Career 101: A Step-by-Step Roadmap

student tip Jun 16, 2021

Feeling a little overwhelmed by all this talk about "your future"? Not sure what you're having for breakfast, let alone what you're going to do for the rest of your life?

Don't worry, you're not alone! You've spent most of your childhood focused on the here-and-now, and most of your teen years dedicated to your grades and extracurriculars so you can get into college.

But understanding some steps to take toward a career can help make all the "future" talk feel more manageable…and ensure you land in a profession that is the right fit for YOU.

Everyone's path will be unique to their situation. But consider this suggested roadmap:

  1. Self-Reflect

    Many high school students we work with get overly focused on what they'll study in college. But most universities want students to get a broad education and require plenty of "general education" classes during freshman year. That means you've got some wiggle room before and even in college to declare a major. The important thing now is to focus on YOU.

    Begin by noticing the things you do that make you happiest and/or that you do really well. And we're not just talking about playing video games or making great pancakes. Look deeper into what specific aspects of an activity make you feel positive. Could you do it all the time? Can those things apply to a job? Also consider the impact you've made via your projects and activities. For example, if you volunteered to help train dogs as comfort companions or sold the most raffle tickets in your booster club fundraiser, what was the impact and how did that make you feel?

    Think about your social circles and interactions with friends. Are you a good listener or observer? Do you always come up with the most creative ideas for what to do? Are you a leader in your group or more the "glue" that holds everyone together? In a professional setting, these "skills" can be vitally important!

    Consider keeping a journal to record your reflections and update it regularly. Your observations will probably evolve as you change and grow. Eventually you'll be connecting the dots between these self-observations and potential careers that might be a good fit.

  2. Make connections

    When you first get to college, it can be a little intimidating. One smart thing to do is surround yourself with a few key people who "have your back" and who you can learn from. Consider identifying three people who can serve as a mini support network throughout your college years: a professor in your field of study; an older student peer who can help you navigate your major; and a friend who can support you socially. 

  3. Get involved

    You have just four years to tap into a vast world of activities and resources offered on a college campus—an amazing opportunity! Many kids get so focused on their schoolwork and social life that they ignore the hundreds of club, events, and academic "extras" at their disposal. If you go to college to study business but have also enjoyed tinkering with electronics, find a robotics club or other engineering group to get involved with. Not sure if you want to go "all in" on journalism? Apply to your student newspaper to get some hands-on experience. College is all about discovery, filled with experiences to test out and have fun with—and it goes by quickly so don't miss the chance to gain insight into what you might really love to do in the future.

  4. Gain Some Workplace Knowledge

    If you've done enough self-reflection to understand what makes you feel fulfilled and have gotten involved in some activities, now think about a part-time job or internship to gain some knowledge. For example, if you know you like to help people, and you’re also interested in medicine, you’ll want to gain a lot more knowledge about what it's like to be a doctor before leaping into medical school. Finding a volunteer position at a hospital or securing a summer internship with a local physician would be a smart move!
    You can also gain some workplace knowledge through research. Check out online sources in a field you're interested via professional trade association web sites or the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  5. Start Focusing on a Potential Career

    Once you've gained some real-world knowledge about specific professions, it's time to focus your path. Your college experience will be about much more than scoring a job, but you’re still investing in your education with the goal of preparing for a career. If you're a political science major, check in with your specific department's resources for job opportunities on Capitol Hill. Don't be shy about networking with your professors about job opportunities—most are intimately involved in their field of study and have connections in business and public organizations. Campus career services are also a great resource to learn about job fairs, one-on-one career counseling services, and more. Finally, the university's former graduates are eager to help current students with professional advice through the alumni association.

  6. In the Meantime…

    Work on improving something all employers look for—transferable skills. In high school and during college, you'll want to build and fine-tune skills like problem solving, communications, information technology, teamwork, managing people, research, etc. These are skills that can translate across professions and employers and can always be improved upon!

The path from high school to college to your career is exciting—yet a little daunting. But approaching it all in manageable steps, knowing it's a process that can't be tackled overnight, will help you land in the right place.

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