to serve certain demographics of students (i.e., Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), etc.). The ways we can segment schools can go on and on – based on size, location, Greek life, athletics, and more – but starting with type of degree and type of community served can help narrow the conversation in meaningful ways.

As you have these conversations with your students, don’t forget myOptions Encourage is here to support you as you support your students. myOptions Encourage is a no-cost platform that helps guide the college search process with integrated exploration apps, progress monitoring, and reporting. And for more, be sure to check out our Counselor Resource Library.