Planning ahead for post-secondary studies: Explore your options

Planning for post-secondary studies can help you make informed, realistic decisions about your education and career. You might want to take different factors into consideration depending on what stage of life you are in while planning ahead.

While in high school
High school students are still learning about themselves and developing their interests, talents and abilities. During this time, it is a good idea to keep your options open for further studies in a variety of fields. This means developing good research and writing skills and continuing on in math and sciences, if at all possible. The evolving and changing nature of adolescence favors exposure to a broad high school education. You may regret prematurely dropping core subject areas later on as this could mean that certain careers choices could be eliminated. Getting the required courses at a later stage is possible, but more difficult.

High school students should equip themselves with tools for exploring various academic programs and careers. Since career changes are common, these skills can be useful throughout your working life. Students need to keep connected with academic requirements, labour market trends, the impact of technology and marketability of their program. Students also need to be able to approach their guidance counsellors, teachers and people working in a variety of fields for information and career advice. They need to be able to find information from reputable websites, key staff and librarians, and from school visits. There should be no unwelcome surprises such as program costs, eligibility for loans and grants, minimum academic requirements for admission and if there are specific requirements for certain programs.

The older student
Older students and mid-life career changers face advantages and disadvantages in choosing programs. Life experiences and prior work are helpful to their learning; however, they may find that they are behind in the kind of skills that some high school students develop from current coursework, part-time jobs and family businesses. Older students may find that the computer skills of younger students are more up to date, that they have more practice with writing essays, and even that they have developed skills in the trades from summer employment.

Older students may feel rusty and discouraged, but one strategy is to engage in focused self-study. Another strategy is to take an introductory course or two prior to starting full-time studies. While an introductory semester may delay starting a program, it may make a big difference in your comfort level, self-esteem and grades later on. Summer introductory courses, in particular, are a good way to prepare since they present the material in a concentrated way. Reach out to a program advisor who can help you determine if taking these courses could be helpful. A look at the curriculum, course outlines and textbooks can also help in assessing readiness. This can make academics more manageable and enjoyable.

Keep exploring while attending school
While it is true that admission to some post-secondary schools may require particular courses from high school, elective courses at the post-secondary level can be used to continue exploring options and building skills. For instance, choosing a writing course while in a science field or a statistics course while studying the humanities.

The first year of university, which can sometimes be a rude shock in terms of grades, is a great opportunity to test out abilities and interests, and to look at the competition. The first year is a good indicator of whether the student has chosen wisely and will enjoy the work associated with their diploma or degree.

The first year is a good time to acquaint yourself with the supports that can help you refine your career goals throughout your studies. Support can be available through writing centres, peer tutoring and other student services. Even if you are a strong student, additional help can increase your grades and understanding.

Do your best to get ready for your post-secondary program, but also continue to explore your academic and career direction with the help of your school. No matter what stage of life you are in, planning ahead is critical to your success.

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