Why Does School Matter? Effective Answers for High School Students

High school student wondering if school matters now or later.

At some point in every student’s school career, he or she is bound to ask, “Why does this [subject or task] matter? I’m never going to need it.” For high school students just beginning to imagine life after high school, these are opportune moments to show them how to “connect the dots” between school, skills, work, and their future. Here’s how.

Provide a Skill-Building Perspective

Let’s face it: you can’t persuasively argue that your student’s future employer will be asking for an essay about the Louisiana Purchase. But you can help your child understand how writing that essay can build skills an employer will need.

For example:

  • History and social studies courses build the critical-thinking and discussion skills that employers value. Skills in research, analyzing data, and decision making apply equally to one’s career and personal life.
  • English courses cultivate a student’s ability to organize information and communicate effectively in writing. For everything from creating resumes to writing emails to the speaking with the boss, students will need the requisite skills, both to enter the job market and stay gainfully employed once there.
  • Math courses teach fundamental life skills that can be applied to both career and everyday life—such as balancing a checkbook or calculating gas mileage for an expense report.
  • Online learning environments build the collaborative and interpersonal skills that are becoming permanent features of the 21st-century workplace, as co-workers connect from home and, sometimes, from around the world.
  • Time-management skills developed in virtual school put students ahead of the curve in both college and career, for which the ability to “own” and compete personal projects on time is key.
Encourage Students to Evaluate Their Skill Sets

In a previous post, we discussed how students can identify where their skills, interests, and career options intersect. When dealing with the “Why do I need to learn this?” question, take the opportunity to encourage your student to look at how the skills he or she will need for a future career intersect with current coursework. When students “see” the skills they need for that dream job, they also gain the ability to view coursework and school in a new light.

For example, students may realize the following:

  • A video-game designer requires not just the technology skills found in computer science class, but also the creative thinking inspired in art and English classes.
  • A criminal investigator needs the analytical skills found in the science lab as well as the interpersonal skills developed in the online classroom or in student clubs and extracurricular activities.
  • An advertising executive uses not only written and verbal communication skills gained through history and English, but also the ability to analyze sales figures or demographics—skills that are developed in mathematics classes.
  • A doctor needs not only science expertise, but also strong mathematics skills and the ability to research, analyze, and write coherent reports and articles for medical journals.

Ask how your student’s skills “stack up” against that dream job. How can your child leverage his or her coursework to improve those skills? Finding that answer may provide the motivation your student needs to work harder in school.

Connect Career Readiness to Class Readiness

While students often focus on the technical training required for a specific career, they also need to understand the career-readiness skills employers demand.

Here are some of the career-readiness skills that are most in demand by employers:

  • Teamwork, including collaboration that is done either face-to-face, remotely, or online
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Self-control
  • Planning, organization, and prioritization
  • Responsibility

Remind your teen that, as an adult in the workforce, a boss won’t always be looking over his or her shoulder. This means that having the ability to work independently—and knowing when and how to ask for help when necessary—will be tremendously valuable. And, as an online student, your child is building those career-readiness skills every day, in every course, regardless of subject matter!

What job-related skills have you seen your online student develop? Share your observations in the comments below.

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