Taking the Stress Out of Senior Year

After almost 30 years I still inwardly cringe listening to high school seniors talk about how stressful senior year is while they try to navigate all steps of the college application process. I always think, it doesn’t have to be this way. By senior year you should have all your ducks in a row and have a plan.  Why not start earlier with this life-changing event?  Why didn’t you start this journey in 9th grade?

There are tools like Pathway that help you avoid the stress caused by waiting until the midnight hour.  Planning your future takes time. The more time you take to really understand who you are, what you want, and most important, what will make you happy, the better the outcome will be. The self-discovery journey can be compared to peeling back an onion, and can be an enjoyable, stress-free experience.  We all need guidance and support for major life decisions. Having a tool to collect lots of information about yourself that you can bring to your mentors with thoughtful, mindful questions is your first step to planning for success.

Grade 9 is not too early!  Start with the easy stuff to begin planning for your future. Have fun with some self-discovery. Take assessment tests in Pathway to find your core values and interests and see how they connect to possible future careers. Find different paths to get you there.  Don’t pick a college just because your friend is going there.  It is so important that the college is a good fit for YOU. I remember when I worked in College Admissions a student from Alaska was at orientation.  She was crying hysterically after the second day. She explained that she thought she wanted to go to college far away, but she didn’t do her research. She was miserable and scared.  Luckily, her parents were still there.  As my colleagues and I listened to her telling her parents how sorry she was, we wanted to cry with her. She withdrew that day, and they went home. That experience stayed with me over the years.  Within Pathway, she would have had the opportunity to apply her interests, her strengths, and her personality traits during her college search. I think the outcome of where she ultimately went to college would have been much different. I have used this story to try to help many students and my friends’ children to really understand the importance of starting this process much earlier, to talk about what you are feeling, and to talk to your parents. Show them the research you have done that supports your college and career selection. It will impress them!

Once you have narrowed your college list, it is time for college visits – in person or virtually! Most importantly – have fun!

 

Pamela Brennan, Executive Director of Client Success at FolderWave whose role is to be the voice of the customer, stated “I work very closely with educators and students that are using Pathway. Observing their excitement as they navigate through the platform confirms that our approach is working! We listen to the end users, which has resulted in a superior product.  I’ve walked away from many training sessions, focus groups, and Pathway roll-out events with affirmation that Pathway is tool of the future for college and career planning.”

Start Early to Reach Your Endgame! – A Path to Success

Senior year is extremely stressful, not only for a student, but for parents too.  It doesn’t have to be!  As senior year is approaches, big decisions loom.  What should you do with the rest of your life?  Go to college or go into the workforce? You have no idea what you want to do or who you want to be.  Your parents say, “You have to go to college.”  How do you know which one, or if college is even the right choice for you?

Sound familiar?  Wish you had started thinking about this earlier?  Studies have shown that the earlier a student explores life after high school, the better informed they will be to make good choices for the future.

As children, we are encouraged to explore and learn how to play instruments and sports. Through the process of elimination, we quickly discover what we enjoy, and what we don’t, what we are good at, and most of all what makes us happy.

Starting the journey for life after high school can be approached in the same way – as early as middle school.  Not only is it fun, but eventually leads to lots of “Aha!” moments along the way.

The challenge of education is immense. The climate today is more complicated in many ways – in part due to remote access to student support resources and the ever-changing job landscape – making it difficult for students and counselors to understand. Couple that with resources sprinkled around the internet that students are supposed to find and piece together.

There has been a major push across the country to help students discover the key to a successful future. There is also a great need to level the playing field. Students come from a wide array of socioeconomic backgrounds and not all students are provided with the same access to counselors and mentors. Using technology to bridge this gap is a good first step to reducing this disparity.

The impact of starting post high school research too late is significant for students, higher education institutions, and employers. Starting earlier can lead to better-informed students when it comes to selecting majors that might align better with their life paths. A student attending a college or university might experience better outcomes if he or she pursues a major aligned with what they see themselves doing in the future. Employers might see a greater return from their investment and training of a new employee if the employee is hired in a field they would enjoy.  From our observations, younger students are interested in exploring options. Pathway by FolderWave supports this journey and is structured to guide students from middle school through high school – all in the same application.

Several educators have shared their excitement on Pathway by FolderWave. Carolyn Blair, Counseling Services Director at Clayton High in Clayton, Missouri describes the Pathways by FolderWave platform as “…the most comprehensive solution she has seen anywhere.”

In a recent discussion with Phil Solomon, Director of Secondary Schools at West Warwick High School in Rhode Island, currently using Pathway said “the assignments are more concrete, and the tool helps motivate the students, especially getting the middle schoolers in the right head space to guide them.

Pathway guides students throughout their secondary school career through a portal of ongoing exploration. Students can shape their future, while learning key skills for the path to adulthood.   The journey starts with fun skills inventory tests that reveal what careers may interest students based on the answers they provide. Interests and skills that “stand out” can then lead the way to career exploration, exposing the careers available based on their individual interests. This process will ultimately help narrow down the college or alternative future opportunities search. Pathway also introduces students early to the importance of financial literacy and teaches essential skills such as budgeting, college cost comparison, college cost calculations, and a basic understanding of wants versus needs.

Phil went on to say “Using Pathway has been especially helpful with remote learners, since they are on a hybrid schedule.  The kids are kind of in limbo when working from home; now they have assignments they can work on independently. Learning how to be self-directed is important in remote learning, not just during this pandemic, but anytime. In Pathway they are always able to work on something.  Pathway is tailor made for remote learning.”

