The Challenge of Career and College Choices – Part 1 of 4

career and college choices

Recently I’ve worked with a few students who are considering their college and career choices – as a parent who’s been through this not too long ago, and also as a career coach who works with people of all ages to develop their potential, I thought I’d write something that parents and students might find useful. Hopefully it will help you to find a new perspective on what might seem like a monumental decision, and to follow some practical steps to refine and prioritise your preferred options.

This article is one of a four part series – covering

  • Choice and Career Identity                                               
  • Start with your natural abilities and talents
  • Under the influence… of who or what?
  • Staying the Course
  • Where in the World?
  • Finalising Your list of choices
  • Staying focused
  • Your Career and jobs of the future

At this time of year Irish sixth year students, and their counterparts all over the world, are starting to think about making career and college choices for next year.

Leaving Cert students here in Ireland are not only faced with the huge pressure of the “terminal exam” which may seem aptly named. They also have to make what feels like huge and potentially life changing decisions at aged 17 or 18. This isn’t just daunting for teenagers though; I have worked with plenty of 40-somethings who still don’t know what they want to be when (and if) they grow up!

While many people may think that 17 year olds aren’t mature enough to make these decisions and shouldn’t have to, it’s interesting to note that a number of my clients often say they knew clearly what they wanted at 17. For instance, a client who is a solicitor wanted to study agriculture on leaving school, but as the family business was a legal practice, the farming study was vetoed. This solicitor has always struggled with motivation as perhaps their heart wasn’t in it. How many others are in the same boat – pursuing a career because they did well at school and then getting stuck with a career that they didn’t want? Hopefully we have learned from this and we want our kids to choose career paths that they will be happy and successful at, whatever that might be.

Making important choices shouldn’t have to be a cataclysmic event – it’s more a process of selecting options, researching, evaluating and refining your preferences – so don’t leave it all til January when you have to submit your CAO forms! Get yourself a notebook to help you record and clarify your thinking along the way!

The Choice – Career Identity                                               

Students often get stressed out by the fact that they don’t know what they “want to be when they grow up”. The reality is that the majority of youngsters and plenty of older people don’t know what they “want to be”. The days when people just had a one-word job description are long gone – while professions such as doctor, accountant, solicitor, bricklayer, farmer are still around and will be for some time to come, many career paths are still evolving and changing. Many senior jobs are often very loosely defined and may demand a wide variety of skills, and a great deal of self-management rather than just having a clearly defined set of required qualifications.

Most people who want to work will need some type of post-secondary training or education, so at this point, if you’re not sure, the best approach is to choose an area of study that

  1. you are most interested in or passionate about
  2. that is structured in a way that suits your learning style
  3. and where you are most likely to successfully complete the course

As you progress through your education, you’ll find that opportunities should unfold, whether through work experience or post-grad studies. Lots of people now work in areas unrelated to their original area of study – it means they bring something different to their current profession and team. Most employers now promote “life long learning” and the chances are most people will continue their education either full or part time through their career with ongoing professional and technical qualifications. The bottom line here is – you don’t have a crystal ball – your whole life doesn’t have to be decided right now!

Useful resources for Irish students and parents –

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