Spring is in full swing, and while we all appreciate the glimpses of warmer weather and the flowers in bloom, it can also be an anxious time for certain people. Many teens and students (as well as their parents and advisors) know that April is usually “decision time” when it comes to college admission. Students have sent in their applications, schools have sent out acceptance letters, and although there may be some disappointments, the time has come to make the final call. Where will they call home for the next four years, setting the stage for the rest of their lives?
This week, we are addressing the major, life-altering decision of choosing a college to help your grad feel equipped and confident with their final choice. In this blog you will learn about the key final selection factors and how to actually make the call at crunch time.
Here are the key factors to consider when choosing the best fit among good candidates:
Consider the environment, culture, and values of this institution. Is it a good fit for you? Does it align with who you are?
Can you picture yourself living here for the next four years?
How comfortable would you be with “fitting in?”
Will the size and location (city, state) bring out your best? (Think about what you prefer: larger or smaller, bustling big city or quieter, suburban area.)
During your campus visit, how friendly and positive were the students and staff with whom you interacted?
College is very expensive, and costs vary dramatically from institution to institution.
Remember to factor in the cost of graduate school, too, if you plan on attending. This may argue for a more reasonably priced undergraduate school.
Develop a four-year budget for every school you’re considering and compare costs.
Consider regular expenses (room and board, food, books, etc.) as well as the expected travel costs during visits to home (if you go to school out of state) and the average cost of living in that area.
Seek out scholarships and consider all financial aid packages.
With your investment of time and money, you need to assess the valueof a degree from each institution. Higher cost does not necessarily mean better quality! This is an easy mistake to get caught up in.
What is the reputation of the university AND the major/program you might be considering?
What are the institution’s rankings?
What’s the availability of majors and courses you are interested in?
Will your courses be taught primarily by professors or TAs?
What are the student return rates for the second year, as well as graduation rates at the university?
Do you know the expected class sizes? Will you be a name or a number?
What is their commitment to, and effectiveness of, their job placement program to help students land positions after they graduate? What percent of graduates in general, and in the majors of interest, land a full-time job in their major after graduation? What other training/support (e.g., resume writing, interview skills, major/career surveys, internship programs, job fairs, on-campus recruitment, navigation for job searching) are students offered?
What other programs, activities, and extracurriculars are offered that may be of interest?
This decision is a major one, and it may keep some of you up at night! After weighing all of the above information, here a few final action steps to selecting the best overall choice:.
If you haven’t visited the final few, do so if at all possible. There is no substitute for an on-site feel of universities. In some cases, you may want to visit the final few again, if that’s feasible.
If possible, talk with current students and graduates to hear about their firsthand experiences.
Develop a list of pros and cons for each finalist school (even if it’s only two). This, together with the preceding rankings, may lead to one choice standing out from the crowd.
Resist peer influences. No one knows you or your preferences like you. Make the decision that’s right for you, helped by a thorough and objective review!
There you have it. We hope all students (and their parents) find this helpful as they navigate one of the biggest decisions of “adulthood” to date! As always, share this with the future college students and parents in your life, in hopes that this process will become more seamless and clear for all.
In part one of this series, we shared the challenges many young adults are experiencing with their career selection decisions and some general tips. In this week’s blog, we offer some additional specific advice to high schoolers, college/vocational students, and graduates already in the early stages of their careers or who are seeking employment.
In our visits with these students, we regularly hear concerns over the pressure to know what career/major to pursue, insecurity when peers seem further along, and the college for all messaging so common these days. Because teens are still discovering who they are, we believe these pressures are unfortunate and concerning. Parents and educators should be encouraging career curiosity and exploration without direct or indirect pressure “to know.”
Here are some specific suggestions for high school students:
Focus on the process more than the outcome. This is a time to be “career curious” rather than placing undue pressure on making a formal decision. You are still developing a sense of self and haven’t even scratched the surface on the variety of careers that could be a good fit. You also haven’t taken advanced courses, which play a significant role in confirming or rejecting your initial leanings. And, remember, just because some of your friends have decided shouldn’t even be a consideration.So, use this time to take career surveys/assessments, visit job fairs, and talk with people who have jobs in the fields that may be of interest. Research companies and industries. Build your knowledge base ahead of time.
Remember, a four-year college isn’t your only choice. There are many available careers that don’t require a Bachelor’s degree; these are often overlooked. Vocational school, the trades, and the military might be attractive options that fit who you are—and that are financially accessible.
