A rising HS senior is foundering in search of post-high-school options.
June 26, 2013 5:17 PM   Subscribe

My younger brother is an unimpressive student who doesn't show much evidence of being able to apply himself. His grades are B's and C's pretty much across the board in both the sciences and humanities. He wasn't making much progress at sports or with a musical instrument, and after a year or two his motivation fades. I have provided him with learning tools for some technical computery stuff, but that hasn't really been paying off either. He likes drawing and sketching, but not intensely, and the complexity of 3D and animation quickly turned him off. Generally, he likes hanging out with friends, riding bikes, watching TV, and playing video games. But what the hell is he going to be doing a year from now?

In my case, I did my best in high school, by random fluke got into one of the best schools in the country, and have been riding on the coattails of that success ever since. My brother also originally expected to go to a top university. I guess he's been talking to a counselor at his school, because he has made a volte face and now despairs in getting in anywhere at all. And, realistically, he is not a great college applicant.

I should point out that we were both raised by an immigrant single mother who is extremely working-class and living paycheck to paycheck. We have no family in the States, no friends of the family, nothing like that. So there's no chance that my brother can go work at Uncle Bob's pizzeria after high school. My mother also has zero ability to pay tuition — I got a full ride.

I have repeatedly floated the idea of community college, but community colleges everywhere are struggling with meeting high demand, are over-enrolled, have much less of a support structure than good four-year schools, etc. From having taking summer classes there, I have formed the impression that they're a pretty bad place for a struggling student. Also, it's a huge point of pride for my mother (and hence my brother) that she has been slaving away and breaking her back so that her children wouldn't have to do manual trade work.

I know Meta is big on "plumber! plumber! plumber!" but I really have no idea on how that even works. The only trade schools I know in the area are scams like ITT Tech. As mentioned above, there is no chance of any family connections who could provide a lead. I've also considered some kind of 12-week "code school" thing that pops up occasionally. But that is again an intensive option that requires substantial amounts of maturity and application.

Over the past year, my brother's been involved in his school's robotics team as a member of the pit crew. He seems to like the camaraderie and the pseudo-military thing they have going on, but I don't think he's made much headway into the technical aspects of programming and industrial design. He has expressed some interest in joining the military because "soldiers get power and respect," which, uh, may not match his expectations in various ways. However, it'd be cool to find out about options in the military, especially those that lead to meaningful civilian careers.

Basically, my brother's challenge is that he has very little competent guidance for post-high-school options, and very little ability to realistically research those options. At his age I did too, but that's why I went to college. His options in that regard seem to be much more limited. What can he do, who should he talk to, and how can I help?
posted by anonymous to Education (49 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The question is less about whether community colleges are struggling in general but rather if his local community college is doing ok. Find out. And while your brother clearly isn't a stellar student, I fail to see how he's "struggling" -- he's clearly passing his classes and moving along, making progress towards graduation. Did he take his SATs?

So your brother isn't a great college applicant, and he doesn't know what he wants to do with his life. That describes most college students.

There are still a lot of challenges ahead-- for example whether he'd be able to self-motivate enough to get through college and what he would do afterwards (and what he would do if he didn't go to college at all), but it's not a huge disaster. The most challenging part of it is the lack of familial safety net which lots of other mediocre-to-poor students at leave have.
posted by deanc at 5:29 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

*shrug* not everyone can, or should go to college or the military or whatever post high school career enhancer. He may just need some time to be a slacker with a gas station job. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. The world needs shelf stockers as well as computer programers. I know it feels like he may be wasting x chances at something better, but you describe someone who was presented with a fair number of opportunity and choices and just seems to be saying 'eh'. At some point it is upon him to try and make his own decisions. I don't know what could motivate him, and nothing can force him.
posted by edgeways at 5:30 PM on June 26, 2013 [19 favorites]

Your mother's pride shouldn't enter into it. If a trade is what the kid wants to do, then he should.

What does his school's guidance department recommend for directionless kids like him?

My advice, as someone who was once sort of like this kid, is to get a job and work hard at it. Start at McDonald's and work his way up. Work as an oil change jockey at an oil change place. Just DO something. He'll probably start to figure some stuff out.

