The way to converse to a highschool graduate who will rethink … | The alternate
Every April I see an increase in students and parents who are aiming for a gap year. Parents and students alike share the uncertainties about their fall plans – most of which concern college – and try to turn around. That is the norm.
I would in no way consider this spring normal.
As initial studies of the Art and Science Survey among high school graduates show, there are more students who question their college plans.
My experience supports this study. For five years I made more calls in April than in any other month. This year? It is offset. This means that more people – parents, youth pastors, mentors – are in discussions on this topic.
Here are some ways to hire a high school graduate who is deciding what comes next.
Throw away the idea of "a right path"
While I have worked with college students over the past decade, it becomes clear that many Christian students in their twenties began to perceive that "God's will" is a tightrope walk. It is this narrow, uniquely correct path that they have to follow through life – they are either on or on the way.
So every fork in the road (read: decision) on the way is a chance to fall outside of God's will. Gripped by fear of disappointing God, decisions have an unjustified weight.
Jerry Sittser offers this perspective in his book The Will of God as a Form of Life:
"… the Bible has very little to say about God's will as a future path. Instead, the Bible warns us of fear and presumption of the future, assures us that God is in control, and commands us to do the will of God that we already know in the present. "
Jesus is much more concerned with our daily attitudes and actions than with our future plans. Once they have accepted this idea, students may find a newly discovered freedom to live their faith day by day, and be a little less concerned about how their life can develop or not.
If you encourage students to accept that they don't need to know how the future will develop, they can live in the present and learn to make decisions from a place of freedom, not from control.
Help your student recognize the wrongness of the narrow path by sharing or re-sharing your story about how you found your way after graduation. Share the “plan” that you had drawn up after graduation and how it actually developed. Make sure you highlight how your life has developed differently than you originally expected and how you have seen how God worked it through.
In daily faithfulness to Christ, students will find that they have an incredible amount of freedom in making choices about how to go after high school.
The second guess at the college decision is fine
Encourage the questions that are asked to make room for the second and honest conversation.
COVID-19 has changed the lives of our high school graduates incredibly. Completing the last recent college visits, completing applications, and waiting for feedback on grant decisions are just a few of the aspects of the past year that are inherently different.
However, one of the hidden benefits of this season is time. Our seniors, who previously used their schedules to their fullest, now have more time than they can fill.
Instead of spending time on endless video games and streaming services, you should encourage seniors to take the time to determine what is really important for them in the next phase of life.
Given the circumstances, it would be valuable for students to think about what is really important to them and take the time to consider how their next step after high school will help prepare them for the future.
To start the conversation, I added some questions that I would ask a senior who is questioning his fall plans.
- What prompts you to rethink your plans after graduation?
- How did the pandemic affect your next fall?
- What do you feel uncomfortable about?
- What is most important to you when you think about life after high school?
- How do your current autumn plans reflect these values?
- If not, which options reflect these values?
- Are there doors in your life that didn't open 3 months ago?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of these new options?
- What steps can you take to explore the new opportunities?
Discover new options
For the student who may decide that he or she would rather wait a year for college, he or she has a surprising (and growing!) Number of options.
A gap year is a time for learning after graduation, in which professional skills are built up, practical experience is expanded and personal awareness is strengthened. There are so many options for gap years – to speed up your exploration, I've divided it into three main categories:
Volunteering / Internship – Students gain valuable life experience and perspective when they volunteer or practice in a ministry or non-profit organization. There is often an intercultural component as it involves travel or is located overseas and / or developing areas. The nature of volunteering and internship in the gap years can really expand the practical experience and improve the service mindset.
Build Your Own – The more adventurous students can choose to create their own experiences. This usually involves a mix of travel, volunteering and short-term work. A highly motivated person is required to use this option. Not only that, the price can get steep quickly. The advantage? Very tailored to the interests, passion and strengths of the student.
Programmed – This is probably the most common type of gap year. The program often has a focus: service, academic preparation, belief formation, leadership development, travel. Participants benefit from the organization's expertise, a set plan and purpose for the year, and the community that builds on shared experience.
For those who want to deepen their faith before college or whatever after high school, a gap year geared towards Christ helps a student build a practiced faith, discover its purpose, and recognize their calling.
If your senior is in the boat and worried about next year, you are certainly not alone. As seniors are forced to slow down, face the uncertainty of the future and consider their options, we as parents and mentors have a great opportunity to tell the truth in their lives and be part of the conversation when they grow up and go beyond. This could lead to countless fruits in their lives if they make decisions in future lifetimes and weigh what really matters.
Charlie Goeke is the director of Vanguard, the gap year of Wheaton College.