Choose Your Career Before You Choose Your College?

College is a way to prepare for the rest of your life. As a high school student beginning to consider colleges, you’ll be asked, “What do you want to major in? What career are you interested in?” These questions put the cart before the horse. It’s best to know what career you wish to pursue before you start applying to colleges. So, a better question is the one you were asked in kindergarten; “What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?”

There’s one problem — choosing a career is a daunting exercise when you’re in high school. It’s difficult for you to know what type of work would satisfy you and suit your talents. Your knowledge of careers is limited. So we don’t advise that you march off on a career path unless you’re reasonably sure you’re headed in the right direction. However, since your education and career will benefit from it, we advise that you take certain steps now to help determine which career is right for you.

Personality and Aptitude Assessments

One way to begin to answer this question is through career assessments. Introduced in 1944, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is the original personality test with career guidance ramifications. The MBTI is a subjective, introspective self-assessment that’s based on differences in the cognitive responses of individuals to the world. As a respondent, you’re classed into  one of 16 personality types. Your results indicate which career fields generate the most satisfaction for your type. The MBTI’s main problem is that it doesn’t consider your aptitude for a given career.

Using an aptitudes assessment tool will supplement the findings of the MBTI. There are valid, reliable assessments for teens online that focus on your skills and talents rather than your personality. They’re useful in your search and take no more than 30 minutes to complete. The results indicate which careers best suit your aptitudes. There are two caveats; the assessments are self-reporting and therefore subjective, and many questions relate to preferences in the work environment for which you have a limited frame of reference.

We advise that you avoid taking a list of careers generated by an assessment too literally. Consider it a starting point for insight and self-reflection. Remember, a career assessment isn’t a shortcut; it’s a tool. It’s up to you to use it wisely.

Steps in Your Process of Self-Discovery

To build on what you learned through assessments, we recommend that you work through the questions below to help clarify the careers for which you’re best suited.

1. What interests me?

The activities that you enjoy can give you insight into the careers that would be most satisfying and fulfilling to you. Take the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) to assist in identifying and prioritizing your interests.

2.  What are my aptitudes and talents?

You possess skills that may be undeveloped as yet but that can lead to success in a particular career. Identify them through self-assessment exercises and conversations with the people who know you best.

3. What type of personality do I have?

Your personality is the way you think, feel, and act. Take the MBTI and other assessments to clarify your understanding of your personality.

4. What do I value most?

You have values that are important to you. Listing your high-priority values can help you to decide what type of career fits you best.

5. What education or training will I need?

Certain careers require advanced degrees and higher investments. For example, you need 12 years of education and training to be a doctor, but you could earn a degree and enter the accounting field after two or four years. Weigh the time and expense required to pursue a career.

6. Will there be plenty of jobs in this career when I graduate?

There are websites that predict demand for jobs. You should review them. However, don’t expect them to hold up too well over time. By the time you graduate, the job market will be considerably different than it is now. Some of the hottest jobs today didn’t exist ten years ago. Ten years from now demand for even these jobs may be waning.

7.  What level of compensation am I seeking?

Different careers provide different monetary rewards. Even though compensation shouldn’t be your primary concern, a high pay scale offers more options to a person than a low one. Evaluate the earnings potential of each possible career.

8. Is this career my idea?

Don’t let the expectations of others affect your choice of a career. You should make this decision for yourself.

If you feel an affinity for a certain career, seek out an internship or job-shadowing opportunity in that field. Being in the thick of it is the best way to assess if a type of work is right for you. If you decide to pursue that career, an internship will assist in admission to colleges because it demonstrates related work experience and enthusiasm for your intended field of study.

Remember that the purpose of your career selection process is to determine the field that’s best for you. If you can make this determination, you can select the college major that best suits your career plan. Then you can apply to colleges at which this major is emphasized.

Charlotte Klaar, PhD, is a Certified Educational Planner who has led hundreds of students to college and career success in the past 25 years. Charlotte understands the Holland Self-Directed Search and is certified to administer and interpret the MBTI and SII assessments. These tools have guided countless high school students in their search for the right career paths.

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