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9 Career Exploration Activities High Schoolers Will Actually Want To Do

High quality career exploration that exposes students to diverse careers is crucial to helping them align their interests with their career goals.

SchooLinks Staff
SchooLinks Staff

Nov 29, 2021

Career Exploration Activities High Schoolers Will Actually Want To Do

Great college counselors and career advisors always strive to ensure that each student is able to develop a personalized roadmap for their future. Beyond creating a bridge between secondary school and postsecondary success, career exploration plays a critical role for students while in school and provides thoughtful reflection and self-examination as students choose their life path. High-quality career exploration helps give meaning to the learning students are doing while in school, provides focus for their decision-making and time, and inspires hope for where their learning and hard work can take them. 

Many schools and districts offer students annual or semi-annual career days and fairs as a primary channel for career exploration. Oftentimes these events highlight individuals in the most common career roles or representatives from local businesses and business community organizations with brand recognition. Though these assemblies are important, they do not, on their own, impactfuly engage students in an ongoing process of deeper exploration necessary to drive meaningful questioning, engagement, and speculative research throughout secondary school.  

Because of the important role it plays, career exploration must be ongoing and interesting to students in order to effectively engage them and promote motivation and enthusiasm. Counselors and educators can play a key role in finding ways to embed innovative practices to help students explore possible careers, learn about a much broader set of potential career options, and receive sufficient time and guidance--all allowing students to deeply consider their postsecondary career paths.

Innovative, Engaging Activities And Practices

In order for career exploration activities to be meaningful and exciting to today’s high school students, they need to be interactive and relevant. They must involve opportunities for student voice and choice, allowing students to explore and discern what appeals to them and what does not. And, in order to work within a college and career readiness program, the activities need to be scalable and accessible for all students. 

Use Technology to Connect Students with Career Role Models

Today’s students are all 21st Century natives. They learned to read with books and apps. Video calls are just as common as telephone calls. They are used to using digital devices to connect with people near and far. Technology has made it much easier to connect students to information and resources beyond the school walls and get them excited about future career possibilities. Encourage students to explore websites that connect them with first-hand insights of professionals from around the world. 

  • Career Village: This online community provides a forum for students to ask questions about career exploration and planning directly to current professionals. From “How much does a music producer earn?” to “How to find your dream job,” students are able to have their specific questions answered from real-life professionals working in the fields they are exploring.
  • Job Shadow: At Job Shadow, students can read interviews from professionals working in a vast number of fields, including some more unique professions that might be of interest to students such as jobs in the arts, roles that involve work with animals, and “jobs you may not have heard of.” Students can also search for interviews based on compensation structure or work environment. 

Use Virtual Reality to Explore Career Options 

Hands-on, interactive, and dynamic experiences are important to engage students and give them a realistic window into what a career will entail. Some of the most innovative work in career exploration is utilizing virtual reality (VR) to provide immersive experiences for students to do jobs. Though internships, apprenticeships, and other immersive, real-world experiences are only possible for a small number of students, VR can provide access to the environments, tools, and opportunities in a wide variety of industries without leaving the classroom. 

  • Oculus VR Career Experience: This free resource designed for the Oculus Go platform, the most popular consumer VR headset, provides students with the opportunity to learn the complex world of pipe fitting, HVAC, and welding. The application was designed by the International Training Fund of the United Association, an international union of plumbers, fitters, and technicians, to provide students with an immersive and realistic window into these jobs.
  • ByteSpeed: ByteSpeed, available for a fee, provides students ranging from elementary school to higher education a wide variety of career VR experiences including agriculture, fashion design, health care, and engineering.

Partner with Local Chambers of Commerce and Beyond

A core piece of career planning needs to include job opportunities within one’s community. A local chamber of commerce is the perfect resource. Encourage the local chamber of commerce to have member businesses create YouTube videos spotlighting their work and different types of potential jobs for students. Some local business organizations have partnered with school districts to create sites geared specifically toward secondary students to share the types of jobs available and the skills needed to do those roles. You might also invite local businesses to provide teachers with recruitment, application, and training materials for students. 