It also wouldn't hurt for your mother to send him to some kind of counselling to help him figure out what to do with his life.
posted by gjc at 5:31 PM on June 26, 2013

: "I have repeatedly floated the idea of community college, but community colleges everywhere are struggling with meeting high demand, are over-enrolled, have much less of a support structure than good four-year schools, etc. From having taking summer classes there, I have formed the impression that they're a pretty bad place for a struggling student. Also, it's a huge point of pride for my mother (and hence my brother) that she has been slaving away and breaking her back so that her children wouldn't have to do manual trade work."

This paragraph (and your attitude) has very little to do with actual reality at a community college. You should suggest that your brother go see a counselor at your local community college and have a chat. Taking the occasional summer class in no way shows you what such a place is really like, or how it can effectively prepare a student like your brother for the real world.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:36 PM on June 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

Several things.

First, I'd encourage him to try to get clearer on what he might be good at and/or might like doing. Even something simple like a Holland code could help him. If he's interested, there are tons of interesting career books like The Pathfinder that could help him.

After doing this, he'll be in a better position to figure out his options. I'd say they might be, roughly:
* go to college
-go to a public state school that's not a community college
-go to a community college
-go to a private school
-he can DEFINITELY get into some college, that's not a problem
-financing-wise: some combination of loans, grants, and part-time work should do it
* go to the military
* learn a trade
* get a job / do something self-expanding for a year or two
-travel abroad and teach English
-move to a different city and get a barista job or something

He should google each of these options and look up other people's experiences with them.

Remember, getting a college degree can be a great way to find out what you like and dislike, what activities you enjoy, and so on. That's part of the point. Take different classes, join different clubs, do internships, etc.

And getting a college degree in something at a state school is a pretty great, safe choice. It's very rare that someone will regret having that. At a very minimum, it will save him from the ignominy of not having a college degree and the assumptions that will be made about him for that -- and that is worth something.
posted by shivohum at 5:40 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

The pressure on him probably isn't helping much. Even if it's not spoken, it can be a real burden.

And I doubt it will make you feel better, but I was a total fuckup in my early 20s and now at 40 am outperforming 90% of the kids I went to high school with. There is this insidious lie that people really believe that says if you don't do everything correctly right from the start, everything will be messed up forever and ever amen.

It's not true. Not at all.

There is lots of time for him to be a screw up, a slacker and all that. I went back to school at 32 and I wasn't even the oldest one there. I think you'll do best by laying off and realizing he's going through a pretty tough time right now. Lots of pressure, and not much actual guidance on how to navigate it in a day to day way. He might need a couple years of working at 7-11 to find some motivation to move up. He might need a couple more years to figure himself out.

It won't kill him. He's only going to be this young, strong, and carefree once. You should be helping him enjoy it. The future will unravel itself.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:42 PM on June 26, 2013 [31 favorites]

I think you're being too harsh on your brother. Okay, he's not going to get into whatever college you went to, but that doesn't mean he won't get into any college. It's not clear that the conversation with his counselor was "You'll not get into college" rather than "You'll not get into the sort of place your sibling Anonymous went to." It seems to me entirely possible he's being despondent about his future because he sees himself as a failure (and you seem to too, which isn't helping).

It is likely the guidance counselor is the person best positioned to advise him. They will know what colleges kids like him went to and what kids like him who didn't go to college did after high school. They also are better positioned than you to judge whether he can succeed at a community college. If he's feeling rudderless, he probably should wait. If he doesn't know what he wants to study but is gung-ho about transferring, maybe a different story. (If you went to a private university, realise that large public universities and community colleges require different skills to navigate than your experience required.)

All that said, college may not be the best option for him. Let's suppose he wants to be a plumber. Google 'plumbing apprenticeship [location]' and you will probably get the local union's site telling you how to become a plumber. Same thing for all manner of trades. Maybe the union has a training program (probably). Maybe they want you to take specific courses at the community college and then go to their program.
posted by hoyland at 5:44 PM on June 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

He sounds like my younger brother. He went to community Colledge for a while on a law enforcement track, ran a food truck and then took a job at a chain steakhouse to pay the bills, got promoted to manager, went on some Corperate training thing in Arizona, is now running a chain resteraunt with the idea to drum up enough capitol to start his own food truck in the under served college area near our huse so he can fund his real passion, trips overseas. He's looking to get married soon to a woman with a law background who now does some Corperate moving papers around job.