No, you don’t need an Ivy League university to succeed. So many students completely stress themselves out by thinking that being accepted into an elite school is their only ticket to success. Not true! Not by a long shot. There are many pathways you can take and schools that will punch your ticket. It’s much more important who you are than what undergraduate university you attended. Please take this to heart.
Build your professional network. In today’s job market, candidates who know someone who works for the employer have a considerable advantage. Even if you are planning to attend a four-year college or pursue graduate school, the time to begin developing your network is now. Have your parents, relatives, friends, teachers, and mentors introduce you to people who are in interesting fields that may become your advocates. Your initiative will pay huge dividends in the future.
The first few years of study involve taking a variety of courses to build your foundation and give you a flavor of some potential career options. However, this is but a small subset of course offerings and potential majors from which you can choose. Regardless, in order to finish in four years (assuming this is your plan), you’ll need to finalize your choice of major as you begin your junior year. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make this decision in your first year. In many, if not most cases, you’ve not taken a sufficient variety of courses to make a truly informed decision. Here are some other tips:
Be extremely intentional about the courses you take. Many students look for the “easy A courses” to pad their GPAs rather than selecting those with strategic, career benefits. Don’t squander your opportunities. The more relevant the courses, the greater your conviction will be when you declare your major.
Be strategic about selecting your minor. Think of your major and minor as a strategic package. In many cases, your minor will be the field you go into!
Don’t choose your major before talking with practitioners. Far too many students declare their major without the slightest idea of what the jobs are actually like. You simply cannot rely on your educators having intimate knowledge of the various jobs since most have primarily worked in academia. Actual practitioners can give you a much better perspective.
Don’t compromise. It’s entirely common for collegians to change majors; that’s certainly a better option than settling on something you’re not interested in and excited about. If, after your courses and research, you conclude your major isn’t a fit, look for greener pastures.
Graduates/Early Career Individuals
The level of disillusion we see in young adults within the first few years of graduation is significant. Most were not prepared for the difficulty with this transition, often because their educational institutions didn’t offer the assistance they needed. It is striking and disheartening to visit with graduates who thought their degree would somehow magically punch their ticket. We see this too much.
For the most part, their challenges relate to finding an interesting job in their major or liking the job they landed (and by default, the major they chose). Life in the real world can be a rude awakening. Here are some tips that can help:
For Job Seekers:
Forget about perfection. Many young adults seeking employment are looking for the perfect job: always stimulating, well paying, great flexibility, convenient location, and with a meaningful impact on the world. And, when they don’t find it, they prefer to wait it out until one materializes. More often than not, it doesn’t. You may not find perfection, but you can still find something that will be satisfying if you loosen the reins a little.
Get in the game. Related to the previous point, many companies don’t offer the exact position you’re looking for today, but something close. Figuratively speaking, if you can’t hit the bull’s eye in the dartboard, expand your search to the first ring or two around it. If you land it and do well, you’ll be well-positioned as an insider to compete for your dream job when the it becomes available. Remember, it often takes several steps before we hit the bull’s eye.
Go where the jobs are. Depending on one’s career choice, there may or may not be positions available in your desired location. The bottom line is you need to go to where the jobs are rather than assume they will come to you.
Evaluate your marketing and job searching. If you’re struggling to win job offers, consider having an independent professional review your resume, discuss your qualifications, and conduct a mock interview. A few tweaks to your marketing can be just the thing you need. Also, be sure you’re doing all you can to identify available positions. Many young adults aren’t taking full advantage of recruiting services/sites, and others are beating them to the punch. Finally, be sure to check whether you know any insiders of companies with interesting openings to see if they can advocate for you.
For Dissatisfied Workers
Don’t expect your first position to be a dream job. Young people are idealistic and often struggle with motivation when it’s not always stimulating. Remember, your initial position may not be indicative of your dream job, but it’s still the right fit, and you need to prove yourself on each position. Have patience and do your best. . . the rest will take care of itself.
But, it might not be a fit after all. No matter how much you enjoyed your courses, it doesn’t always mean that you’ll love it as a career. If, after a period of time you are highly dissatisfied, explore other options. You never want to get stuck in a career rut, and sometimes, it’s only after we experience a career that we determine whether it was truly a fit after all.
