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Connecting College and Careers: How to Help Your Child Explore Both

As you likely recall from your own childhood, the lessons learned in the classroom can often feel somewhat abstract.  It’s difficult for kids to understand how the quadratic formula affects their day-to-day existence or how Beowulf will ever truly impact their life.  This disconnect might cause your child to question the importance of higher education.  After all, even if she is a history buff, she might fear that studying the Boer War won’t allow her to acquire any practical or professional skills.  Surely, there is some logic behind this thought process.  Fortunately, it’s also possible to counter that argument and highlight the definite connection between college and careers.  

To get the conversation flowing, you should begin by asking your child what kinds of careers she might want to pursue or what fields she might want to enter.  Of course, it’s essential to remember that interests and aspirations evolve over time.  As a seventh grader she might have been supremely confident that nursing was her calling and now, as a high school freshman, it’s architecture.  Regardless, now is the time to listen, not to direct her toward a career path you prefer.

Once you have an idea of what she might want to do, you can start exploring the steps needed to realize her professional goals.  Certain occupations, such as law or medicine, have prescribed routes that one must follow in order to enter that profession.  And, clearly, higher education is an integral (and mandatory) step.  After all, you can’t become a doctor without attending medical school.  And you can’t enter medical school without first obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

Other career paths, however, might seem a little more hazy or circuitous.  For example, in this day and age, a person could easily teach herself web design, build up a portfolio and slowly begin to charge for her services, a perfectly acceptable way to achieve success and carve out a living.  Nonetheless, if your child is interested in an industry that might offer a variety of entry methods, have her do a little investigating.  Even if she’s able to jumpstart a career through independent means, perseverance and determination, an education might put her on a faster, and more reliable, path to success.  She’ll likely gain a more extensive network of contacts, acquire tangible and intangible skill-sets and perhaps start at a higher salary than someone without a degree.

Beyond a simple internet search, you should also urge your child to talk with industry professionals.  If your daughter’s curiosity is piqued by advertising and you have a family friend who is a copywriter suggest she reach out and ask how he got started.  Perhaps this friend studied a discipline directly correlated to his work (say communications or creative writing).  Or maybe a few great English Lit courses cemented his love of words and storytelling.  Then again, he could have been a chemistry major who simply fell into copywriting.  Hearing about someone else’s path can be an enlightening experience.  And the more inquiries your child makes, the more she’ll discover which fields welcome individuals who took the road less traveled and which require a more traditional path.     

Certainly, there’s also the likelihood that your child is completely unsure of what type of career she might want.  This is totally fine.  After all, most people don’t have their entire life mapped out by the age of thirteen or fourteen.  While you should assure her that uncertainty is normal, don’t let the conversation end there.  Encourage her to begin thinking about and researching various options.  Let her know that she doesn’t have to commit to a career but that it’s important to get a sense of the opportunities that are available.  A little bit of research might just get her excited about a particular job as well as a related college major.  

Conversely, she could be overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities.  In this case, taking classes in different subjects (in high school and, later, in college) can help hone in on areas that interest her. Summer breaks also offer more time for exploration. Indeed, summer months are the perfect time to pursue an internship or part-time gig.  Additionally, she can also try and “shadow” an individual who works within a field that interests her.  And, in the more extreme cases, taking a gap year  before college can also help firm up educational and career goals before investing a significant amount of money in college tuition.     

Even though it might feel a little premature, it’s actually a great idea to get the career conversation rolling.  As we stated above, this isn’t about getting your child to lock into a particular profession immediately.  After all, plenty of adults make career changes throughout their working lives.  Nevertheless, it’s important to get her thinking about her future and what she might want to do.  Allowing and allotting time for self-reflection and exploration is a crucial part of determining career aspirations.  You want her to dream, test the waters, perhaps falter and try it all again.  The more she dreams, the more she’ll begin to develop concrete goals and objectives. And the more she’ll understand how college fits into the picture.


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Don Munce