Even the student who can rattle off the square roots of every number from 4 to 4,000, recite the Articles of Confederation, or write a dazzling essay on the long-term socio-economic impact of tsunamis in Asia might not be able to answer one simple question:
What will you be when you grow up?
K12 recently posed that very question on Facebook. Turns out that some students want to be veterinarians, others want to be teachers. Some want to become engineers and others envision a career in the military. “My son says he wants to try everything,” replied one mom. “No limitations.”
Indeed, when it comes to career dreams, the only limitations—at least initially—are those of the imagination.
A child’s aspirations and career plans can change dozens of times in the years from early childhood, through adolescence, through college, and beyond. But it’s never too early to ponder the question and take steps in the right direction toward achieving a long-term goal.
“For a long time, people suggested students ‘follow their passion’ when considering career options,” says Laurel Barrette, director of school counseling programs for K12. “I believe it’s much more beneficial when we say ‘follow your curiosity.’ What do you want to learn more about? What are you interested in? The rest will follow.”
Experts note that parents can and should play a huge role, serving as career coaches in helping their children make proactive decisions. In doing so, however, they walk a fine line between directing children down positive paths and imposing too much influence.
“Career coaching is not telling your children what to do with their lives. It is helping them decide what is right for them,” write David H. Montross, Theresa E. Kane and Robert J. Ginn, Jr. in their book Career Coaching Your Kids.
Barrette notes that children are often unaware of the multitude of career options available to them or how to take the initial steps toward investigating those possibilities.
“It’s really important for parents to speak to their children, support them, and help explain what options are out there,” she says. “It’s been said that 90 percent of kids will identify only 1 percent of the careers available as a career path. It’s easy for people to become very narrow-minded.”
How can a parent help guide the way?
Montross, Kane, and Ginn say that self-assessment is a critical first step in the process. Together, parents and students should take stock of skills, interests, abilities and personality traits, then link that data to career options that naturally support those qualities. At that point, the parent/student team, in concert with guidance professionals and available resources, can set attainable and appropriate goals. Throughout the process, it remains important for the parents to provide continuous motivation, support, and guidance.
- Listen “with an open mind and (respond) with supportive words”—even if a child’s dream seems impractical or out of reach.
- Encourage self-awareness. “Careers should match a person’s interests, skills, and abilities.”
- Help them explore. “Kids will ‘try on’ many careers before settling on a few. Compare their ideas about themselves with what they learn from career guides and career websites.”
- Ask “For example: ‘What do you think life would be like as a (fill in the profession)?’ Or ‘What intrigues you most about this field?’”
- Provide “Encourage your child to learn more. Integrate their interests with enrichment activities, books, summer vacations, and volunteer work. Career or industry fairs through a child’s school, nearby colleges, or companies that are geared to your student’s age are a great way to explore.”
K12 takes career planning to heart.
“The purpose of K12 college and career tools, activities, and programs is to support all students in navigating their unique path to the future,” Barrette says. “Our goal is to connect students to the information and resources they need to identify their interests and make informed decisions about life after high school, college, careers, and beyond.”
In the K12 “Finding Your Path” course, school counselors, advisors, and other staff guide students through an in-depth exploration of their education and career interests, help them to define goals, and create a path through high school to get them where they want to go. Pathfinder, the K12 College and Career Counseling System, provides students, parents, and staff a collaborative space with tools to explore and plan for life after high school. Pathfinder contains three interactive assessments: What Do I Like? What Do I Value? What Are My Skills?
In addition to annual Career Days, during which students get the inside scoop from professionals in multiple fields and its College and Career Guide, K12 offers students the chance to participate in college and career clubs, each of which features on-demand videos and live sessions, covering topics ranging from time management and resume writing to selecting the right college and preparing for the ACT/SAT tests.
College, of course, remains a huge steppingstone on the path to most careers. Selecting the right college with the right programs is a job unto itself. Specialization and advanced degrees might be necessary and the commitments in dollars and time involved to earn such degrees are certainly matters to be seriously weighed.
That doesn’t mean that all high school graduates are ready for college, at least immediately. Montross, Kane, and Ginn even suggest that some students choose to attend college only because it seems like a natural progression, and they’re not sure what else to do with their lives.
“Thinking about what to do after high school can be scary,” Barrette says. “Some students simply want a different path or might be drawn to the market demand for careers that do not require a four-year degree. Clearly, college isn’t the only option for high school graduates. There are a number of excellent alternatives to consider.”
Among those career- and resume-building options beyond a four-year college: military service, apprentice programs, volunteer/community service, trade schools, community college programs.
When you are ready to help your student map out career options, here are some books that could help:
- Career Coaching Your Kids: Guiding Your Child Through the Process of Career Discovery
- What Color Is Your Parachute? For Teens, 2nd Edition: Discovering Yourself, Defining Your Future
- In Their Shoes: Extraordinary Women Describe Their Amazing Careers
- Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type
Featured Image – OakleyOriginals / CC by 2.0