How to Determine What Major or Career Would Be Right
<![CDATA[In the past two weeks, I’ve heard from three different families considering some version of a personality or career test. Each family had researched some options and gotten quotes ranging from $500 to $3600. The question was “is this worth it?” I never know exactly what to say. Yes, some tests (with good counseling for interpretation of results) can be enlightening. They can help a student see strengths or talents they may not have recognized before. They may even point out possible areas of conflict (why a particular career might not be a good match) thereby saving time and money as the student pursues a major he or she later decides to change. However, these tests are not the simple solution some families seek. They are highly dependent on input (garbage in, garbage out) and should be seen as one aspect of the career / interest / major decision. Below is an article I wrote in early 2019. Yes, some of our options may be limited right now due to COVID, but the general ideas remain the same. Additionally, if you are interested in trying some free / low cost assessments to help determine more about how you learn, executive function, and career interests, check out this episode of The College Prep Podcast (#324 available where you listen to podcasts): http://collegepreppodcast.com/2020/07/324-two-interesting-assessments-students-can-take-over-the-summer/ Is There A Test to Determine What Major or Career Would Be Right for My Child? I get this question every month. In the spring, families are faced with course selection decisions for the next school year and feel as if kids are forced to make decisions about the future sooner than necessary. During the fall, parents of seniors are concerned to see so many colleges ask for intended majors on applications for admission. Is there a test or process that could guide students in these decisions? Parents of college students see choice of major or career as an immediate issue. While most students can enter college undecided and explore options during their freshman and sophomore years, changing majors after that time can delay graduation and add to the cost of a college education. So how can we help our students discover their interests and talents in an appropriate way? I wish there was a simple test that could give every family a clear answer. But that is a little bit like wishing for magic beans. There are steps students and families can take to explore interests, possible careers, talents, personality traits, and other factors. I’ll outline four possible areas:
- Personality, Interest, and Career Testing
- Course Exploration
- Activity Exploration
- Career Exploration
Personality, Interest, and Career TestingThere are tests students can take to help identify personality traits, interests, and potential career paths. Here’s why I’m not a fan of most tests: In order to provide reliable results, you need to have quality data and an in-depth analysis of the results. Too many families are relying tests to provide answers, but they are not monitoring the input data or results. Quality Data What do I mean when I say you need to have quality data? The results provided by any of these assessments are only as good as the input from the client (the student in our case.) Picture the typical teenager answering question after question:
- Which do you prefer— people or things?
- Would you rather play it safe or take chances?
- Do you like, dislike, or are you indifferent to the work of a
- Do you enjoy giving presentations?
- Would you like to repair a dishwasher?
Course ExplorationOne possible way for students to explore is through the courses they take. In many cases these will be elective courses at school— a good place to start, but typically limited. Most high schools don’t offer courses in film, archaeology, forest management, philosophy, civil engineering, industrial design, etc. I encourage my clients to look for online course options to explore a wide range of topics beyond what they can find at their high schools. The options you can find online for no or low cost are more extensive (and possibly more interesting) that what you can register for at your high school. Some popular online course sites include:
- Khan Academy
- Open University
Activity ExplorationYou can think of course exploration as more of a textbook approach to topics; activity exploration encourages hands on work. Start with activities offered by your high school. Do you enjoy learning and participating in the activities with the robotics club, DECA (business), HOSA (health sciences), etc? But, just as with courses, the possibility for exploration activities at your high school will be limited. You may already be familiar with some exploration programs beyond what is offered at your high school. Boy and Girl Scout curriculums are based on students exploring a variety of topics and possible careers. Girls can work on Journeys based on their interests; boys can earn merit badges. Similar opportunities can be found in many community based organizations. My family has found summers to be the ideal time to explore. From programs online, to classes at the local museum, and week-long camps held on college campuses, my son and daughter have gotten a taste of many subject areas and possible majors and careers in those fields. Of course, not all interests may be covered by organized programs. I’ve worked with a number of innovative students who have make their own activities. One young lady applied to dozens of local and regional publications hoping to get an internship writing about fashion. When only one paper responded (and told her no) she decided to start her own fashion blog. She approached it as seriously as she would any internship or job and developed an experience that turned out to be far more valuable than any program she could have signed up for. So use your imagination and think big. Exploratory activities can come in many forms.
Career ExplorationAfter a student has done a little course or activity exploration, the next step is to see if an interest in one area translates into an interest in a particular major or career. Sometimes interests are not good matches for future employment. The student who loves performing in high school theater productions might benefit from the experience, but decide not to major in theater in college or try to pursue a career in theater. It is ok to develop interests that build appreciation or skills, but don’t necessarily translate into jobs. Students trying to select a potential college major or begin on a path towards a particular career should explore to see if that field is a good fit. The next step is to find a particular job within that field that matches a student’s interests, talents, and abilities. Let’s consider a high school student with an interest in medicine. He or she should take classes and participate in activities to confirm (or deny) this interest. After some initial exploration, it would be good to delve further into possible careers. “Doctor” is an incredibly broad career goal. What type of doctor? Family physician, anesthesiologist, psychiatrist, orthopedist, cardiologist, etc.? What about other alternatives within the field of medicine. Medical research? Physician assistant? RN? Physical therapist? Pharmacist? The more students can learn about the different options within any given field, the better. Some careers may require more education (more years to become a MD than an RN) and some careers may be better suited to different people. My cousin is a doctor. But he was born with kidney problems and is on his second transplanted kidney. Because of his own health risks, he is better off working in a job that does not expose him to contagiously sick people every day. He works in the field of genetic testing and research— a good match considering his interests and needs. How can high school students get this type of career exploration? You might find some opportunities at your high school. In my area, many high schools have built a “clinical rotation” program for high school seniors interested in health professions. Students take prerequisite courses in 10th and 11th grade and as seniors they spend two periods a day off campus at various rotation sites. In a given week a few students will be at each of the locations: pharmacy, physical therapy, hospital, general practitioner’s office, ophthalmologist’s, etc. Students see first hand how a variety of heath professionals work. If you don’t find opportunities at your school, look in your community. Is there someone you could shadow for a week? Ask teachers and friend’s parents if they know someone in your field of interest. Are there professional organizations in your community? Can you attend meetings or join as a student? This could allow you to meet a number of professionals and keep up on the trends in any industry. In college, take full advantage of the career center. Find internships. Ask your professors for help exploring options. Do not wait until your junior or senior year to start thinking about your next steps. Finally, it has been my experience that most adults, when approached professionally, are happy to share their experiences with students. Maybe you can meet for coffee and get their advice. Here are some of my starter questions for these types of conversations:
- How did you get to be in your current position?
- What types of classes did you have to take?
- What do you love about your job? What don’t you like?
- If I wanted to follow a similar career path, what advice could you give me?
- Do you know of any other resources that might help me (professional organizations, internship programs, etc.)