Five Suggestions to Leverage Afterschool Programs to Promote College and Career Readiness

Betsy Brand, AYPF Executive Director

Students need a mix of skills including academic, employability, and social and emotional skills to be ready for postsecondary education and careers. They also need exposure to college and career options and opportunities to learn about and experience different types of careers. Afterschool programs can be important settings to help youth develop these skills, and we should use them more frequently to do so.

Afterschool programs are able to engage students outside of the classroom with experiential learning opportunities driven by student interests in flexible and authentic settings and relationships. Many afterschool programs provide college counseling, help with college applications, or applying for student financial aid. Other afterschool programs take youth on college visits or focus on improving academic skills. Still others provide internships or paid work experiences that help young people gain employability skills, experience a career, and be mentored by professionals. One afterschool program that combines many of these activities is EVOLUTIONS.

EVOLUTIONS (Evoking Learning and Understanding through Investigations of Natural Science – EVO) is a free afterschool program offered by the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut that serves 120 students across all four years of high school. EVO is a science-focused program that teaches college and career readiness through classes, activities, and paid work and internship opportunities. In particular, EVO tries to attract high school students who will be the first generation in their families to attend college.

EVO’s weekly afterschool classes include a tutoring service and monthly events and workshops to provide students with scientific knowledge for future academic success. EVO also provides college counselling, help with college applications, financial aid and college planning workshops, SAT preparation, and a three-day visit to out-of-state colleges.

EVO’s work opportunities and internship program provide students with content knowledge and employability skills, enabling them to begin the stages of career preparation and training. Sci.CORPS (Science Career Orientation and Readiness Program for Students) is a paid opportunity for students to work as gallery interpreters at the Peabody Museum. Students learn by shadowing their peers before being promoted to teach visitors about the galleries, and once experienced in this role, they can progress to work as Museum Fellows, acting as supervisors of younger peers and content developers.

EVO also has an internship program in which students intern at Yale University science laboratories. They receive mentoring from Yale faculty and graduate students, and their work culminates in a research symposium, where they present their research findings to their EVO peers. Through the internship and work opportunities provided by EVO, students learn communication, teamwork, leadership skills, scientific thinking, and confidence. Students also enhance their awareness of possible career options within the sciences, pathways into careers, and workplace skills through real-world paid work experiences.

While there are afterschool programs across the country that provide activities like EVO, it would be wonderful if there were enough of them to meet the demand from older youth who want and need these types of supports and experiences. The reality is that only 12% of high school students participate in afterschool activities compared to 19% of middle school students and 23% of elementary school students. (Afterschool Alliance, 2014). Barriers to participation include transportation, safety, work restrictions for young teens, and cost. Based on work we’ve done with afterschool and college and career readiness (CCR), I’d make the following five suggestions for state and district leaders to expand the number of afterschool programs for older youth.

  1. Increase funding for afterschool programs at the secondary level and ensure that communities have support to develop high quality programs that are relevant, engaging, and that focus on CCR. Education and youth leaders can create dedicated funding or increase funding for afterschool programs that serve secondary students and that provide CCR. They can also explore how funding from a range of other programs, such as the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, health, human, and social services, youth, juvenile justice, and parks and recreation, could be used to support CCR programming in the afterschool hours.
  2. Include afterschool instructors and staff in professional development focused on CCR. State and district leaders can encourage the inclusion of afterschool instructors in professional development opportunities focused on CCR and a well-rounded education as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act. Professional development could focus on helping instructors and afterschool personnel learn about career pathways, the relevance of academic content to careers, and strategies to develop employability skills.
  3. Identify how afterschool programs align with existing career pathways to provide career awareness, exploration, preparation, and training. Many state and district leaders have developed career pathways to help inform the career choices of students. They could help align afterschool programs with career pathways so that students in early grades learn about careers in afterschool settings, students in the middle grades afterschool programs have opportunities for greater exploration and preparation, and students in the upper grades participate in internships or apprenticeships in afterschool settings that are connected to the pathways.
  4. Encourage and incentivize partnerships between afterschool programs and K-12 institutions, postsecondary education, employers, and the community. State and district leaders can encourage and incentivize afterschool programs and schools to co-develop curriculum and teacher preparation programs, to promote coherence across the school day and out-of-school time, and ensure that CCR knowledge is integrated into both settings.
  5. Include afterschool leaders when developing the state’s or community’s vision or plan to prepare all youth to be CCR. As states and communities develop and implement plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technology Education Act, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, they should ensure that afterschool leaders are engaged in discussions relating to establishing college and career readiness standards, a well-rounded education, and other strategies to promote college and career awareness, exploration, planning, and preparation.

Afterschool programs offer a wide range of resources and stand ready to help communities prepare youth for postsecondary education and careers. They should be full partners in this undertaking.

Material from this blog was drawn from a brief AYPF wrote on this subject for the College & Career Readiness & Success Center at AIR.


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.