“Dad, I have no idea what I should do after high school,” I said back in 1988, at the start of my senior year of high school. “Son, you are definitely going to college,” my father sternly suggested, “and you might as well focus on business finance. That is what your older brother did, and you are good in math.”
I went on to do not only that, but also travel to Taiwan for a six-week trip—part missions, part work experience—with that same older brother. During my freshman year as a finance major I got a job working for a credit card bank. My mindset was that, if this is what “I” want to do for the rest of my life, I needed to throw all I had into the ring to figure it out.
Two years later I was failing out of college, caught up in a fraternity, no longer with the girl I thought I was going to marry, and finished playing the sport I loved. At the heart of my misdirection was a distorted view of who God is and who He made me to be. I had no vision of a lifelong purpose. Simply put, my life had become all about me.
I wasn’t alone. Most graduating students have no clue what post-high school holds. For those students who pursue college after graduation, it is posited that 20–50% enter undecided on a major, and 75% of those with declared majors switch before graduating with a degree (Gordon 1995). Furthermore, of the students who seemingly have decided upon a college and major, the contributing factors are:
- family and peer influences
- job availability and salary level
- general interest in the subject
- assumptions about the introductory courses (Beggs, Bantham, and Taylor 2008).
According to Liz Freedman of Butler University (2013), students making significant decisions upon such generalities and assumptions is alarming. College and university administrators have begun implementing support services for the “undecided” and found students are underprepared when declaring a major (2013). She goes on to state—as we all would agree—being able to choose a path on which one would remain requires a knowledge of self and of the professional world.
What Are We Doing as Christian School Educators to Prepare Our Graduates?
As Christian educators, are we merely there to help students choose a college or a career path? Or, since we are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV) and are to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called” (Ephesians 4:1, ESV), are we intentionally creating opportunities for our students to know and experience the very one who created that unique design, and identify next steps that march them toward living out the special call Christ has placed on them?
At Delmarva Christian Schools, our mission statement of “preparing students by proclaiming the gospel spiritually, academically, and physically to know and do God’s will in their lives” has this idea of life calling at its heart. Over the past three years, we have intentionally moved from a traditional guidance program to an approach of building faith in our students that all the courses, service projects, athletic teams, worship teams, community groups, and extracurricular activities are worked together by God to prepare them to be the ambassador He has created them to be (2 Corinthians 5:20). Life calling requires an integrated approach that weaves together all of a student’s learning and experiences, and prepares them while trusting God to develop their interests, desires, abilities, and skillset for His purposes.
At Delmarva Christian Schools, our Bible program serves as a linchpin for this approach to life calling. For juniors, our Biblical Life Calling (BLC) course stands on Paul’s letters to describe the call for Christians to use their strengths and gifts to serve God as part of the Great Commission. Seniors walk through an apologetics course meant to raise them to be defenders of their Christian faith in the midst of a culture that opposes truth, challenges authority, and has lost its sense of purpose. Our students integrate their understandings from these courses into a capstone senior thesis project.
Professional Development for Our Teachers
To prepare them to run the BLC vocabulary and mindset for grades 9–12, we took all of our teachers through the BLC course. This intensive, yearlong professional development experience incorporated Ron Blue Institute’s life calling course. To make time for this experience, we held weekly late-start days as well as full-day PD sessions throughout the year. This not only allowed for easier integration across grade levels and disciplines, but even our J-Term (non-academic) experiences have been teacher-created and student-chosen with greater focus on exploring experiences that align with students’ strengths, interests, and passions.
We continue to analyze data to look for possible impacts of this approach (e.g., college enrollment, identified majors, immediate application into the workforce, and qualitative student reflections). Initial data confirms that many of our freshmen enter high school underprepared:
- 8% don’t know what their strengths are.
- 14% haven’t thought about God having a unique call upon their lives.
- 39.7% don’t know what career to pursue
- 45.5% believe that the salary is the best thing to consider when selecting a career.
However, as a result of our focused approach, students are engaging with the future with greater confidence and hope, rather than shying away. One graduating senior reflected, “I feel extremely confident about my future … before today, college was a big topic that I would try my hardest to avoid because it seemed like everyone else knew what was best for me.” Another student boldly shared, “I think I am awakening from the callus of selfishness.” And finally, another student explained, “Taking the Biblical Life Calling course taught me a lot about myself and has challenged me to evaluate my life calling at every stage of life.”
Looking back, I believe part of my personal approach to life after high school was necessary. Gaining experience both abroad and locally in my originally intended field of study was strategic to increase my experiences of the professional world. However, as long as my mindset of what do I want to do with my life remained, I was lost. Now, as a Christian school educator, I’m convinced that the biggest thing we can do to prepare our students for life after high school is to help change their mindset to the question, “What does God want me to do with the rest of my life?” Students first need to know and understand that He is the one who created them, loves them, and sacrificed for them. They then need to understand that the answer to this question will neither be general nor based on assumption, but instead unique and made clear by the power of the truth of God (Psalm 25:5). Bottom line, our lives are not about ourselves; they are all about Him. Life calling is an educational approach that is reflective of—and faithful to—this reality.
How can you respond to this post?
- Conduct an audit of your students’ choices regarding life after graduation. This can include quantitative data (e.g., percentage of graduating seniors with a declared major, percentage not going on to college, two-year versus four-year programs, secular versus Christian institutions, and so forth) as well as qualitative data (interviews or surveys of teachers and seniors using open-ended prompts like “What are important factors to consider when making decisions about life after high school?”). Analyze and discuss your findings from this audit with your leadership team, instructional leaders, staff members responsible for students’ spiritual development, guidance staff, and key board members.
- Conduct a similar audit on where the school’s curriculum and co-curriculum addresses life after high school, either directly or indirectly. It may be helpful to create a visual map of students’ experiences and learning in this area throughout their high school career.
- Using the results from #1 and #2 as a springboard, discuss whether and how strategically infusing life calling into the school programs can benefit students.
Gordon, V. N. 1995. The undecided college student: An academic and career advising challenge (2nd. ed.). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
Beggs, J., J. Bantham, and S. Taylor. 2008. Distinguishing the factors influencing college students ’ choice of major. College Student Journal, 42(2), 381 – 394.
Freedman L. 2013. The Developmental Disconnect in Choosing a Major: Why Institutions Should Prohibit Choice until Second Year. The Mentor, an Academic Advising Journal.
About the Author
Matt Kwiatkowski, director of instruction at Delmarva Christian Schools (K–12) in Georgetown, DE, has spent 22 years in both public and private education teaching and leading in elementary, middle, and high schools in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. Matt is passionate about professional development and curriculum alignment that seeks to directly impact students. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.