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You’ve been her school counselor since she was a freshman. She’s smart and articulate, took every college prep class you suggested. Her grades are good, test scores respectable. But here you are – she’s squirming in her seat trying to explain that she doesn’t want to go to college.

The only ones who might be more surprised than you, are her parents.  And that’s a maybe.

It’s easy to think she’s just a kid. She needs guidance. That’s your job after all. You help your students determine their best path forward.

There’s an unspoken assumption college is that best path. In 2016, almost 70% of high school students enrolled in college, meaning 3 in 10 students did not.

Most school counselors have a great network of resources to support the college plan. What do you have to offer that other 30%?

Comparing their Options

When students who have the qualifications to attend college decide not to go, there’s usually some hand-wringing and dire predictions about their future. But pushing students toward higher education when they’re not motivated to don’t exactly inspire a rosy future either.

Only a little over half of the students who attend college complete their degree. The rest just get their student loan debt.

Traditional View

Everyone should go to college. College is a rite of passage, a chance to experience life outside the home. It is a unique life experience, full of intellectual challenge and the opportunity to engage with a diverse set of people.

College is also the foundation for a career. College helps encourage discipline, collaboration, and critical thinking to land better jobs.

The prevailing theory is that college graduates will make more money and have more opportunity than those with a high school diploma. Not 100% true but certainly true for certain fields and degrees.

Alternative Perspective

A bachelor’s degree is no guarantee of a good job. Income after college is very dependent on the school they attend and the major they choose.  A degree in Archeology isn’t going to do much for the resume. Likewise, with English Lit or Philosophy.

There is a perception that people with high school diplomas are all going to end up working a cash register at a convenience store. That is hardly the case.

Students who are not motivated academically may be very inclined mechanically or creatively. Some people are interested in learning a trade – plumbers aren’t exactly going hungry. Still, others may want to be part of the growing “gigs” economy, plying their talents on a project by project basis.

More than Money Matters

Who hasn’t heard the “Do what you love, love what you do” speech? How about the “Follow your dreams” speech? You may have even given one of them.

Helping students plan their future has to include more than how much money they might make at a job they might hate. Great counselors try to support the aspirations of each student – college bound or not.

Helping Students Who Say No to College

When one of your students has decided that college is not their cup of tea, you want to make sure they have access to local resources that might be able to help them achieve their goals.

The first thing is to help them articulate those goals to the best of their ability. Just having the discussion will help your students start to flesh out their choices in realistic terms.

Different kids will face different obstacles:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Little or no family support for their choice
  • Limited life skills for supporting themselves

Some will have a better understanding of where they want to go than others. Both will benefit from structure. You can help them narrow down their choices and begin to put together a plan to achieve their goals.

Assess but don’t judge. Guide but don’t dictate. Establishing those boundaries will encourage trust and build credibility for you and your recommendations.


Make sure you have a way to capture and manage the information you collect, so it’s searchable and sortable. Use whatever software you have available – any spreadsheet application should work.

  1. Internship Programs: Categorize these by industry to help match them to your student’s interests or abilities. Note whether or not interns get paid.
    • Corporations
    • Non-Profits
    • Creative agencies
    • Legislative Offices
    • TV/Radio/Print Media
  2. Apprentice Programs: Though not as widespread as they used to be, these programs are regaining some steam among the trades and custom artisans.
    • Unions offices
    • Local craftsmen (handcrafted items)
    • Artists, painters, sculptors
  3. Military Recruiters: Signing up for Military service is often an option for students who aren’t going to college right now. Some will use their military service for the chance to go to school on the GI bill.
    • Army/Navy/Air Force/Coast Guard
  4. Volunteer Opportunities: The key to this is to match the opportunity to the goals – e., Habitat for Humanity is a good fit for a student interested in construction.
    • Libraries
    • Parks
    • Hospitals
    • Animal Shelters
    • Civic Organizations
  5. Life Skill Training: There are a lot of life skills programs out there. Look for interesting approaches.
    • Resumes
    • Budgeting
    • Interviews
  6. Mentoring Programs: Putting students together with experienced local people gives them a career boost. Plus, they can build relationships they might never find on their own.
    • Entrepreneurship
    • Business Administration
    • Civic Engagement

Once you’ve identified your resources, reach out and explain the reason for your interest. Gauge their level of interest in helping your students. You may consider using social media to share a presentation, a video or just a Q&A session where students can interact.

You also might want to reach out to organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, Junior League, etc. Let them know you’re trying to build resources for your students – make them your advocate in the community.

Free Tools & Affordable Stuff

Pull together some information on free or relatively inexpensive tools, apps, and ideas. Here are a few suggestions to start you off:

  1. Starting a Busines: The Small Business Administration has a free learning center on how to start and run a small business.
  2. Freelance Work: Websites like, or are resources for project-based work.
  3. Hourly Jobs: lets you apply for full or part-time work. The interface is easy, and you can download their app.
  4. Incubators: Incubators provide free office space for entrepreneurs to work. They have WIFI, conference rooms and a chance to meet other people starting their business.
  5. Getting paid in the field: Square, Stripe, PayPal are tools to get paid using your cell phone. Great for home services – create an invoice while you’re still at the customer and get paid on the spot.
  6. Tech Training: Places like and offer free online training to learn how to code. Try your hand at creating video games at
  7. Certifications: From cosmetology to healthcare to auto mechanics – certification is typically short programs with big benefits in salary.
  8. Arts Councils: Writers, sculptors, musicians, and artists will benefit from lists of art organization in their city or county. Independent filmmakers sometimes have separate organizations.

You know your kids and your community. No doubt there are tons of local resources in your community. Then tack on the online tools or resources which are most relevant to the goals set by your students.

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