Life after secondary school: jobs, careers, further study, gap years
During the later secondary school years, your teenage child might start thinking about jobs and future careers, university study, vocational education and training, and gap years or study breaks. Some teenagers are very focused on their next steps, but it’s also common for many teenagers not to know what they want to do yet.
Here are some questions to get your child thinking about the future:
- Are you interested in university study?
- Does vocational study interest you more than university?
- Do you want a job in a particular industry?
- Do you want to work or travel for a while before further study?
Answering these questions can help your child make some basic choices about whether to look for jobs, apply for university or vocational education and training, apply for deferred entry and so on.
Too much pressure to do well or to make big decisions can lead to stress, anxiety and other health problems for teenagers. You can support your child by encouraging them to have a balanced lifestyle that includes socialising, relaxation and recreation, as well as study.
Exploring options for jobs, careers, university study or vocational education and training
When your child is thinking about jobs, careers, university study or vocational education and training, your child’s interests can guide them towards suitable options.
What are your child’s interests?
To get your child thinking about what really interests them, here are some questions to ask:
- What types of things do you most enjoy doing?
- What subjects do you like?
- What subjects do you think you do best?
- What other things do you like doing?
- What’s important to you?
- What are you passionate about?
You can also help your child get ideas about what interests them by:
- encouraging your child to talk to family, friends and other role models about their jobs, careers and employment histories
- going with your child to open days and career expos at TAFEs, colleges and universities
- looking at the careers sections in newspapers or websites together.
Careers counsellors at your child’s school can help your child to find future work and study options that match their interests. Careers counsellors can also help as your child plans and makes the transition to future work or study.
How to try out options
The next step for your child might be trying out some of the options they’re interested in. For example, most secondary schools have work experience programs. Or your child might be able to explore options through part-time work, volunteering or short internships.
When options don’t work out
Your child might discover that these options don’t suit them after all. If this happens, you could suggest they think again about what they enjoy, and find out more about other options.
When you feel your child’s interests aren’t realistic
Sometimes you might feel that what your child wants to do isn’t realistic or isn’t a good match for their abilities. This can be tricky. But rather than discounting or criticising your child’s plans, encourage them to learn more about the job or course they’re interested in or similar options.
What if your child wants to do something, but you want them to do something else? It’s OK to have hopes and expectations about your child’s future. But ask yourself whether your hopes match your child’s interests, strengths, talents, passions and dreams. It might also help to know that teenagers who are free to choose are likely to make good choices.
Choosing school subjects to suit study, career and employment plans
The subjects your child chooses to study at school can be important to their post-school plans, particularly if your child wants to go university or TAFE.
This is because some university and TAFE courses have prerequisites for entry. This means you must have studied particular subjects at school to do these courses. If your child hopes to get into one of these courses, you can help them work out what school subjects they need to do first. Your child’s school will also be able to help.
But if your child decides later that they want to do a particular course and they haven’t studied the prerequisites, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t do the course. Many universities offer bridging courses to help students move into different areas of study.
Study, career and employment pathways
There are many different pathways that lead to further study, jobs and careers.
Some young people go to university after secondary school to do an undergraduate degree. The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching website can help your child choose the university that best suits them. It has feedback from thousands of students about their study experiences in Australia.
Vocational education and training (VET)
Some young people choose to study at a technical training institute, TAFE, community college, or distance learning centre. This could be a good option if your child is interested in a course involving technical and practical skill development like car mechanics, construction, hospitality or beauty therapy.
Some young people choose an apprenticeship or traineeship to gain practical skills, work experience and formal training while they earn a wage. Apprenticeship programs include Australian apprenticeships, Australian school-based apprenticeships, Trade Training Centres and Australian Defence Force apprenticeships.
Some young people want to start a job after finishing secondary school. Others combine work and study, either to pay for their courses or to earn money while working out what interests them.
Some young people choose to take some time off before doing study or training. Gap years can give young people the chance to earn money, develop skills, learn about other cultures and places, work in overseas aid or volunteer. It can also give your child some space and time to think about what they want to do next.
When teenagers don’t know what they want to do after secondary school
It’s OK if your child doesn’t know what they want to do.
It’s also OK if your child decides on something now and then changes their mind, or doesn’t get into a particular job or course. You can reassure your child that there are other options and that you’ll support them with their next steps.
It might seem like the decisions your child makes now are all important. But it’s worth reminding your child, and yourself, that these decisions aren’t forever. It’s common for people to change jobs and careers many times during their working lives.
Life after school is likely to be a journey for your child. It’s about adapting and taking advantage of opportunities that come as your child changes and develops new skills and interests. This is part of ‘lifelong learning’.