Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Career Goals and College Choice

I am always amazed at students who will offer up a list of colleges they would like to attend, but remain at a loss when asked what they would like to study. This is a serious example of "the tail wagging the dog." When I probe further, I hear responses such as the following:
  • "I want to go to ABC University because my cousin goes there."
                             Or how about this one ?
  • "I’m going to X, Y, or Z colleges because they have a great baseball program and I want to play."
In my book, these are not reasons to pick a college—at least not for 99% of us! College choice should be driven first by the program a student wants to study, and then by any number of less important variables which might include location, cost (please, no final decisions until the financial aid numbers are in), size, and MANY others.

A critical first step is to identify a career choice (or choices). The career choice(s) will allow you to determine the further training or education required. One excellent resource to help at this stage is the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The OOH offers information such as working conditions, qualifications, and earnings on a huge number of occupations. Once you have career choice information in hand, it will be possible to search for the right place to continue your education.

At the OOH page, you can search for a particular career, use the index for a complete alphabetical listing, or browse career clusters located on the right-hand side. Either way, as you research career options here, be sure to take note of a few things. One important bit of information is the job outlook. I explain it to my students this way. I may love the idea of being a forest ranger (green pick-up truck with my dogs on the seat!) but if the job outlook section tells me that each year 9,000 forestry graduates compete for 275 job openings, I’ll have to think seriously about considering another option.

For me, another favorite section of the OOH is the related occupations section. This is truly a "web" at it’s best. After selecting one occupation to study, view the list of related occupations. As you click on each link, you’ll be directed to the OOH page for that career. Notice that each career has a new list of related occupations. Some will overlap, but many will not. You may very well find an occupation you like that you would never have thought of on your own.

Finally, for any career you’re considering seriously, check out the section on training, other qualifications, and advancement. This vital information will help you search for a college that can prepare you for your career of choice. Once you know what you want to do and what you need to learn to be prepared, you’re ready to screen from the thousands of colleges and universities out there to just the few you’ll apply to.

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