So yeah that's one possible future.
posted by The Whelk at 5:45 PM on June 26, 2013

A friend's brother was struggling through high school (as in barely passing). He did Americorps for a year, getting rotated around the country doing outdoorsy stuff (controlled burnings, helping run a summer camp on a military base, can't remember what else), which was good for him because he met people from a different background from him who had done the college thing (or not!) and got him to try some things he wouldn't have tried otherwise.

I think mostly on the strength of that experience, he decided for himself to attend college and the Americorps stipiend is helping with that.

Might be worth it if he can spend a year doing service type work through a similar program. It's nice because it's only for a year, which I think makes it less daunting than the military or an apprenticeship, and it will help with college admissions, so he can probably get into a better school than he might otherwise with Bs and Cs.

But you should be careful about how you talk to him about this because it does sound a little bit like you're putting a bit of pressure on him to do what you did (or he feels like he has to live up to your example, which may not be possible or even the right thing for him to do).
posted by dismas at 5:49 PM on June 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

I think you're catastrophizing, a little.

Your brother sounds pretty average for his age. I have three younger brothers, all of whom were pretty average students, and all of whom at least initially applied to and were admitted to college. (Two of the three have degrees now, the other ended up joining the military.)

I guess it probably depends on the specifics of his grades and test scores, but there's definitely a chance that he could go to some sort of university, somewhere. Even a quite affordable one. He very well might qualify for financial aid, since in a lot of situations it's not reserved only for super-geniuses getting full rides to top schools.

Does he want to go to college? If so, he should apply. Right now is probably when he needs to start figuring out where he'll apply and what he needs to do in order to make that happen. Probably the SAT, which he should take in the fall if he hasn't yet. Maybe some recommendation letters, essays, FAFSA, and other supplemental materials he should start thinking about now.

He should probably be looking at "directional" universities and lower level University of Blah at Wherever type schools rather than extremely selective big-name schools or the really huge flagship state schools. Though frankly I think he has a chance at the huge flagship State U type schools depending where you guys live and what the state university system is like. Or, if you guys live in or near a major city, he could also look at "City University" type places like CUNY, CSULA, and the like.

He should probably pick no more than three schools to apply to. If it were me, I'd pick a Big State U "reach" school and a backup sure thing lower tier school.

If he doesn't want to go to college, he might want to look into trade school or the military. And, I mean, if worse comes to worse, there are plenty of service industry jobs out there that he could probably get to help your mom out until he gets the kick in the butt he needs to figure out the next step. My brother who ended up in the military tended bar until he landed in the Marines. He is still alive and nothing life-ruining happened to him during the year or two between high school and boot camp.

Relax. Your brother is going to be OK. You don't have to be an over-achieving straight A full ride at an elite university type of person to survive in this world.
posted by Sara C. at 5:52 PM on June 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Hi anon, where are you at? If there is a nearby community college participating in Achieving the Dream, it's probably a great place for a less-than-100%-prepared student to be. Advisors at ATD schools are going to be more hand-hold-y with students who are not quite fully college prepared.

That said, I kind of think the military is going to be the best way for him to go, especially since he's actually expressed interest.

What's mom's plan for how things will be around the house after he graduates? Will he pay rent to her? Will he be expected to get a job and move out? If mom is reluctant to push him out of the nest, can you offer support to help her do so?
posted by trunk muffins at 5:53 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh! And my brother lived at home while doing the community college /Steakhouse job thing. He paid a token stipend, mostly just maintence.
posted by The Whelk at 5:58 PM on June 26, 2013

I would suggest a trade to him. I am an engineer who works alongside tradespeople and they are excellent at what they do and very knowledgeable. I'm talking about welders, pipefitters, E/I technicians, fabricators, etc. These guys do very well for themselves financially.
posted by rancidchickn at 5:59 PM on June 26, 2013

Mod note: From the OP:
My brother lives with our mother in a medium-sized city in western NY. I live on the west coast.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:00 PM on June 26, 2013

If he is thinking college at all, even in a sort of clueless "i dunno, college?" kind of way, he should be looking at the SUNY system. There are lots of options which all have their own various reputations in terms of selectivity and what they are good for and what types of students go there. His high school guidance counselor can probably make some good suggestions.

