How to Explore Career Paths and Plan for Your Future

As children we all have big dreams for what we will become when we “grow up.” These dreams often change and develop as our interests or focus changes. In kindergarten I fell in love with school and just knew I’d be a teacher.  But in 4th grade we studied the Civil Rights Movement, and I instantly wanted to be a civil rights attorney. Then throughout the years, I vividly remember also wanting to be a veterinarian, a police woman, and even President one day! It wasn’t until high school that the proverbial question “what do you want to be when you grow up” seemed to draw a blank and the weight of my future began to press on my young shoulders. If you’re in high school or a recent graduate, no question may strike more fear in your heart than one that requires you to make a commitment to a college or career path. You know the stakes are high (though not as high as you may feel) and you want to get it right. Don’t panic, there’s still time. That’s why exploring different career paths and finding your gifting is so important. Here’s how:

Career choice options - student thinking of futureGetting Started

My father always taught me that wise decisions will always involve list making. If you’re researching career paths or wondering what career choices are a good fit for you, the best place to start is by making a list of what you enjoy. Take the time to consider what brings a smile to your face, your extra-curricular activities, volunteerism, and best subjects in school. Consider not just what you’re good at, or what your parents think you’re good at, but truly what activities and subjects interest you and make you want to learn more.

It’s true that if it doesn’t feel like “work” or “learning” it could be a great passion or career choice for you. On the flip side, make a list of those things that bore you or that are overly challenging for you. If you hate math, list it. If you find history really boring, write that down. Knowing what you like, and what you dislike, will set you on a great path towards finding your future career.

Once you’ve got your lists together, use a search like O’Net Online to find occupations that match your goals and interests. This search will help set you on the right career path based upon your interests and may even surprise you with job options you never considered!

If you’re not sure where to start or if your list is just too overwhelming, complete this Interest Profiler from O’Net. This brief survey will allow you to find what your interests are and then match you to possible careers. You can then explore those careers including job zones, pay, etc. Make a list of these possible careers and then do some research on your own into what level of education, pay, etc. is involved.

Taking it Further

Now that you’ve got a list of possible career paths, it’s time to narrow down your list. Knowledge and experience are very different things. Just because I like learning about history doesn’t mean I want to be a history teacher! This is why I strongly suggest experiencing each possible career path. Use your network of family, friends, church, mentors etc. to get some experiential knowledge of each possible career.

If you’re interested in teaching, shadow a teacher for a day. If you’ve discovered that community planning or non-profit work may interest you, contact your local community and shadow with one of their employees. This may seem like a lot of work, and it is. But don’t miss this step! These experiences will go far in helping you to narrow down which career paths will truly interest you long term and help you build a satisfying life. And it can even save you years of heartache and financial strain.

Making Career and College Choices

After you’ve narrowed down what career path, or paths, you are interested in, it’s time to find the best education or on the job training fit. You want to find a place that is going to prepare you for the future without breaking the bank and that fits your emotional, spiritual, and personal needs. If you’re headed to college, you need to first select a major that will prepare you to work in your area of interest.

This career search from the College Board will not only help you to identify what you’re interested in, but it will help you to discover the major that best fits that category.  The opposite type of search, one that matches careers to your college major, can also be helpful if you’re already in college and trying to decide what you want to do with your major.

Finally, this school search from study.com is a great way to narrow down which colleges and universities are rated well for your interests, career path, or chosen major. Once you’ve created a college list, be sure to compare and contrast each school based upon finances, location, social opportunities, etc. and to narrow down which schools you have the best chance of getting into based upon your grades and testing scores.

Finding a career path that suits your interests and goals isn’t difficult, but it does take a bit of consideration and research on your part. But the benefits of going into college knowing what you want to be when you finally grow up, far outweigh the work you’ll do. Follow this method and you may just be a few good lists away from taking hold of your bright future!

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