Parents, think back to when you were a high school freshman or sophomore. Did you have any idea about what you wanted to do when you “grew up?” And, even if you did — how much of a connection did that have to the jobs you’ve actually ended up holding over the past 10 or 20 years?
If you’re like a lot of us, not much.
Yet for today’s students, there’s even more pressure to figure out a career path and a college major earlier than ever.
College prerequisites are getting much more specific; in order to take all the advanced science, language, or math classes required for certain majors, students must carefully schedule classes from freshman year on. Once they get to college, many students start taking classes in their major almost immediately, no longer spending the first two years taking more general liberal arts courses. Finally, identifying a major is a crucial part of choosing a school. A student who is majoring in business should probably consider different schools than one who is going into education or engineering.
That’s why I recommend students start exploring their interests and talents early in their high school career, ideally as a freshman. There are several ways to do this: reading up on career exploration (“What Color is Your Parachute?” is still a favorite) or job shadowing a family friend with an appealing job are two good options.
Most students, however, benefit from a more formal approach, such as taking an interest inventory or career self-assessment. A basic inventory will measure a student’s interest in a variety of possible jobs — from filmmaking to catering to engineering. More sophisticated instruments will consider a student’s personality traits as well, such as whether the student likes to work alone or prefers to be part of a team.
From the list of possible career matches these inventories generate, students then research those that are most interesting. By looking at job descriptions, working conditions, career prospects, salary range, and other concrete factors, they develop a clearer picture of which jobs might suit them.
For instance, one of our students started the process convinced that she wanted to be a doctor. Her initial interest inventories did indeed line up with a career in the sciences. But when she started looking at job descriptions for science-based careers, she realized she was more interested in teaching scientific concepts than day-to-day work with patients. She’s now thinking of becoming a college professor.
Not all students come away with an immediate career match, but that’s OK. The idea is to get the conversation started — earlier rather than later — and help students identify not just those jobs in which they’ll be successful, but those in which they’ll be happy.
Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, and find the college that’s right for them.