If there is a SUNY school in or near your city, most likely that's the place most kids like him end up. That was the arrangement for the small city I grew up in which had a nearby directional university. The vast majority of B minus students who didn't really know what they wanted to do applied there, got in easily, and applied for financial aid and loans to cover the very reasonable cost of attending a school like that. Students like your brother are those schools' bread and butter.

It's my understanding that New York State also has a lot of good need-based financial aid options for people like him who are decent enough students but aren't really looking at full rides to the most elite schools. This is another thing a guidance counselor could advise him on.

One of my abovementioned brothers has a CS degree from exactly that sort of school and is doing quite well for himself.
posted by Sara C. at 6:07 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here is a PDF listing the middle 50% of ACT score, SAT score and GPA for each of the SUNYs.
posted by hoyland at 6:13 PM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some people are just kinda mediocre job-wise and wind up with slacker jobs as security guards or stockboys or warehouse jobs or whatever. That's totally fine if that's where he's headed, I mean there's no shame in it. Not everyone is ambitious. If he finds something he really likes, maybe he'll get motivated. But I think stressing about this will make it harder to figure things out- and, FWIW, I think most people fresh out of highschool are way too young to be making those decisions, and that a few years of life experience is a Really Good Thing before deciding next steps.
posted by windykites at 6:15 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a relative, B, who was not a very good student in high school, who mainly seemed to be interested in hanging out with his friends. His older brother did very well in high school and went to a prestigious college. B's parents did not pressure him to go to college or go to the military or anything. They let him spend a couple of years living at home and working various different kinds of jobs, including working in restaurant kitchens. B discovered he really enjoyed this, and decided to pursue this further. He recently graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and is now working as a chef. The upshot is that it took B a while to figure out what he wanted to do, and during that period of figuring out he tried out a variety of things until he found something that clicked. One thing to note though is that B's parents were willing to financially support him between jobs as well as when he worked very poorly paid jobs.
posted by needled at 6:15 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are near a BOCES center, that's a good place to go for trade school. My boyfriend is an HVAC tech, and that's the route he took. He really loves his job. I know community colleges teach classes in skilled trades as well. MCC definitely does, if your brother happens to live in Rochester.
posted by lemerle at 6:19 PM on June 26, 2013

If you push him into something that you think is appropriate for him, he is unlikely to value his experience or excel to the extent he would if it was his decision that he came to on his own terms. I really think you should respect his ideas about what he wants to do and let him decide whether they are right for him or not.

Although I am not very old, I have found that people's life paths often take surprising turns, including my own. These surprises render guesses about what people should or shouldn't do with their career choices much less relevant than you would think they would be. Maybe the military would be just the ticket for him. Maybe he'll hate it, maybe he'll love it, maybe he'll hate it and he'll grow to love it. But I do think it would be important to him to realize that he made his own mistake, or decided his own fortune, regardless of how he feels about it once he does it.

So - stop pushing trade school, stop pushing code camp, stop pushing community college. It's so hard not to push, but resist! Let him lead the way to his own future, even if not at the pace or along the path you are hoping.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:19 PM on June 26, 2013 [16 favorites]

Here is a PDF listing the middle 50% of ACT score, SAT score and GPA for each of the SUNYs.

I think I misread. I'm not totally sure what the GPA numbers are meant to mean.
posted by hoyland at 6:21 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I enlisted in the Navy after struggling through a college degree. I say 'struggling' because I just wasn't interested and had no idea what to do with my life.

The navy taught me a trade (air traffic controller), turned me into an aviator (flying the E-2C Hawkeye), and taught me life lessons that - despite what some say is never a truly known fog of 'what ifs' - I never could have learned anywhere else. I've seen the world, experienced camaraderie and hardship with people who've become life-long friends, and served my country.

Best move I ever made.

