The high school years are a time for discovering oneself — learning strengths and weaknesses, identifying dreams and goals for the future, developing key communication and real-world skills, and mapping out plans for college or a career after graduation.
Many high schoolers never receive the guidance, training, or opportunities necessary to adequately prepare them for post-graduation life. They leave high school unsure of what they’re good at, what they want to do, or even how to achieve the future they envisioned. As a result, many students — even those who had been at the top of their class — flounder, unable to declare majors, attain degrees, or secure the careers they desired.
As educators, we are in the position to close this gap. And we can start with giving high schoolers a new title: pre-professionals. At Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, this is how we refer to high school students. We believe the term “pre-professional” more accurately reflects the balance of education, experience, and attitude that is necessary to succeed in the world today. It is our hope that transforming high schoolers into pre-professionals will help students, parents, and educators recognize the unique opportunity this age group has to learn and perfect a plethora of pivotal skills before they begin the next chapter in life.
An Evolved Title for an Evolving World
High schoolers today are faced with a unique predicament: The business world awaiting them has become increasingly competitive, now requiring a lot more than a degree to get ahead. Modern-day employers expect even novice applicants to have firsthand experience in their fields and possess refined interpersonal skills — especially when it comes to communication, teamwork, and innovation.
More often than not, students crave these life skills, but they may not be finding them in classroom lessons. And without solid foundations in high school, students can get less out of their college years, drifting aimlessly through courses and programs instead of declaring paths and acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed.
In fact, a recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities perfectly embodied this disconnect between the education system and the business world. Survey results showed nearly 70 percent of recent college grads believed they had what it takes to succeed in the workplace. Employers, on the other hand, responded differently: 64 percent said students are not prepared for advancement in the workforce, and 58 percent believed students aren’t ready for even entry-level positions.
Closing that gap should be a top priority for every student, parent, and educator — with special emphasis on delivering a better balance of information and practical skills in high school. We can usher in this new era of education today by promoting our high school students to pre-professionals.
This simple title change will refocus our society’s idea of how and what high schoolers should be taught in order to fulfill the demands of today’s workforce. It will motivate parents and students to seek broader ranges of learning opportunities during the high school years, allowing students to strengthen their skill sets and expand their horizons prior to graduation. A new title will encourage educators to adjust their curriculums, teaching tactics, and mentorship strategies in ways that will better prepare their students for the real world.
Going ‘Pre-Professional’ for a Brighter Future
At the university level, a few innovative schools have already established pre-professional curriculums and programs in hopes of bridging the gap between the current education system and employers’ growing expectations. Students in select programs at Fordham University now can gain real-world experience and earn credit toward professional degrees while they’re still enrolled in undergraduate studies. Ohio State University, University of Notre Dame, and Cornell University have introduced similar pre-professional programs for their post-baccalaureate students.
At the high school level, however, more progress is needed. Some high school students supplement their educations through pre-professional learning programs. Such programs offer broad ranges of courses and opportunities and are typically taught by professionals in the field. Several even allow students to earn college credit and gain firsthand experience in influential jobs and industries. Through these programs, students can also acquire practical skills like networking, communication skills, public speaking, drafting résumés, navigating job markets, perfecting interviewing skills, and managing personal brands.
As educators, we can drive the shift toward pre-professionalism even further by implementing important changes in and out of the classroom. Educators can:
- Adjust curriculums to involve real-world lessons.
- Expose students to topics aligning with their interests.
- Connect students with extracurricular programs that will strengthen their skill sets.
- Point students to internships and hands-on work opportunities before they graduate.
These actions will help close the gap between traditional school and the workforce, allowing students to better identify their talents and define their goals.
High school is, indeed, a time for self-discovery — a critical time when students build the foundations for the rest of their lives. As educators, we should treat our students as pre-professionals, teach them vital life skills, and expose them to countless traditional and nontraditional learning opportunities so they are better prepared to succeed in college, in their future careers, and in life.
Steve Robertson is the CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs (JKCP), an organization specializing in youth-to-adult programming that turns curiosity into passion and skill. Steve has been with the company for 18 years. In this role, his primary responsibility is to cultivate a culture that results in memories lasting a lifetime.