How can I help troubled teens?

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Dear Guidance Counselor,

I'm 18 and trying to decide what to do, I want to work with troubled teens or teens with disabilities, maybe even like inner city kids who don't have a good home life. Do you have any suggestions as to what college/major I should go to? Dan

Dear Dan,

It's great you have a sense of your career goals. Of course, over time you will learn even more about yourself and possible professions but this is a good place to start. Since you mention that you wonder what kind of college you should go to and what kind of major you should pick, I am assuming that you have your high school diploma or GED.

Possible bachelor's degrees

A four-year college culminating in a bachelor's degree will be your best bet for beginning education in a field related to your interests. Some possible majors for you could be social work, education, psychology, human development, and even criminal justice. It really depends on what kind of focus you want your career to take.

Do you see yourself as providing concrete services and counseling for these youth? A bachelor's degree in social work would be a solid start. If you want to help the teens in a school setting, consider an education degree. A psychology degree is a great foundation if you think you might want to go on to graduate school, and it can also give you entrance to certain entry level mental health jobs helping teens. A criminal justice degree would be a good start to helping juveniles in the court system.

In any case, you will do well to take a variety of courses in college across different subjects-- psychology, sociology, child development, and so on.

You could look at traditional small colleges, which typically grant a liberal arts degree, or you might prefer a bigger university setting. Online courses can be a good choice for students who live in remote areas or have many other responsibilities that make flexibility a priority. A bachelor's degree is a good start, but some careers require you to ultimately get a master's degree to advance in the field.

Volunteer experience can help

In the meantime, consider getting some volunteer experience with teens to see if you like the work. Although you are an older teen yourself, perhaps you can work in an after school programs, school peer counseling systems, library events, camp, or specialized programs for at risk teens. If you are interested in criminal justice look at the court system, and if you are intrigued by mental health there might be programs in your area that look for teens to serve as mentors to other teens with mental illness.

Also, as you go through school, look for opportunities to gain practical experience in the field through internships or even paid work. Gaining skills and experience while in college can help you have more options upon graduation.

Good luck with your career path. It sounds as though you want to make a difference in the lives of teens and getting a solid educational foundation is a wonderful start for that.

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