I could write books on all my experiences, and give you a million reasons why your brother should join the military - but in the end it's up to him. If either of you have any specific questions, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by matty at 6:27 PM on June 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

anecdata: I wish my parents hadn't pushed me to college so hard. I was entirely unready, entirely unmotivated, and pretty darn clueless. I wasted a lot of time and effort and money and got very frustrated. If yall have any uncles, relatives, friends of the family, or other people yall can ask favors of, maybe have someone/s have him shadow them at work for a few days.

(ok, re-read the skimmed question: Even if there is no family/friends, trying to get him in some kind of mentoring is always good. Pull the ethnic card if you have to, but find someone in the community to help him)
posted by Jacen at 6:32 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you are me and your brother is my younger sister. I went to a top-30 school and moved 1500 miles away from home. I haven't been back since. My younger sister barely scraped through high school, tried the local community college for less than half a semester, and dropped out. She works a pretty dead-end job now but is happy. Despite prevailing wisdom, college is not for everyone.

I had to try REALLY hard not to push her to be like me. She faced a lot of pressure from her teachers and our mom to strive for the same things I did and want the same things I wanted. The problem is, she didn't really want those things, and I think she would have struggled less in high school had she been allowed to acknowledge that she didn't. I realized this when I came home for Christmas my sophomore year and learned that she'd chosen all the classes I did in high school, despite being totally uninterested in them, and was getting Ds and Fs. Finally, I just had to tell her that I wouldn't care if she didn't take Latin and chemistry, and that it was more important to do things she liked and was good at.

Not everybody is motivated by the same things. Not everybody has the same conception of an ideal life. It's okay for your brother to not go to college right away. Yes, if you're a highly motivated person with particular ideas about what a successful life is, it's hard to watch someone you love "fail." I think the best thing you can do for your brother is take a step back and let him know that you'll support him no matter what.

And I think it's lucky you live in New York. The SUNY system is really good and has a school to fit almost everyone, if he does decide to go to college.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:35 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

He's waiting for something interesting to come along.

My best friend when I was at primary school coasted through secondary school (13-17) on the edge of failing, futzed around for a bit in college then got into caving and is now a paleoclimatogy subject matter expert who gets invited to conferences round the world.

My other best friend missed 3/5 of his school days when he was 15 and stayed home playing video games, got a crappy arts degree, went overseas for a couple of years then came back and got a computer diploma. He now earns $150k doing data warehousing.

Do what you can to help him, but you can't make him interested, only he can do that.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:41 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's worth noting that Matty's military success story is the best possible outcome (one I wish was the outcome for everyone who serves.) Equally, I have a cousin who went into the military after HS when everything looked clear ahead, got caught in Desert Storm, did two tours in Iraq, came out with no skills, is working as a shelf stacker at a big box store at the age of 40, and is living with Gulf War syndrome*. The military guarantees direction when you're in it, but outcomes afterwards are hugely variable.

I think college on a LEO track is a better option to consider if he's looking for what amounts to vocational training.

As far as I know he's perfectly happy, I'm not trying to say this is a miserable life. I'm just not sure he'd have made the same choices if he'd had a crystal ball, is all.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:43 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hoyland, I think those GPA numbers are on a 100-point scale rather than a 4 point scale. So a B minus student would be an 80, I think? This would have OP's brother right on target for the technical schools. If he's actually more of a mid-B student, he'd have a reasonable shot at the lower range 4 year colleges like Old Westbury, Purchase, or Buffalo State. If he tests well and is one of those "bright but doesn't apply himself" type kids, he could potentially go to any SUNY school he wanted with a teensy bit of effort.

A lot of those schools have ROTC programs, too.
posted by Sara C. at 6:50 PM on June 26, 2013

Your brother has to realize that working hard and working hard and working hard are the only way to create a future.

He's not working hard right now. Hopefully he will realize that. The best you can do is try to save him from going into debt or joining the fucking army.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:59 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by lotusmish at 7:00 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

It also might be worth figuring out why your brother suddenly despairs getting into any college at all. (Again all of this is with the assumption that he wants to go to college, but not in a focused way.) Like, did a guidance counselor tell him "you will not get into any college"? Did a guidance counselor tell him "you will not get into any college if you don't take Trig next year?" Did he bomb the PSAT? Did he scope out the thickness of the SUNY Buffalo application and feel overwhelmed? Did an older friend of his flunk out?

