Deciding your future can be a difficult decision, and especially for young high school and college students with minimal experience in the work field. However, with many students being pushed to decide their major at a young age, 36% of Americans say they wish they chose a different major. Yet, while you definitely don’t need to plan out your entire life during high school, many don’t realize how exploring career options during high school can help your decisions in the future, so whether you’re a student or someone who’s looking to switch careers, here are some tips to prepare for the future!
1. Take online classes
I had always thought that I would go to medical school and become a physician, but I soon realized that I didn’t enjoy interacting with patients as much as just the medical aspect of being a physician, so I started to explore some other options in the medical field. During quarantine, I started to explore online courses to learn more about topics I was interested in, which at the time, I was considering business, law, and medicine. After taking Vital Signs from the University of Pennsylvania, I decided that medicine won out, as it was my favorite course out of the ones I took. Eventually, I discovered the world of biomedical science when I took an online class called The Science of Stem Cells from the American Museum of Natural History, which I found absolutely fascinating!
2. Get a job or an internship
The best way to understand what a career actually looks like is to gain experience in the career field, such as by getting a job in the field. For example, if you are interested in entrepreneurship, marketing, or business, getting a small position, such as a cashier, server, or receptionist may provide valuable experience to observe the inner workings of the company. However, some higher level jobs may not accept students, so getting an internship also provides valuable experience to see what a career actually entails. For example, the Stanford Institute of Medicine Summer Research Program is a paid internship program that allows high school students to gain experience in the field of biomedical science. Many other job fields also offer internships, including paid internships, so be sure to always be on the lookout for a good internship or job!
However, when a jobs or internships aren’t available, volunteer opportunities are just as valuable for you to determine your interests. Many volunteer organizations, such as the American Red Cross or local soup kitchens, may offer positions to high school students, so volunteering also provides an opportunity to learn more about a career field. For example, volunteering with the American Red Cross allows students to learn more about nursing and helping during a disaster, and this can help students determine if they enjoy working in that field while also helping others. However, while there may be career benefits to volunteering, it’s always a good idea to help others out of kindness, because while I don’t plan on becoming a chef or a waitress, I enjoy volunteering at the soup kitchen and seeing the smiles on people’s faces. It really made a big difference for me, so it’s always a good idea to volunteer.
4. Shadowing and asking professionals about their job
If you don’t have the slightest idea about what you want to do in the future, asking other people about their jobs can provide valuable insight about what a career may actually look like, which can help you decide what you would like to do in the future. Even for students who are absolutely certain about their future career, asking professionals in the career field gives insight into what that job actually looks like, rather than a glorified version of what some might have expected. In addition, job shadowing is common for students and employees new to a career field, where the learner will closely observe a professional as they work to learn more about a job. Many pre-med students are required to have a certain number of shadowing hours, and this is for a good reason. Shadowing allows you to see the daily life of a professional in a certain career field, so if you’re interested in a specific career field, reach out to a professional to ask if you can shadow them for a day! Just like an internship, it might take a while to be accepted to a shadowing position, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a position immediately!
5. Do research about your career options
While personal interest is definitely one of the most important aspects when choosing a career, it can be helpful to do research to learn about career outlook, job satisfaction, median salary, and required education for a certain career. Some jobs require much more education than you may have planned, so it’s important to learn more about a job before you decide to pursue that career field. For example, many biomedical science jobs require a PhD or some graduate school education for a higher level position, and this may be more education than some people plan for. However, don’t let the statistics scare you. There are many more important things in life than salary or career outlook, so if you’re truly interested and passionate about a career, go for it!
6. Reflect on your experiences
Last year, when the school year ended, many of my teachers sent out forms to collect feedback about their classes and asked how to improve. I started to think about the past school year, and I realized that biology class was the class that I was truly interested in and excited for because of the material, not because of the class atmosphere or any other factors. You can also consider your strengths and weaknesses when considering your classes, as often times, people will choose a career field based on their strengths. However, if you’re passionate about a class but aren’t necessarily the best at it, don’t worry! As students, there’s always time to explore and improve. Other experiences, such as volunteering, may also be helpful in considering what you liked and didn’t like about the experiences.
7. Join school clubs
Many high schools and colleges have school clubs, and these clubs are valuable resources for students who may be interested in discovering new careers and gaining experience. There are many pre-professional clubs, including DECA (formerly known as the Distributive Education Clubs of America), HOSA (Future Health Professionals), and more, which all provide competitive events and career experience for students explore career options. Students can join and leave clubs as they wish, so school clubs are a great experience for students to discover their interests! Joining school clubs also allows you to meet new friends and make connections that may make a lasting impact on your future.
8. Attend career exploration programs
At my school, there is a program that allows students to have real-life career training, and while that may not be available for everyone, there are many other career exploration programs that allow students to learn more about their future career options. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a website that show all of the data and statistics about a particular job, so students can learn more about the job outlook and salary of a large number of jobs. Make sure to look out for opportunities to attend career exploration programs too. In sixth grade, I attended a career exploration program hosted by my local community college, and it was a great experience for me as I got to meet many professionals and learn about what they did. Often times, some schools will host “Career Days,” where professionals come to speak about their job, and if your school doesn’t offer this option, there are many online alternatives with the help of the internet! For example, Virtual Shadowing is an organization founded by university students in Texas, and each week, speakers in the healthcare field will come and talk about their job, which is a great opportunity for students to learn more about a career as a physician or healthcare professional!
9. Utilize connections and resources
When looking or internships or shadowing opportunities, personal connections often play a big role in getting those opportunities. If you know anyone in the field you are interested in, ask them about their job, and you may potentially get an position if you ask. However, not everyone has personal connections, so if you don’t know anyone that works in the career field you are interested in, teachers and counselors will often have resources for students that are interested. Sometimes, teachers may keep a list of people that previous students have shadowed or interned for, so take advantage of the resources that your school can provide for you! Additionally, networking is crucial for getting job or internship opportunities, so since many colleges host job fairs, the most common piece of advice I hear is to attend those job fairs so you can secure a position or network with professionals!
10. Open your mind to new career options
As a student, you still have your life ahead of you, so don’t be worried if you don’t know what you want to do in the future yet! Exploring different career fields can be helpful so you have a basic idea of what you want to do when it comes to the time to pick your major or apply for your first job, but it definitely doesn’t mean that you have to have your whole life planned out. Keep exploring new topics and careers, and you’ll be better prepared for the future! Who knows what you might discover? With so many career choices out there, remember to keep your mind open to new ideas and options!
Ritter, Mario, and Olivia Liu. Many Americans Regret Their College Choices. 4 July 2017, learningenglish.voanews.com/a/many-americans-regret-their-college-choices/3923373.html.