Afterschool Focus: College and Career Readiness

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most of us have asked that question of the young people in our lives, and if we’re lucky, we get to help them pursue that dream. Yet, many students, especially those from low-income families, graduate from high school without the necessary skills to succeed in college or the workforce.1 The Pathways Resource Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Education has resources that educators can use to help students prepare for life after high school. Many of the college and career readiness resources are geared specifically to the Illinois economy and workforce.

One college and career readiness strategy outlined by the Pathways Resource Center is the use of Individualized Learning Plans (ILP). This is a “student-centered planning process, wherein the student takes an active role, with the guidance of her/his parents, teachers, and counselors, in accessing, setting, reflecting on, and creating a plan to achieve her/his academic, career and personal goals.”2 The benefits of ILPs for students include

  • improved relationships with educators, communication, goal setting and planning skills, and self-awareness;
  • increased engagement, motivation, and self-efficacy in their academic work;
  • enhanced understanding of the relevance of coursework to career goals; and, of course,
  • improved college and career readiness.3

An Individualized Learning Plan consists of three phases:

  1. Explore. Students inventory skills and interests, explore careers, and reflect on their strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Plan. Students develop a customized program of study that enables them to develop the knowledge and skills for their chosen career.
  3. Transition. Students prepare to transition into college or the workforce.4

Schools and classroom instruction are crucial to the development of ILPs and helping students become college and career ready, but afterschool programs can also play an important role in this process. As Betsy Brand and Andrew Valent of the Youth Policy Forum point out in their article in  Expanding Minds and Opportunities,   many schools are offering more rigorous academic instruction but still struggle to provide opportunities for students to explore college and career options and develop the related skills.5 Brand and Valent outline specific ways that afterschool programs can help develop pathways to college and careers.

  • College exploration. An afterschool program can help students learn more about college by taking them to visit college campuses, helping them identify colleges they might attend, and assisting them with the application and financial aid process.
  • Career opportunities. Illinois 21st CCLCs can help students explore career options by inviting members of the business communities to talk to students about their professions and the education, skills, and experience that they require. Afterschool leaders can also arrange for job shadowing and volunteer opportunities in a variety of areas.
  • Real-world connections. Some students struggle to see how they can use classroom knowledge to solve problems in the real world. Exposure to college and the workplace helps students see the practical application of what they are learning in the classroom.6

Because of their flexibility, afterschool programs can support ILPs that facilitate college and career readiness. Through strong partnerships with K-16 organizations, community-based organizations, and local businesses, afterschool programs are well positioned to help students become college and career ready.


1 Amelga, 2012.
2 Fox, 2014b.
3 Bullock & Wikeley, 1999; Fox, 2014a. NCWD/Youth, 2013; Phelps, Durham, & Wills, 2011; Rennie Center, 2011; and Solberg, Phelps, Haakenson, Durham, & Timmons, 2012.
4 Fox, 2014a.
5 Brandt & Valent, 2010.
6 Brandt & Valent, 2010.


Amelga, M. (2012) College and Career Readiness: A Quick Stats Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

Brand, B., & Valent, A. (2010) The potential of career and college readiness and exploration in afterschool programs. In J. A. Durlak & R. P. Weissberg (Eds.),   Afterschool programs that follow evidence-based practices to promote social and emotional development are effective (pp. 35-41). Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group. Retrieved from

Bullock, K., & Wikeley, F. (1999). Improving learning in year 9: Making use of personal learning plans. Educational Studies, 25(1), 19-33.

Fox, H. L. (2014a). Achieving their goals: Implementing an Individualized Learning Plan process to build student success. Champaign, IL: Office of Community College Research and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved from

Fox, H. L. (2014b). Achieving their Goals: Supporting student success through Individualized Learning Plans. Presentation at the 2014 Illinois 21st CCLC Spring Conference, Springfield, IL. Retrieved from

National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth [NCWD/Youth]. (2013). Fact sheet: Individualized Learning Plans. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Nicholson-Tosh, K., & Bragg, D. (2013). Illinois career clusters, pathways, and programs of study guide. Champaign, IL: Office of Community College Research and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved from

Phelps, L. A., Durham, J., & Wills, J. (2011). Education alignment and accountability in an era of convergence: Policy insights from states with individual learning plans and policies. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 19(31), 2-33.

Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy [Rennie Center]. (2011). Student learning plans: Supporting every student’s transition to college and career. Cambridge, MA: Author. Retrieved from

Solberg, S., Phelps, A., Haakenson, K. A., Durham, J. F., & Timmons, J. (2012). The nature and use of individualized learning plans as a career intervention strategy. Journal of Career Development, 39, 500-514.