There are a lot of reasons a 17 year old might quickly go from "dude I'm like totes going to Harvard and shit" to "Holy fuck I'm never getting into college!" I think that rather than just assuming he's going to bag groceries for life, it might be worth it to talk to him in a sane, one-on-one, non-blaming way about his feelings about all this stuff and what happened that turned him around so dramatically.
posted by Sara C. at 7:12 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I agree with many others that a low-pressure state school is probably just fine for your brother. But here are a few options to consider until he's sure that college is the right thing for him:

AmeriCorps NCCC- this is the AmeriCorps program that some folks are describing where you travel around the country completing service projects. This program is tailor-made for kids like your brother.

Similarly, any one of a number of conservation corps around the country.You get to go out in the woods and learn all kinds of interesting skills in addition to seeing what it's really like to work hard and make do. Many of these programs are also affiliated with AmeriCorps. I can personally recommend the Montana Conservation Corps. I'm a former crew leader with that program and a majority of our members were either holding off on college or taking time off after a few years in order to figure things out. Washington Conservation Corps is also an excellent program that lasts a bit longer and can be more specialized in terms of skill. Feel free to Memail for more info or suggestions for other conservation corps programs.
posted by Polyhymnia at 8:16 PM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Honest to god, I was once told commercial real estate finance is for C-students with determination, and I believe it. If he has any charm at all he can try for sales gigs. Sales is often most dependent on personality and drive, and salespeople are always in demand. Having worked with a number of very successful, barely literate/barely business software savvy salespeople, I'd say sales is a good plan for anyone without direction besides "I need to make money." Please note that I am not saying all salespeople are this way; I have known as many literate, tech savvy salespeople. I am saying a talent for convincing people to part from their money will camouflage or render moot a variety of other possible failings.
posted by OompaLoompa at 10:45 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to throw out a possible idea: maybe he's bored in his "medium sized city in Western New York". Some people do much better in figuring out their interests in a bigger, more dynamic city like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, etc. where there's just a lot more going on and a wider range of people to hang out with and learn from (and of course on the other hand some people get overwhelmed in such places). Frankly I know I personally would feel bored, unmotivated, and unexcited living in a place like you described. And if the place is flat and geographically monotonous, that would make it even worse for me. Maybe he's the same way? If you live in a more interesting place, has he spent any time with you there, and if so, have you noticed any differences in him when he's there? If he's having trouble figuring out what energizes him, maybe the best solution is to get him somewhere where there's a higher possibility of him encountering whatever it is that energizes him.
posted by Dansaman at 10:46 PM on June 26, 2013

The kid just got out of 11th grade, so he's what, 16 or 17? I'm sorry if this hurts, but perhaps you need to back off a bit and stop browbeating him so much.

He's still very young, and between all the pressure you're heaping on him to choose a life's work NOW and (let's face it) bragging about your own success ("I did my best in high school", "got into one of the top schools in the country","I got a full ride"), the poor kid probably figures that no matter what he does he can't live up to expectations, so why even bother to try?

There's nothing wrong with community college; there's nothing wrong with NO college. There's nothing wrong with entry-level jobs in fast-food or store-clerking or whatever.
posted by easily confused at 2:51 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Honestly, a reader of AskMe would conclude, based on the questions asked, that contrary to a lot of claims made here, menial, dead-end jobs really do suck, the worst thing you want is to end up in a career dead-end, and things don't necessarily "work themselves out". Family financial resources and, more importantly, social capital are things that the OP and his brother don't have (no old beater car to inherit from parents or other relatives, no family friends to give you a place to crash while you start a new job, very little knowledge of how the post-secondary system works and no one to ask, etc.). So to a degree, the OP's worry is pretty warranted. "I/My friends failed out of high school and bummed around for a while and I turned out fine" isn't really a particularly hopeful narrative, because it's simply not very likely.

Having your brother get a low-level job might help so he can learn two things:

(a) Money is better than no money
(b) If you don't get motivated, you will never make more money than you get at those menial jobs.