  • Career Explore NW: A school district in Spokane, Washington has partnered with local businesses and the public broadcasting station to create an impressive web platform that enables career exploration, promotes local agriculture and industry opportunities, and connects local businesses with students.  
  • UpSkill Houston: In Houston, Texas, the Greater Houston Partnership has brought the school district into the workforce development process. Realizing that economic development requires a skill-ready workforce at hand, rather than importing it from other communities, the organization formed this partnership and site aimed at connecting high school students with relevant careers.   
  • SchooLinks: SchooLinks provides an Industry Partnership Portal which assists schools and districts in nurturing partnerships. Providing student access, calendaring events, and empowering local businesses to connect to students helps create real-world opportunities for students to explore local career options.  

Include A Diversity of Voices

Students are more likely to deeply engage with career exploration activities when they can personally relate to or see themselves in career role models. It is vital that schools offer students exposure to a wide diversity of individuals representing possible career pathways. Expanding conceptions of role models for students both opens the minds of current students and works to upend historical stereotypes and barriers long-term. 

  • Invite Recent Alumni: Consider offering students opportunities to talk with and learn from individuals still early in their career trajectory, rather than just focusing on those who have achieved long-term career success. You might invite recent alumni to talk with students about their experiences both in college or career training, applying for positions, and during their first weeks and months in a new role. This gives students much more relatable information and advice that likely feels more relevant to their current decision-making and thinking.
  • Ensure Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Diversity in Role Models: Across fields, take special care to include representatives that fall outside often held gender stereotypes for particular careers. For instance, spotlight women working in positions from predominantly male STEM careers. And, have male representation from nursing or teaching positions, which are often female-dominated careers. The Career Girls website is a great resource geared at female students to provide them with empowering role models and tools to explore future career options. Ensure racial and ethnic diversity in connecting students with professionals as it is fundamental that all students have role models that they can personally identify with.

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Honor And Value A Wide Array Of Career Pathways

Engaging career exploration also includes guidance and activities to help students expand their thinking beyond what they conceive of as likely career paths. Many times student career planning and exploration is constrained by what they know--either what their own family members do for a living, professionals they interact with in their own lives such as teachers, doctors, and coaches, or those they see on television and the internet. This leaves major gaps in student understanding of all the potential opportunities and fields that exist. Educators can have major impacts on postsecondary success by showing students the wide array of options that are possible and connecting those options with student strengths and preferences. 

Additionally, many career exploration curricula often default to college planning as a core component. However, in today’s economy, there are a myriad of good job options that do not require a four-year college degree. It does a disservice to students to only focus on career paths that extend from college completion. Career counselors can play an important role in helping students to see these different pathways--from straight to career, to technical education, to the military, to community college, to four-year degrees and beyond--as all potentially worthwhile to consider. This makes career planning and exploration accessible to students who do not think that college is right for them and helps all students understand their options as they make important life decisions.

Relevant And Productive Career Exploration For All Students

As you develop and plan your career exploration activities, take time to regularly survey students for fields they would like to explore, the kinds of activities that resonate with them, and for feedback on past activities and events. By aligning career exploration activities with student interest and choice, it is much more likely that students will engage more deeply and reflectively. 

When students do this, they are able to see connections between future career goals and their current learning; they are able to figure out the kinds of work they enjoy and those they do not; and, they are able to understand how their strengths and preferences map onto future possibilities. By deeply exploring career possibilities during secondary school and critically thinking about the associated realities, students are able to enter postsecondary life knowing they are making active and well-informed choices. Ultimately, if students are excited about these activities and thoughtfully engage with them, they are better prepared for the entire pathway to a career.

Centralizing career exploration activities in the same place as goal setting, college exploration and graduation plans can help students see the little, and big pictures. Check out how SchooLinks can consolidate it all for your district.

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