Beyond Career Assessment: Preparing Students for Life After High School

By Anthony P. Carnevale and Jennifer Landis-Santos

Talking with students about life after graduation can be challenging — most often students do not have a realistic concept of what their options are. They hear “go to college!” but feel overwhelmed with how to choose a school and consider a major (Kolko, 2013). Students from homes with family members who have attended college have an advantage over students without that history. Yet, the college admissions process has changed so much  in the last 20 years, that it has become challenging for all students to navigate the myriad of information available. How do counselors help students in high school understand and explore their career options and achieve success after high school?

Counselors who work with students around planning for life after graduation must provide them with a larger picture of the United States job market and help them see how their talents fit in. Counselors need to accompany the “follow your passion” message with opportunities for career exploration, which includes self-reflection on values, priorities, skills and abilities, as well as feedback on earnings data and occupational outlook information. In particular, students should also consider what industries are growing and their respective educational requirements and anticipated earnings.

Career Planning Tools

Effective career planning is critical not only to helping students find a good fit for their skills, interests, values, and abilities, but also to prepare them for today’s economic realities. Decisions should not be made solely on the basis of earnings, but on avoiding debt and underemployment. In addition to information on colleges, it is important for counselors to help students explore other options, such as career and technical education, which can lead to middle class wages (Carnevale, Rose, & Cheah, 2011).

The following tools are designed to help students maximize their opportunity for success after graduation by assisting with the career planning process:

  1. Encourage students to realize what is important to them in life as they pursue a career path. Changing their career path later and/or frequently can lead to debt, no degree, and frustration. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics offers an interest inventory in English and Spanish that helps students think about what they like doing, and generates career possibilities. Teach students to use the Department of Labor’s ONET and explore “Bright Outlook” occupations, which can help them move confidently into a field that offers job security.
  2. Equip high school students with the information to determine which college is a good fit. Some colleges are better than others at supporting students during their studies, graduating students without debt, and helping them find a job. The Department of Education’s College Scorecard provides this information. Additionally, for families earning $48,000 or less a year, Money magazine has a tool to help students think about budgeting and tuition.
  3. Provide students with information on majors and earnings to help them make informed decisions, and address their concerns regarding lifestyle or money. The Georgetown Center’s research (Carnevale, Cheah, & Hanson, 2015) shows that what you major in is more important than which college you attend. The tool is available in English and Spanish: cew.georgetown.edu/earnings.
  4. Help students see the difference in lifetime earnings for different types of education after high school. Students will need to realize how much salaries increase as degree attainment increases. Education is particularly important for women as they earn less than men with the same educational attainment (Carnevale, Rose, & Cheah, 2011)
  5. Provide students with an overview of options for certificates, certifications, and licenses so they can understand what options exist in addition to the “traditional” four-year college path.
  6. Provide information on skills employers want and encourage students to seek opportunities to develop and practice those skills.
  7. Encourage students to get paid internships: research (Carnevale & Hanson, 2015) shows that students who complete a paid internship see higher starting salaries ($52,000 vs $36,000 for unpaid internships) and are more likely to receive a job offer. High school students can look for internships on their own through school, the internet, and by visiting a nonprofit resource site such as http://idealist.org.

Helping All Students with Career Planning

With a large caseload, multiple educational options and a variety of industries, it can be challenging to advise students on the next steps after high school. Providing them with resources and personalized guidance to sort through their skills, interests, values, abilities, in relation to “good jobs” will help them in the process of career planning. Career planning is important for all students to avoid debt and underemployment. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce offers resources for counselors to address many of the above points through its Diversity Initiative. The goal of this work is to close the information gap on majors and earnings for all students, particularly the underrepresented students.