At worst, the outcome is that he doesn't learn lesson (b), and he ends up no worse off than he would have if he did nothing.
posted by deanc at 4:48 AM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

If he's in western NY there's probably a SUNY college nearby and they don't have super-competitive admission requirements. You sound like you were one of those lucky people who knows what he/she wants to do at an early age. Other people take longer. If you spend time with your brother this summer try to take him to visit some of the SUNY schools in the area.

I lived in western NY for many years, went to a community college, a state college, and then to a major university. I have three sons who went to various schools in the area. Feel free to memail me with questions.
posted by mareli at 5:21 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've got boys in high school and I can tell you anon - every kid is different. Your experience is going to be different from your brother's just by virtue of who you are. Maybe your brother isn't ready for a top notch school but by and large I have found Com. Colleges to be just fine when it comes to education. There's no reason he can't do a couple of gen ed. classes and work while doing so. But then there's no reason he has to go to college right after hs. Leave him be. This is something you can't push on him but let him make his own choices. I suspect the harder you push the more blowback he will give you.
posted by lasamana at 6:18 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing, if your brother is interested in a trade, call the union and ask about the apprenticeship programs they offer. Also here is a website.

Another option is for him to get a job with the local phone company or gas company or electric company. They have entry tests that he can take and if he can pass it, they'll train him to be a technician. This is a good job with union wages. Even Customer Service is a great Entry-Level, wll paying job.

A profession or a trade are all you need in this world to earn a good living. College is a crapshoot, and it doesn't guarantee any kind of success.

Stop making your brother feel bad about his situation and stop trying to make him fit your mold.

There is NOTHING wrong with learning a trade, my plumber makes a VAST deal more money than I do and he LOVES his job.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:28 AM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

If he has a special skill or idea, he may consider going into business for himself, starting "out of his mother's basement" and building from there. Lots of entrepreneurs haaaated school because the work/reward payout just wasn't there, not in a real and immediate way like making money. Can you find a Junior Achievement branch where they tutor youth in building businesses?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:46 AM on June 27, 2013

Also, maybe he needs a change of scene? Can you host him for a month this summer? Let him try west coast life? Has he gone anywhere to "shake up" his world? That's part of the beauty of the junior year abroad ... you could help him create his own version of that.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:17 AM on June 27, 2013

I always recommend the Occupational Outlook Handbook for people in his situation (or really anyone else thinking about a job change). I would discount a lot of the "outlook" parts, since they tend to take professional organizations at their word on salaries and prospects more than they probably should. However, it's a great source for getting information about a lot of different kinds of jobs that we might not have heard of or considered before, all in one easy-to-use place. It's available in print as well, if that would work better for your brother (check your local library).

My suggestion on how to offer it would be something like, "Hey, this has info on a bunch of different kinds of jobs. Maybe you'll see something interesting." It's also got info on how one gets into a given job right there.

And if he doesn't come up with a direction immediately, it's really not the worst thing ever. Most of the really on-top-of-things students I knew as an undergrad had spent a while working a low-paying job they didn't much care for, and as a result had a much better idea what they wanted out of life than those of us who went to college right away. And there are lucrative, interesting, rewarding jobs that don't involve college, too. Good luck to him, whatever he chooses to do.
posted by asperity at 8:22 AM on June 27, 2013

(1) This is exactly what public libraries are for! Go to your local library and ask the librarian about books and databases available to people who want to explore job cand career options. For example, in my state (Texas), all libraries who participate in the TexShare program have access to a bunch of databases including Job & Career Accelerator, which is a database that allows for exploring a bunch of job options, has a resume builder, and contains internship and job listings. There are lots of other resources that can help, and the librarian should be able to point you to them.

