The Challenge of Career and College Choices – Part 2 of 4

careercollegeContinued from part 1.

Start with your natural abilities and talents

In the business world today, young people are being encouraged to focus on growth areas such as careers in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths) which is great if that’s where your natural talents lie, but not everyone is suited to this career. Ironically many people could be brilliant at software development and we would never know, as most schools are not currently teaching this (though we learned it at the all-girls secondary school I attended in 1982!)

So start by focusing on yourself – carry out self-assessments such as those on and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What subjects do I like best and do best at in school?
  • What projects or extracurricular activities do you enjoy the most?
  • How do you spend your free time?
  • What do other people tell you you’re good at?
  • If you have previously worked e.g. in a part time job or volunteering, what aspect did you enjoy doing most?

Writing down the answers to these questions and the results from self-assessment can help you to clarify some initial areas of interest and identify some possibilities.

Under the influence… of who or what?

I’ve worked with a number of teenagers in recent years who make career and college choices largely influenced by “what other people think”. Taking courses because everyone’s doing it, thinking (rightly or wrongly) that their parents want them to go to XXX college (insert name of prestigious institution), believing that employers prefer one college over another… all of these factors can influence someone’s choices, often without them knowing. Some or all of these things may be true, or they may just be “beliefs”. It’s important to understand the rationale you’re using – identifying reasons why you like or dislike a course or college or profession, and to make sure that what you’re basing your assumption on is valid, not just because your friend told you so.

Students may feel under scrutiny because of their choices; one young man I know wanted to study acting and didn’t need too many points for that. However he was an excellent student and expected to do very well – but he felt he had to defend his choice of course because it might be seen to be “beneath him”, whatever that means..

As a parent, I found the most useful question to ask was why? Why he liked this and not that – this was a bit difficult at first  because “why?” can come across as challenging or accusatory – but the main goal here was not for me to understand why, but for the student to understand their own motivations and reasons.

Challenging assumptions is important too – just because someone studies Agricultural Science doesn’t mean they’ll work on a farm; if you study IT you could wind up working in any industry not just developing software. Your initial course of study is just that – the first step in what hopefully will be a long and varied career.

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