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Coping when your kid cancels college

Planning for Plan B
Planning for your kid's noncollege career can begin as early as your child shows an aptitude or interest in a particular field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' kid-friendly "Jobs for Kids Who Like ..." can be a good starting point when Jim or Jenny declares an interest in a profession unfamiliar to mom or dad.

There are also plentiful online sites to help your child narrow the search. One good resource is the career interest area offered by the University of California at Berkeley.

Explore the possibilities with your child. And don't be afraid to consider glamor industries like show business or rock 'n' roll. There are plenty of nondegreed opportunities there, as well.

"Maybe you can't sing a note, but look at the crews of support people who travel around the world with a rock group and are highly paid. You get a job as an electrician with the Rolling Stones and you'll retire a rich man," says Unger.

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You also can help by calling on family and friends to admit your child to their workaday world. A day spent behind the scenes in a firehouse, hospital or community theater can help a child try on an occupation vicariously.

Schooling yes, college no
Opting out of university doesn't mean the end of structured education. To get the job they want, kids will likely need specialized training.

Noncollege-bound teens can get a head start by enrolling in a targeted vocational or technical school from grade 9 or 10 through 12. There also are cooperative education programs (also known as "two-plus-two" or tech prep), which combine grades 11 and 12 with two years of vocational training at a nearby community college, culminating in an AA degree.

Upon receipt of a high school diploma or GED, the training options expand. Some corporations sponsor apprenticeships and internships through local colleges and community colleges. Trade unions also may have paid apprenticeships available.

Unger says the armed services offer an unbeatable combination of benefits for young people just starting out:

  • Paid training averaging more than $25,000 a year.

  • Work experience in more than 2,000 specialties.

  • Free housing, paid medical, dental and recreational benefits.

  • A pension worth 40 percent of base pay after 20 years of service.

  • The opportunity to serve their country.

"You could retire at 38 and have a great, great learning experience, plus while you're in the service you can go to college and earn a college degree under military auspices," he says.

Exploring all the options
Some young people, such as Lee's son Evan, simply need a little extra time to decide what they want to do. In Lee's estimation, most males in particular would benefit from a couple additional years in high school before leaving home.

For these individuals, she recommends a 13th year at a boarding school. "You cannot get out of boarding school without learning how to study," she contends. "They make you do it."

Some teens can put that postgraduate time to even better use by exploring any number of programs geared toward young people seeking a direction in life.

Dynamy, a program in Worcester, Mass., puts several kids together in an apartment with plenty of career counseling and three internships a year, a la "The Real World." INTERIM, a Boston-area post-grad program, arranges exciting internships all over the world. Other popular service-oriented options include City Year, Leap Now and AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps.

After his abbreviated stint on campus, Evan spent a year working as a roofer, a UPS deliverer and a lawn pesticide technician. Through a friend, he found a job with a Rochester telecommunications company, where he has been working for three years. The firm recently transferred him to Irvine, Calif., where he hopes to return to college -- this time on the company's nickel.

Get a life, not just a job
While well-meaning parents still try to scare their kids into college by saying it's that or a job, Unger says that's not a wise alternative today.

"Generally, people won't hire you at 18 except at a low-level, unskilled job, and that really is not going to train you for anything. At 18, the best thing if you have a specific interest is to go out and get the job skills that will give you the opportunities in that area."

Lee agrees: Don't get a job. Get trained for a life.

"Every parent I talked to said he may not be ready for college but what is he going to do? The nightmare is that he's going to live in the basement and play video games, and he is unless you do something about it."

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.

-- Posted: May 6, 2003
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See Also
The Brazen Careerist looks at kids in the office
Want a job? Try vocational school
Summer jobs for teens

Welcome to the working -- and tax -- world

Financial advice glossary
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