We hope you found this series helpful and invite you to share it with young people who may be experiencing these situations.
Through the years, we have had numerous opportunities to mentor teens and young adults in the 16-24-age range regarding their careers. We see firsthand the stages of: 1) high schoolers getting a sense of their future career and plotting their education/training course, 2) college/vocational students who are finalizing their career decisions and are closer to entering the workforce, and 3) graduates who are experiencing the first few years of their careers (or job searches), now with a “taste” of the choices they made.
Although many are content and confident in their respective stages, others are anxious, concerned, or disillusioned. Here is a synopsis of the concerns we hear:
High School Students: “spooked” by peers who have already decided on their careers/majors (and, not realizing how many will eventually change their minds!), they feel insecure and stressed out when still undecided. Also, the “college for all” messaging is causing considerable anxiety and insecurity with students who are weighing other, better-fitting options.
College/Vocational Students: many are confused and unsettled about their final career/major selections, after taking courses and changing their minds. It is common for college students to switch majors multiple times, but each change produces anxiety. With each passing semester, pressure mounts to “bite the bullet” to avoid lengthening their studies.
Graduates/Early Career Individuals: many experience difficulty: 1) finding a job in their major (or at all), 2) knowing how to search for positions, and 3) being fulfilled in their job. Each has its unique challenges and frustrations, especially when job offers don’t materialize as expected.
If this sounds like you, or someone you know, please don’t lose hope. You’re in the early stage of a long journey, and with the right mindset and methods, you can enjoy tremendous career success. With that, we’d like to offer some encouragement and advice for each of these situations.
Take charge of your career selection. Many young people are allowing others too much influence on their decisions. In the educator realm, this includes high school teachers, professors, and counselors who often lack direct knowledge of the private sector and the day-to-day aspects of different fields. Teens and young adults are highly impressionable at this stage and often defer too much to others who do not know them (or all the realistic career fits) sufficiently well to command such influence. Additionally, they are often swayed by friends who rarely possess sufficient knowledge to be very helpful; their advice is often counterproductive. Choosing a career/major needs to be among the best-researched decisions in life, and we, individually must take the lead role.
Focus on self–awareness. No one knows you like you. Accordingly, your career selection requires a thorough understanding of self: your interests, skills and assets, personality, stressors, work environment preferences, income desires, and passions. Questions such as, “Who am I?” and “What do I have to offer?” are vitally important inputs to making a well-fitting career decision.
Consider a variety of options. Although many young adults know with conviction what career they want to pursue, most don’t. Even if they think they know in high school, they often change their mind with the benefit of courses and more knowledge of other options. Sadly, some 40 percent of college graduates with Bachelor’s degrees regret their major (based on a recent Gallup survey)! All of this suggests that people aren’t researching their options thoroughly enough before committing. This is an unfortunate, and very expensive, regret.The solution is to research and evaluate several options with the aid of career assessments/surveys, job shadowing, internships, and conversations with those in your professional network. There is no substitute for talking with people in the fields you are considering. They are invaluable in providing they day-to-day perspectives of the job and the career path/qualifications required.
Don’t forget to research industries and companies. Often, young adults select careers based primarily on their skills and courses and deemphasize the various industry options. For example, a graduate in accounting could work for a public accounting firm, a private or public company in any number of industries (e.g., banking, health care, technology), or a non-profit organization. Individuals are more fulfilled when their skills are used in specific fields and companies they’re excited about. So, in addition to skills assessments, be sure to explore different industries and employers via Career Clusters, libraries, Chambers of Commerce, suggestions from your network, internet searches, and career placement firms like Indeed. This research will help to select a better long-term fit.
Evaluate employment prospects of different majors/careers. Far too many students are selecting their majors without thoroughly researching the corresponding job market. Post-secondary education is simply too expensive to select majors that don’t offer realistic employment prospects! Before committing to a specific field/major, obtain statistics from your educational establishment regarding the percent of graduates who landed full-time jobs in their field. Many many majors today have no realistic jobs at the end of the rainbow or are so general that it is extremely difficult for graduates to actually work in the fields they are pursuing! Understandably, this is a tremendous source of frustration and disillusionment for graduates who didn’t know any better. Educators need to step up their game in this regard! Big time.
In part two, we will provide specific recommendations to high schoolers, college/vocational students, and graduates employed or pursuing employment. We encourage you to share this series with the students, children, and mentees under your guidance.