Look AheadThe best way to plan for college is to look at your life backwards. Where do you want to be in 10 years? What are the skills and experiences you’ll need to get there? College is an expensive place to simply “explore” your interests. A more solid approach is one where you systematically accumulate knowledge and experience to land a job. If you plan your schooling as a pathway to a job instead of an aimless pursuit of interests, you’ll graduate with tangible, employable skills.
Explore Your Options
But who knows what they want to do when they graduate high school? Not every high school provides the opportunity to explore different disciplines, and high school career counselors are often on the chopping block during budget cuts. The solution is to take some time before moving into the dorm.
• Gap years are uncommon in the U.S., but they’re helpful. Getting a job or an internship could be an invaluable experience that lets you explore what you like and where your strengths lie.
• Talk to professionals about their jobs, and ask about job-shadowing opportunities. The goal is to learn about careers you might be interested in before you spend a fortune training for something you may not like.
• If you’re worried about losing momentum in your education, consider exploring a career at a community college. In addition to basic college courses — often with transferrable credits to four-year colleges and universities — community colleges often have technical, vocational or trade classes for a wide variety of exploration. Plus, it’s cheaper: tuition at a two-year institution is less than half the cost of tuition at a four-year school.
Find Your Fit
Before committing to a career path, give some thought to the kind of job environment you want. Make a list of “must haves” or “absolutely can’ts” to help determine your career decision, such as:
• I absolutely can’t be stuck in an office.
• I must have a job in or near: my home? the ocean? Disneyland?
• I absolutely can’t work in healthcare (or accounting, or fashion…).
This list will help, but keep in mind the job search will yield plenty of opportunities that fall between “must have” and “absolutely can’t.” No job is perfect. Be prepared to compromise to sustain the big picture (even predominantly outdoor jobs will probably have paperwork).
Investigate the Numbers
The next step is critical: research. Once you have a few potential career paths where you can see yourself thriving, use the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook at www.bls.gov/ooh to check out the projected salary information and job outlook for the fields you’re considering. Keep these questions in mind:
• What are the job opportunities?
• Is there stability in this field?
• Can I advance in the career?
• How much money will I make? Will my salary pay my student debt and monthly obligations?
• How much education is required?
This process takes patience and focus, but college is a huge investment, so the effort you put into your career now will be worth it. Though college can open doors to plenty of interesting ideas and philosophies, you can pursue your passions and interests in many different ways, from volunteering to joining groups or clubs. There should always be room in your life for pursuing your passions, and a skills-based college education can launch you onto a career path that will provide the security you’ll need to pursue the things you love.