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College Planning for Technical Vocational Students

Tips include getting a letter of recommendation from a shop teacher, including any certifications and licensing, looking into programs that have a technical focus, and exploring MassTransfer.

High school student using laptop on stairsAre you a parent, mentor, or counselor helping a student in a technical or vocational high school plan for the future? Though much of your guidance will be similar to the assistance you would give to a student in a traditional high school (reference MEFA's helpful timeline here), there are some important things to keep in mind for this subset of students.

    • First off, MANY vocational technical high school grads will go onto college, either a 2-year or a 4-year school, and thus all of the same admissions guidance that you would give to any other group of students is relevant to most of them, including tips on college fairs, campus visits, and building the college list. With that said, there are a few additional pieces of guidance I recommend.

    • With college admissions letters of recommendation, it is still important for vocational technical students to have a letter from an academic teacher on a core subject, but I always encourage students to get an additional letter from their shop teacher who may know them the best, considering that these students often spend so much time in their vocational technical area of interest.

    • Many vocational technical programs allow students the ability to earn certifications/licensing/awards/etc. Be sure to include these accomplishments either in a resume or somewhere on the college application. These are so important to highlight, and will make the student stand out and show the student's commitment to his or her craft.

    • There are a number of community college programs that have a technical focus. For example, Bunker Hill Community College has a special Electric Power Utility Technology (EPUT) Program that allows students to earn an associate degree and specialized electrical job skills with paid training. Not only do students earn a degree but also gain marketable skills that make them very employable with Eversource, the affiliated company. This and other similar programs are a great option for students who do not want to pursue a 4-year degree. Shop teachers at high schools typically have information on the various local programs available to students.

    • Technical vocational students who want to earn an associate degree but then also a bachelor's should definitely explore the MassTransfer. This can help students stay on track with their goals and save them money by freezing the price on tuition and providing a cost discount.

    • MEFA Pathway, the Commonwealth's free college and career planning tool, can help vocational technical students explore careers that might fit their interests. This can also guide them into a relevant educational path. They can easily create an account and start exploring here.

As you help guide students in their future plans, remember that MEFA has a lot of free resources, including a website full of college planning information, which includes helpful webinars, such as this College Admissions overview. If you have specific questions, you can always reach out to them at (800) 449-MEFA (6332) and

Jan Marie Combs, Senior Manager, Bright Horizons Education and College Advising

Jan Marie Combs has significant experience in financial aid at both the graduate and undergraduate levels having served as an Assistant Director at Boston University and as the Director of Financial Aid at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Jan also spent six years as a high school counselor, most recently counseling students at Southeastern Regional Voc Tech High School. Jan has been a long-serving ambassador for MEFA, where she facilitates educational programs on admissions and financial aid at MA high schools. She is a member of the MA Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and serves as Tri-Chair of FAFSA Day. Jan is currently a Senior Manager at Bright Horizons Education and College Advising. She holds a Bachelor of Science in political science from Boston University and a Master of Education from Cambridge College. 

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