One of the most panic-inducing questions to ask a high school student has got to be, "What are your plans for after graduation?" And then there's this heart-stopper for the college-bound: "What do you want to major in?" Though of course, if The Graduate taught us anything, it's that even years later, you're never too old to avoid making real plans for the future.
It's okay to not know where you're headed. Still, there are quite a few high schoolers who do have ideas in mind — and those ideas often center around entrepreneurship. In fact, nearly three-quarters of high school students say they want to start their own businesses, according to a 2014 survey. And 81 percent of young adults admire those their age who start new businesses, according to a report by the educational nonprofit Junior Achievement and market research firm Ypulse.
But how do you go from being a teenager who wants to run her own business to a twenty-something who actually does? Thankfully, there are some great tools and programs.
To wit: Junior Achievement runs 21 programs, for everyone from kindergartners through high school seniors, on financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. Two of their programs most directly focusing on entrepreneurial skills, including one where students actually develop their own small businesses, have seen significant growth over the past few years. Junior Achievement spokeswoman Stephanie Bell chalks that up to the appeal of shows like Shark Tank, which spotlight the entrepreneurial experience.
The U.S. Small Business Administration offers an online course specifically for business-minded teenagers. Students interested in the growing technology startup community can also find help in their physical classrooms, as computer science classes slowly become more widely mandated.
Summer camps for kids interested in starting their own businesses are also becoming popular. But don't let the "summer camp" lingo deceive you — it's not all fun and games. The business plans middle schoolers and high schoolers often develop during these programs are viable. At Boston's non-profit EXPLO Startup camp, more than 3,000 middle and high schoolers learn how to pitch their businesses and score big investments. The founders of Instagram and BuzzFeed both have ties to the program. Forbes' 2015 "30 Under 30" lists include 12 EXPLO participants.
And that's just one camp of many nationwide. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology runs its own camp, Launch. "If we can ignite a child's passion, motivation, and interest in learning, those seeds can grow into the next great entrepreneur," Debra Campbell, who owns an entrepreneurial-themed summer camp in Florida, told CNBC.
The uptick in high school entrepreneurship interest is a great thing. Some of these kids will go on to start successful businesses of their own, creating jobs and eventually mentoring the next generation. And those who don't go into business for themselves will be armed with a hefty set of financial, networking, and creative skills that will serve them well as new members of the workforce in any industry they choose.
Companies that offer high school students, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, access to internships and other opportunities for growth are setting up a win-win situation. Older, more seasoned entrepreneurs should do their part to encourage these aspiring business owners, too.