Kolko, J. (2013). The academic journey: A research study about students, education, degree completion, and focus. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from https://www.myedu.com/assets/myedu/files/myedu_academicJourney_short_form.pdf

Carnevale, A. P., Rose, S. J., & Cheah, B. (2011). The college payoff: Education, occupations, lifetime earnings (Rep.). Washington, DC: Georgetown University. Retrieved from https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/the-college-payoff/

Carnevale, A. P., Cheah, B., & Hanson, A. R. (2015). The economic value of college majors. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Retrieved from https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/valueofcollegemajors/

Carnevale, A. P., & Hanson, A. R. (2015). Learn & earn: Career pathways for youth in the 21st century. E-Journal of International and Comparative Labour Studies,4, 76-89.



Anthony CarnevaleAnthony Carnevale, Ph.D., currently serves as research Professor and Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, a position he has held since the Center was created in 2008. He has served as Vice President of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), senior staff in both the U. S. Senate and House, and has received appointments in multiple presidential administrations. In 1993, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton to chair the National Commission on Employment Policy. He was subsequently appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the White House Commission on Technology and Adult Education.  Dr. Carnevale co-authored the principal affidavit in Rodriguez v. San Antonio, a U.S. Supreme Court action to remedy unequal education benefits. This landmark case resulted in significant fiscal reforms to equalize K-12 education spending in a majority of states. Dr. Carnevale can be reached at cewgeorgetown@georgetown.edu


Jennifer Landis-SantosJennifer Landis-Santos, MA, CDF is a bilingual counselor and career specialist. She has more than a decade of experience working with students and professionals to help them recognize, articulate, and apply their strengths to life and work. In December 2016, she completed a fellowship at the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. Landis-Santos is a member of the National Career Development Association and can be reached at www.CareerDefinitions.com


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Janet Wall   on Wednesday 02/01/2017 at 06:53 PM

To earn CEU clock hours on related content using Georgetown 's research, go to ceuonestop.com to access the course Realistic Career Decision Making:It's More Than Passion. 5 NBCC CEU clock hours.Good for a variety of certifications like the GCDF, BCC, NBCC, LPC, etc.

China Yang   on Thursday 05/30/2024 at 04:08 PM

This was a great article, our responsibilities as school counselors are to be honest and realistic with our students, despite the challenges that come with it.

Grace Cormier   on Saturday 06/01/2024 at 02:38 PM

The information gap within diverse populations continuously creates underserved communities. With the implantation of proper resources and effective discussions, school counselors can truly assist further generations within their student's professional careers and global economy. Honest and up-front information and data will serve as an important factor in the decision making process for student's who are exploring post-school career paths.

Micol Striuli   on Sunday 06/02/2024 at 11:31 AM

I like that this article addresses the importance of considering a student's future material needs and that it emphasizes that there are many different paths available to students post-high school. By being prepared to provide resources about these varying opportunities, a wide range of students will be empowered to join the workforce in capacities that are best suited for their skills and interests.

Korrie L.   on Sunday 06/02/2024 at 08:02 PM

I enjoyed that you have provided many sources that can assist students with planning their future. Knowledge of all the implications of choosing a school can do to oneself is extremely important. It is our job to make sure that all students are making an informed decision that they are comfortable and happy with in the long run.

Justine C.    on Monday 06/03/2024 at 05:56 AM

A brilliant article with up-to-date tools and resources to assist students and their families as they navigate the daunting task of college selection and majors. A valuable resource is the US Department of Education Scorecard which also lists the Occupational Handbooks which details hundreds of careers and their current base salaries within a variety of fields. I think it is also important that colleges remain steadfast in their approach to offer career counseling as well as the all-important internship and study abroad programs in order for students to realize if in fact what they feel is important to them in their career is what they authentically desire to pursue.

Marcela Garces   on Monday 06/03/2024 at 12:36 PM

This is a great article. How can we help immigrant parents who have never been to college support and encourage their children to pursue higher education?

Leah Abbate   on Monday 06/03/2024 at 07:17 PM

This article does a great job of presenting the realities of preparing students for life after high school. Many students, and families, may be unaware of the options students have and ways they can successfully navigate college and career paths. The career planning tools provide a variety of areas which should be taken into consideration during the planning process. I also found the abundance of resources offered in this article to be extremely beneficial.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.