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When Should You Begin Thinking About Your Post-College Career?

Choosing a college major and finding the right college in which to pursue that major can feel overwhelming for both students and parents.  Although starting school as an undecided major is an option, it often leads to more time in college and more money spent on a degree in the long run. 

Exploration, research, and visits are key college planning elements for moving from major distress to major decision. As such, it’s best that students begin thinking about their post-college career as early as high school, and here I’ll explain exactly why and what you, or your student, should do to streamline the process.

When Should You Begin Thinking About Your Post-College Career? High School – And Here’s Why!

Start With The End In Mind

Adults spend over 80,000 hours working in their adult lives.  Thus it’s important to find something you enjoy doing! 

First, explore your interests.  Second, explore careers.  Most high schools offer programs such as Naviance or MCIS to their students.  These sites offer interest and skills inventories for students to learn about themselves and research careers that match those interests. 

Talk with your high school counselor to learn about the opportunities at your school.  If your high school doesn’t offer these tools, check out free, online resources such as O*Net from the US Department of Labor. 

If your child has already taken the ACT test, review their interest inventory results included with their scores.  Then explore how those interests and strengths can be utilized in the different career fields identified.  

When researching different careers, it’s important to understand what that career actually does. As a high school counselor, I’ve had students tell me they love to argue and are good at it, so they want to be a lawyer.  They don’t realize lawyers spend much of their day collecting research and data to prepare for a case, some of which are settled long before the courtroom. 

Or the student that tells me they want to be a doctor, but when discussing their interests further they tell me they hate their science and math classes. 

Understanding day to day tasks and responsibilities of the careers they are learning about is key to finding a college major and ultimately an occupation they will enjoy.

Program Limits And Guaranteed Entry

Once a career path is identified then you can use the same sites referenced above to search for college majors that match those careers.  Some colleges, however, have limits on the number of students admitted to a particular major each academic year.  Others may require students to complete prerequisite classes before they can apply for the program. 

Typically, these programs are highly competitive, so it’s important to research ahead of time and ask very specific questions when visiting.  Bachelor of Nursing programs often fall under these guidelines.  Lab space and clinical requirements dictate the number of students a college can accept into its program. 

Thus it’s important to investigate your chances for admission, how many students are accepted each year, how you apply, when you can apply, what backup major options are offered, and if they have a guaranteed entry program.  Guaranteed entry programs allow students to either apply as a freshman student and be admitted to the college major or guarantee entry into the major as long as certain prerequisites are met. 

Guaranteed entry can be a huge benefit to ensuring a smooth course of study.  If guaranteed entry is not an option, then understanding your chances for admission, alternative major options, how the college will help you explore those majors if needed, and your willingness to transfer colleges if necessary are all important factors to consider. 

Keep in mind, all of these alternate options will likely extend the time and money spent on college.

Understanding Accreditation, Licensing, And Degree Requirements

Although I have been helping students and families navigate college exploration for almost 20 years, I was reminded of something very important when helping my own daughter research Architecture programs this fall.  Some majors have very specific accreditation requirements in order to be licensed in the field, yet colleges are not always forthcoming in explaining what their programs provide. 

For example, to become a licensed architect a student must complete an accredited Bachelor of Architecture program (B of Arch).  A Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Architecture is not the same and would require a Master’s degree to get the accreditation required for licensure.  Yet, unless you knew the specific questions to ask the colleges they may not share that information.  

Do your homework ahead of time so you understand exactly what is needed to get into the career you want and what major and degree program can get you there.  Research colleges, their major options, and admission criteria prior to visiting.  Have questions prepared when visiting so that you can find out exactly what each college can provide, and select the best-fit college for you and your major.

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