Students too are responding with enthusiasm…

Grade 6 – female– “I think that Pathways is a great website. Even though I am still young and really don’t know what I want to do when I get older, Pathways helped me get a better understanding of different jobs. I think it’s a great website.”

High School Student: “The site is so user friendly and fun to work with!”

Pamela Brennan, Executive Director of Client Success at FolderWave whose role is to be the voice of the customer, stated “I work very closely with educators and students that are using Pathway. Observing their excitement as they navigate through the platform confirms that our approach is working! We listen to the end users, which has resulted in a superior product.  I’ve walked away from many training sessions, focus groups, and Pathway roll-out events with affirmation that Pathway is tool of the future for college and career planning.”

Partnerships can make a difference to students in their exploration of education and career

Today, students have far more college and career exploration options than I had when I followed my father’s footsteps. Accounting was a solid profession, and I excelled at math, so why not? While all choices in life shape you, in hindsight that choice impacted my path negatively, costing me valuable time, and added frustration to my path. This is the story of many, so I am not unique.

 

I did not have, or wasn’t aware of, the option of a Google or Microsoft certification program that could result in a great job in an exciting field.  Today, enlisting in the military could lead to a civilian career in cybersecurity or many other options that were not available or obvious many years ago.  Vocational education or Community College, was stigmatized, not cool back then. Today it is a critical piece of our workforce training.

 

The opportunity of increased skill and degree attainment,  and career choices is great, but perhaps overwhelming for today’s young adults.  In the age of the internet, information and misinformation about careers, colleges, training programs and loans flood their screens.

 

In a pandemic, isolation reduces already limited opportunities for professional advice.  The average high school counselor-to-student ratio is close to double what it should be, according to the American School Counselor Association (https://www.schoolcounselor.org/ ) with some states being 3 times their 250-1 recommendation. Some school counselors have less than 15 minutes a year to counsel students on college and career planning.

 

This is especially troubling for students who are the first generation to go to college, or live in less affluent areas where support at home may be limited.  If parents did not attend college or enter a trade program, they may not be familiar with the process.  And even if they did, the choices and information are changing rapidly.

 

It is a bleak picture.  Too many choices, too little time, and too much adversity.

 

However, a partnership between a state authority and a Massachusetts-based technology company is changing how students explore and choose career paths.  The MEFA (Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority), and FolderWave (a company I co-founded after finding my real passion of being an entrepreneur and appreciating the art of creating software and solving problems) have created an on-line education and career planning platform available to all Massachusetts students.

 

MEFA Pathway (mefapathway.org) is considered by some to be the most comprehensive college and career planning portals available to Massachusetts high schools and middle schools. And it is free. To every student. Every school counselor. Every school, regardless of budget size.

 

For almost 4 decades, MEFA has helped families plan, save and pay for college. MEFA  recognized the need for a new way to help all families, far beyond the hundreds able to join its community events every year.

 

The goal was not to build yet another college website, or to only focus on workforce and career.  Instead, the goal was to meld these initiatives and collaborate with the best content providers we could

 

The result is an engaging, comprehensive portal for any student with a computer and internet connection to explore careers that match their interests and personality, craft a plan to pursue a career, and upload, organize and store the personal content needed to apply to whatever post-secondary education or training program they desire.

 

In addition, MEFAPathway.org is for counselors and teachers who can support and engage students by easily seeing who is on track, or off track, in their exploration.  This insight will make sure the 15-minutes they have with students is focused and productive.

 

Beyond being free to use, participating schools can access lesson plans and curriculum for using the platform, as well as instruction on admissions and financial aid topics.  MEFAPathway.org also helps schools manage requirements under the state’s Individual Learning Plan initiative, MyCAP, an initiative focused on career success paths.  For schools spending on career services provided by MEFAPathway.org, those dollars can be redirected to other needs.

 

The MEFA/FolderWave partnership is committed to keeping the site experience fresh, by always updating and providing new content such as video interviews with students, or new features to continue to grow the platform. Recently, a feature to explore careers of the future was added to be helpful for middle and high school students and their parents. The tools also show how a choice to start a career may lead to advanced careers, or what paths are possible to move laterally, for example, from a business over technology career.

 

MEFA Pathway highlights the ability of public-private partnerships to support innovation and drive change quickly in education.  This has eliminated barriers and brought support to the fingertips of all students.

 

Robert Burke is the co-founder of FolderWave, a Westford-based technology company founded in 2000 to meet the needs of education.

 

  • If you would like to learn more about how MEFA Pathway can help you in Massachusetts, contact Jennifer Bento-Pinyoun (jbento@mefa.org ).

 

  • Or to learn more about our solutions or how a partnership could work in your state or with your organization please contact Bob Burke (bob@folderwave.com )

 

FolderWave is a student centric technology company that strives to create innovative process oriented solution to empower students and the constituents that support them. Our technology, is built on a scalable cloud based platform, and our people provide mission-driven expertise, to  enable organizations to achieve improved efficiency and productivity.  For more information see https://folderwave.com/about-pathway/

 

MEFA is a not-for-profit state authority, not reliant on state or federal appropriations, established under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 15C. MEFA’s mission, since its founding in 1982, has been to help Massachusetts students and families access and afford higher education and reach financial goals through education programs, tax-advantaged savings plans, low-cost loans, and expert guidance. All of MEFA’s work aligns with the ever-present goal to support the independence, growth, and success of Massachusetts students and families. Visit mefa.org to learn more or follow MEFA on Twitter @mefatweets and on Facebook at mefaMA.

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