(2) College may not necessarily be the best for him at this point in time: when I was a TA in grad school, often the best students were non-traditional ones, ones who'd been out in the workforce for a few years and had used that time to figure out what they wanted to do. They then enrolled in college and were far more motivated and focused than a lot of the students who'd gone to college after high school because that's what you do.
posted by telophase at 9:38 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would suggest a trade to him. I am an engineer who works alongside tradespeople and they are excellent at what they do and very knowledgeable. I'm talking about welders, pipefitters, E/I technicians, fabricators, etc. These guys do very well for themselves financially. posted by rancidchickn

I am also an engineer who works alongside tradespeople, and I second this. Specifically, I would recommend learning to weld, which is the ultimate fabrication skill. Our (non-union) welders make great money. Many community colleges offer hands-on welding classes, which I would definitely suggest. (I took one last year to help me work with our shop guys better, and I'd like to take more.) It is a refined skill, which requires both a scientific and mathematical side and also a bit of an artistic side. The science and math are practical, though, and not pointlessly esoteric and complex (like a lot of college classes). Welding classes are cheap and efficient, and I would recommend them to learn the finer points of welding quickly as opposed to learning solely on the job like many (still excellent) welders I've met.

Your brother could start learning to weld now or when he graduates and, while most people his age are accumulating debt to float around a college system that is poorly designed for teaching bankable skills, he could be making and saving good money and developing a huge list of highly desirable skills. He could start out as a helper in a fabrication shop. The pay isn't badass, but it would put him in an environment where he can gain all sorts of experience you can't learn in school. Talking to experienced welders is another important part of learning to fit and weld. Maybe he could work part time and attend classes part time. Or maybe he could take his classes at night after work, which is what I did. His company might even help him out with the schooling (either monetarily or with a flexible schedule) if they see promise in him. Working as fabricator requires both teamwork skills and also the ability to work on one's own and developing professional work habits and punctuality is essential.

There should be no stigma attached to not going to college. As an engineer, in my opinion, the most impressive minds in my company are the welders who can take something I draw on paper and stick, TIG, MIG, flux core, and subarc weld it into reality. There are additional divergent career paths as well: welding/fabrication supervisor, welding inspector, NDE/NDT, ASME pressure vessel inspector, etc. Our welders leave work in pretty nice cars.
posted by KinoAndHermes at 10:12 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was a less than stellar student for my middle two years of high school with next to no extracurriculars to speak of. I managed to improve things in the last year, but I was still not a very strong applicant and I despaired of getting into any school worth going to. My father encouraged me to apply anyway. The only place I got into was our state university, which, ironically, gave me a tuition scholarship because of strong PSAT scores.

I did a decent, but not exceptional job my freshman year and applied to a number of schools as a transfer. This time, one of them accepted me, then another (an excellent, but somewhat underrated school) took me off the transfer waiting list. I ended up going and engaging with my studies to a degree I never had before. I wasn't bored, I worked my ass off.

The world has changed some since then, but not so much that you or your brother should be especially despairing of his future. The only important thing is that, in the next couple of years he figures out that its all on him now. He has to make a life to his own satisfaction. No one else is going to do it for him. That, and not get himself killed, or addicted, or obligated to a kid, or indebted on his way to that understanding. If he tries a half-dozen different things and fails at all of them, that's fine as long as he can get up, dust himself off, and try again. If you want to help him, help him with those. Help him avoid the things that severely limit his options, encourage him to try just about anything else, and help him understand that the goal is to eventually narrow (say 5 years out) to narrow in on something he can do fir at least a decade.
posted by Good Brain at 11:57 AM on June 27, 2013

Summer classes are intensive classes at most community colleges. They don't reflect normal course pacing (or resources like tutors etc., which are usually more available in the fall and spring).
posted by wintersweet at 4:23 PM on June 27, 2013

I'm actually the OP. And I've got to say that half the responses here make me think of Frank Grimes visiting the Simpsons.
posted by Nomyte at 12:17 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mod note: A few comments deleted; as usual, AskMe is not the place to argue. Helpful comments only please; if you do not want to help OP, you can just give this question a pass.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:24 PM on June 28, 2013

I served in the USAF. If he does choose the military, and each branch is quite different, getting a guaranteed job is essential. (Being on ships held no appeal for me and I wasn't real military-oriented so the Army and the Marines were out, too.)

If you're interested in approaching that angle with more insight, I reckon recruiters would be glad to talk to you so you can learn more about options.

(I was a lot like your brother, feel like the USAF, complete with living in England, did me well. There can be some truth to the line, "Go in a kid, come out an adult." Thinking of this reminds me that I owe email to someone I met in the USAF -- in 1983.)
posted by ambient2 at 4:13 AM on July 4, 2013

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