Beyond counselors, there are many adults in a school who help advise and guide student course selection, career exploration, and decision-making. These educators are not always formally trained as college and career counselors, but can play a key role in helping guide students. When having conversations, educators can help students to connect their interests to potential career paths, identify opportunities for students that increase exposure and allow for exploration of particular fields of interest, and reflect on previous experiences to inform future decision-making and planning.
Use the framework below to help guide these important conversations for students. These can be helpful for the full spectrum of postsecondary options from straight to career, to technical education, to the military, to community college, to four-year degrees and beyond.
What are your interests, passions and strengths?
In order for a career to be fulfilling, individuals must enjoy what they do and it must be a good fit with their personality and skillset. Therefore, the starting point for productive career exploration should be a student’s passions or strengths. You might talk with students about their interests both in and outside of school. You might question what they are drawn towards, and, conversely, experiences or school subjects they would rather not pursue beyond high school. Once students have identified some interests or strengths, help them map these on to potential career options. To guide this work, students might play the SchooLinks’ Would You Rather game, an interactive, online game that presents students with activities and experiences and, based on their responses, provides recommendations for their career exploration.
What clubs or other extracurricular activities might be applicable to explore or expand on these interests?
Extracurricular activities are a low-stress way for students to explore passions and connect with others who share similar interests. And as students apply for postsecondary opportunities, these clubs and activities can provide important experience that can boost eligibility for scholarships or subject-specific programs and networks that can help with their success. Encourage students to consider the available clubs or school offerings and join those that align with their interests or career aspirations. For instance, someone who is interested in being a lawyer might participate in a mock trial team or club. If a student thinks they might want to explore a career in journalism, they might participate in the school newspaper or news crew. A student interested in a military path might consider joining a Junior ROTC program. A student looking to grow their technical skills might participate in a SkillsUSA chapter. And, students looking to grow and expand their entrepreneurship skills might become a member of their school’s DECA club.
Are there available courses that might align to these interests or career aspirations?
Having a student experience some relevant coursework while still in high school can go far in helping them to determine their interests and to assess if a particular learning path is a good fit. If a student enjoys the coursework, they will start college with some relevant experience and knowledge. If a student determines that a particular path is not a good fit, they will have saved time, money, and energy that would have otherwise been spent exploring at the postsecondary level. Many high schools offer courses for a variety of career pathways or partner with local higher education organizations for dual enrollment courses that allow students to experience the kind of coursework they will meet in their postsecondary learning. For some career paths, there are several available courses that make sense to take in a particular sequence. Some courses might offer a theoretical background while others provide more hands-on experience. Consider seeing if your school or district has mapped out courses for particular career pathways to use as guidance for these career conversations.
Outside of school, what are some internships, volunteer opportunities, or even jobs that might offer relevant experience?
Beyond school-sponsored clubs or coursework, finding ways to connect students with opportunities for hands-on experience can be very valuable. When high schoolers are exploring their interests, they often do not have a full picture of what work might look like in their chosen field. You might help them to brainstorm possible internships, volunteer opportunities, or even a paid job with local businesses that could offer a high schooler first-hand experience. A student interested in education, for example, might work at a summer camp with young children. A student who wants to learn more about caring for animals might volunteer at a humane society. All of these experiences build a student’s knowledge base while also giving them a deeper understanding of what a future job might entail.
Who can you connect with to learn more?
Connecting with someone who is actually working in a particular field can be tremendously worthwhile for students as they explore postsecondary options. Encourage students to tap into the school’s alumni network, school sponsors, or local community members who can provide insights, answer questions, and even offer job shadowing opportunities. Consider helping students set up in-person or virtual conversations to make these connections. Students can benefit from hearing lessons these professionals have learned or things they wish they had done differently in their career trajectories. These relationships can also help students beyond high school as they progress on their college and career journeys.
A Meaningful Connection
These interactions and conversations with students can be incredibly impactful to a student’s college and career preparation path. These kinds of questions can reframe how a student thinks about career exploration and decision-making for the rest of their lives. Encouraging deeper self-reflection to connect passions and interest with career exploration and choices can lead to much more fulfilling postsecondary experiences. Guiding students to find ways to get first-hand experience can have long-lasting benefits. And these conversations empower students to take charge of their career exploration and to understand how individual steps and choices are part of a longer career exploration path.
When students know that there is someone who is a partner in their planning and will check in on their experiences to help inform future choices, they are much more likely to follow through on seeking out these experiences and integrating them into their college and career planning.
Engaging all stakeholders to help students plan for their future careers is vital to their success. Check out how SchooLinks supports advisors, parents, staff and other stakeholders, support students.