Considering I went to college with no idea of what I wanted to do, I spend a lot of time talking with my students about how they will make the most of college. I don’t expect them to have their life’s plan mapped out and ready to be laminated, but I do expect that they are ready to talk about their VIPS and how they can help direct them toward a major and, ultimately, a career path.
However, talking about career ideas will only get you so far.
So, here’s a few ideas on how you can get past talking and actually get into trying on mode:
Let’s say you’ve been thinking about being a lawyer but you don’t know what kind of law you would like to practice. Well, there’s no shortage of lawyers in any town or city so start calling up law firms and ask if any of the lawyers would be interested in being interviewed about what they do. Go in with a lot of great questions and you can learn a lot very quickly.
While an informational interview can help you gather information, a job shadow is a great way to try on a profession for a day or two. Staying with the lawyer example, reach out to your family and friends (otherwise known as networking) to see if they know any lawyers. Then, ask for an introduction where you can ask about shadowing for a day or two to learn more about what they do.
If the job shadow goes well and you find yourself even more interested in being a lawyer than you did before you started exploring, volunteering some of your time now to help out around the office can be a great way to learn more and, ultimately, earn an internship, or part-time job later on. As a volunteer the tasks will be small, but the overall experience, interaction and networking can be incredibly valuable.
Summer Programs on College Campuses
They don’t come cheap, but some colleges host summer programs for high school students to explore career paths more in-depth. For aspiring lawyers, the Penn Pre-Law Summer Program lasts for an entire month and includes tuition, housing, meals, materials and weekend trips. A program like this should only be pursued if the previous three options have been exhausted.
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First, I’d like to wish all the hard-working women out there doing a wonderful job being moms a Happy Mother’s Day! It’s not an easy job and I hope you all get to spend some time today doing the things you enjoy and spending time with those you love!
Throughout the year the New York Times college section, The Choice, runs a checklist for high schools seniors and juniors on what they should be doing each month. The checklists, which are written by college counselors from around the country, genuinely contain helpful advice and I like to share them with my own students. On May’s checklist for juniors, there was one tip in particular that I wanted to talk about today and that’s how to make the most of your summer.
On the checklist it’s referred to as summer jobs and enrichment but I would expand that to include career exploration.
Why? Because it’s never too early to start exploring where your interests and skills may lead you.
Maybe you’re good with numbers but you have no idea what it would be like to be an accountant or an actuary. Maybe you don’t even know what an actuary is.
You’ve thought about physical therapy and athletic training but you really don’t know the difference between the two.
Perhaps, as a young child, you were always building things with your LEGOs but you’re not sure if that interest would translate into a career in engineering or construction management.
Maybe, just maybe, you’ve had a lot of ideas about what you might do with your life but you’ve never taken the time to tell anyone let alone spent time researching them.
Well, if any of this sounds familiar, then your upcoming summer is a great way to get off that proverbial horse and get to work figuring out just who you are going to be and why it’s going to matter.
The checklist talks about getting a part-time job or going away for a couple weeks to a college-sponsored summer program to help enhance your college applications. And while experiences like that can help solidify your profile in the eyes of college admission counselors, there’s also a lot of value in securing a job shadow or informational interview. While either would only last an a couple hours or even just a full day, spending time with someone who does what you think you may want to do is time well spent.
So how do you do this? Well, first start talking to your parents, friends, teachers, and your school counselor about what you’re interested in. Talk to them about some of these ideas you’ve had and that you’d like to explore them further. Find out who they know who might do something similar to what you’re describing. Then, arrange to be introduced to this person even if it’s just over the phone. Be prepared to talk some more about what you’re interested in and that you would appreciate learning more about what they do, how they got around to doing it and what they would recommend to a young, interested person like you.
You may not find what you’re looking for by doing a job shadow or informational interview, but you’ll NEVER find it if you don’t try.
Have questions about doing a job shadow or what to ask on an informational interview? Use the comment box below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I work with students, we always have the conversation about potential majors pretty early on. Not because I expect them to have a plan for the rest of their lives ready to be laminated and hung up on a wall but because I want to know what they are thinking about and why. I’m a firm believer that the first steps to a happy and successful life are grounded in identifying your VIPS.
If you don’t know what your VIPS are, check out this post I wrote a couple months ago.
Once you have a good handle on what you’re good at, what you’re most interested in and why it has meaning to you, narrowing down the endless possibilities of majors is easier. Note that I didn’t say it’s easy. Just that it’s easier to do.
Picking a major is never easy. Especially when you have your whole life ahead of you. In fact, what you end up doing as an occupation 15 or 20 years down the road may not even exist today.
Because of this, I often tell students not to worry too much about what their major is. Granted, if a student is interested in pre-professional programs like nursing, education, accounting or engineering to name a few, then yes, choosing the right major is important. But it must match up with your VIPS if it’s going to be the right choice. There are plenty of articles out there talking about majors with the highest starting salaries and majors who will have the most lucrative careers. Go ahead and read them and let them help inform your decision, but please don’t think that just because a major has the potential to lead you to a high paying career that it’s automatically the right one for you.
Let’s say you read one of these articles and find out that computer engineering is a hot major right now. Graduates are earning upwards of $70,000 right after graduation and since you’re good with computers, you think this is a good choice for you.
Not so fast.
First, look up computer engineering programs online. Pay close attention to what the program is designed to do, what kinds of courses you will have to take and then ask yourself if it still sounds good. If you’re psyched about taking Calculus I and II and two courses in General Physics your freshman year, then you might actually be on the right path. But if it doesn’t sound so great, that’s when you have to head back to the drawing board and think a little more about your VIPS and how they might help you find majors and career paths that make more sense for you.
Another great way to find out if you’re cut from the right cloth is to do a job shadow or informational interview.
In a typical job shadow you’ll spend a few hours or, if you’re lucky, an entire day with someone who does what you think you want to do. You get to actually see what a day in the life of a professional in your intended field is like. In fact, this is probably one of the smartest things you can do to start clarifying what it is you want to do with your life. Work through your family, friends and teachers to identify individuals who could host you for a job shadow.
If you can’t secure a job shadow, an informational interview is a great back-up. Think of a job interview where you have to answer questions about yourself, why you want the job, what you can bring to the table and why the employer should hire you. Now, turn it around so that you get to ask someone questions about what they do, what they love and hate about it, where they went to school and if their degree helped prepare them for their job. Cool, huh?
At the end of the day, do some homework in your intended majors. Talk to people who are doing now what you think you want to do in a few years. Ask honest questions and really listen to the answers. I promise you it will be one of the best things you do for yourself on this crazy journey.
If you have any questions about choosing majors, your VIPS, securing job shadows or informational interviews, please use the comment section below.
You can also email me directly at email@example.com for help with any aspect of your college search and application process.