Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Dear Carrie: My son just graduated from high school and was planning to start college in the fall. Now he says he wants to work for a year before enrolling, but in the current job market, I'm concerned he won't find anything worthwhile. What do you think -- good or bad idea? --A Reader

Dear Reader: Whether or not it's a good idea for your son to take a year's break before entering college depends on a lot of things: his maturity, his personal goals and of course, the job market.

There's no question that a college education can open up a world of career opportunities. According to a 2011 U.S. Census Bureau survey, not only are workers age 25-64 with a bachelor's degree more likely to have full-time, year-round employment than high school graduates, the difference in median annual salary is almost $23,000. But to my mind, college isn't just about getting a high-paying job. It's about exploring one's interests and learning how to think critically. Hopefully, but of course not always, this will lead to meaningful (and possibly lucrative) work.

And you're absolutely correct to be concerned about the current job market for high school graduates. A new survey conducted by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development found that only 27 percent of recent high school graduates have full-time jobs. Some have part-time work, but nearly 1 in 3 are unemployed. One of the most telling findings is that fewer than 1 in 10 say their high school education prepared them well to get their first job or to be successful at it. These statistics would point to the benefits of staying on the college path.

All that said, not every 18-year-old is ready for college. Especially with the cost of education today, if your son feels he'd be better off waiting a year and getting some more experience under his belt, I would tend to trust his instincts (in fact, many colleges will allow -- or even encourage -- students to take a "gap year"). The challenge will be helping him make this transitional time productive.


Getting a job may be hard, but getting a job that could have some future benefit may be even harder. Granted, any job will teach your son responsibility. However, if he has a job he's interested in, he's bound to learn even more about himself and what direction he wants to take. If he has a passion, encourage him to focus on that. It doesn't have to be high paying. For example, if he likes animals maybe he could help in a veterinary clinic. The main goal is for him to get some relevant experience.


Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz is a Motley Fool contributor.

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