What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 2

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Welcome back to part two of this series, “What I Wish I Knew Before College.” I hope you’re enjoying this opportunity to focus on your goals during this time in your life, and to consider how to make the most out of your college experience. Hopefully this is a great resource for teens, college freshmen or seniors, and also for those who are the parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches guiding them. In case you missed last week’s post, you can read it here.

This week, I’d like to focus on some other aspects of post-high school education that aren’t usually talked about beforehand, but will give you a broader understanding of what’s to come.

If you’re religious, you might come to question aspects of your faith.
 My spiritual beliefs were a big part of my life when I started university. I went to a Christian liberal arts college, and I half-expected some of my classes to feel a bit like Sunday school. Boy, was I wrong! College completely rocked my entire faith system and forced me to question WHY I believe what I believe. One of the greatest takeaways from my college experience was that I built a strong foundation for my personal spiritual values, and learned to not just believe in them because my parents told me they were true. (You’ll soon learn—“because my parents said”—is not necessarily a sufficient reason to believe anything! Sorry, parents! We still love you!)

Even if you aren’t religious, you’ll learn that asking WHY in regards to your long-held suppositions will benefit you greatly in life. By digging deeper into your beliefs and worldview (as well as sharing with fellow students of different views), you will build a stronger  foundation of knowledge, confidence, and truth to sustain you in life.

This is the only time in your life that you’ll live footsteps away from a gym and your membership will be free. The “freshman 15” is not a myth, and no one is immune! When you don’t have class or studying to do, make physical health a priority and utilize the resource of your school’s free student athletic center. Or, look into joining an intramural sports team (what a great way to make new friends!). When you’re 30, you’ll thank your younger self for staying active.

Don’t carve your major and minor choices in stone before you start school. If you told me in high school that I wouldn’t end up majoring in what I was convinced I was going to major in, I never would have believed you. Guess what? I changed my major twice, and that’s the norm!  It may sound cliché, but keep an open mind. If you’re in college already as a freshman, hopefully you are taking a wide variety of classes to really nail down what piques your interest (and your talent). Also, don’t be surprised if your anticipated major loses its appeal when you begin taking upper level courses and, especially, speak with people who are in the field you’re considering. It happens all the time.
I hope these insights help you, or the teens under your influence, navigate this special time in life. Stay tuned for next week when I will share the final installment in this three-part series.


What do you wish you knew before you started college or career? If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently?

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 1

bar-blur-blurred-801863Now that college students are well into the school year and adjusting to their new schedule, managing their course load, and making new friends, we thought it would be a good time to bring back this series that our Communications Director, Heather Sipes, wrote for us several years ago. She shares her first-hand experience of life in college (including assimilating, adjusting, homesickness, tough choices, and other things) in hopes that other new college students and parents of freshmen will be able to apply it to their own journeys. Take it away, Heather!

My first year of college was about 11 years ago. I was bright-eyed and my heart was bursting with idealistic dreams for my future. It was hard to not romanticize this next step in my life, and I was convinced I was about to embark on the most fun, life-changing, and insightful season. I mean, these are the best years of our lives, right?

Indeed, my college experience was pretty amazing, but there are several things I wish someone told me before I started—preferably someone from my generation, who had recently completed their college work. Someone with fresh, practical advice to help prepare me for the next season. That’s what I’ll be doing for you and your students in these next few emails.

As you continue your time in college, whether it’s your first year or last, keep these things in mind:

  • See college as an opportunity to expand your interests and activities.A lot of us were wrapped up in our identity as high schoolers. I was a cheerleader and an honor student. That was pretty much my entire sphere. I’m sure many people can identify with this same notion: you’re either a football player or a jazz band member or a debate champ or yearbook photographer. Your main activity feels like WHO YOU ARE. (Often, our parents can get wrapped up in this identity too, and they put pressure on us to continue our singular pursuits in college because it feels to them like our non-stop ticket to success.) But I want to encourage you to open yourself up to new interests and activities in college. Don’t feel guilty if you decide to ditch your high school sport or activity. You will be amazed at what you have inside that you never knew was there. Seriously! I fell in love with philosophy in college. I never knew I had it in me…and, now I can be philosophical when I blog!

College is also an opportunity for a do-over. Maybe you didn’t like your identity or reputation in high school. Maybe you didn’t study enough or you partied too hard. See college as an opportunity to take a start fresh, explore new opportunities, and find another niche. Even if nothing sticks long-term, your world will become bigger and you will become more well-rounded.

  • Your class attendance is directly correlated to your grades. I’ll never forget how excited I was at the prospect of showing up to class only when I felt like it. There was no mom in the dorms to wake me up for class and no pressure to attend when I could simply do the assigned reading that night. I was told that lectures weren’t really “that important” and that professors never took attendance. BUT I AM HERE TO TELL YOU TO GO TO CLASS! Get out of bed, show up on time (preferably in the front row), listen to the lecture, take notes, and participate in discussions. I don’t care what anyone says. Your presence in the classroom (or lecture hall or auditorium) will have a direct impact on your grades. Even if you’re able to look up lecture notes online, they will notserve you as well as your physical presence in the classroom. 

 

  • That party won’t be as fun as you think.  Many young people entering university have visions of weekends spent partying with peers. Weekends filled with booze and binges and loud music and bad decisions. It’s crucial for them to know that this avenue is notfulfilling, and it’s not as enjoyable as you imagine. I certainly never experienced a college party and thought to myself, “This is so uplifting. I am making so many life-long friends.” The magnetic allure of the partying lifestyle (including both alcohol and promiscuity) is superficial, dangerous, and a slippery slope that will add little value to your life. For many, it becomes their college de-railer.  

Take it from me, your best friends will likely be made in your dorm hall or a shared class or the intramural flag football team, rather than at a boozy party. Your serious college boyfriend or girlfriend will not be that random hook-up you hardly remember. Your best memories will be your sober ones. Hopefully you’ll learn this lesson early in the game.

I am so happy to be a part of this series and share what insight I have to offer. I hope any college students reading this have entered this year with an open mind and are ready to embrace whatever life throws their way. Please stay tuned for next week, when I will share part two of this series!

How to Build a Growth Mindset in Your Students and teens

dirt-gardening-grow-1214405Looking back, our high school days were great, okay, or disappointing (or worse!) depending on the year. So, we should expect that our kids will be starting this new school year with excitement, ambivalence, and maybe even dread, often depending on the previous year. Regardless of where your children/students are attitudinally, here’s one thing they can all benefit from as they make their grand entrance—taking the Growth Challenge.

What’s the Growth Challenge, you might ask? Here’s a quick synopsis: Have your students/children take note of where they are now in key aspects of their life. Then, have them identify some focus areas for growth/improvement. Next, encourage them to develop plans to meet their growth goals. Finally, have them assess their progress quarterly (and make adjustments to their plan as needed). In the business world, we call this the “plan, do, and review” cycle, and it works for people too!

As parents, teachers, and mentors, we play a big role in the success of the next generation. Of course, the responsibility for their choices does not fall on us, but it is our job to equip, encourage, and empower them. One powerful way is to help facilitate the Growth Challenge. Here are a few steps to get you going.

  1. Begin with a holistic self assessment. Have your child/students record how satisfied they are in terms of: 1) academics (grades, specific subjects, study habits, etc.), 2) relationships (friendships,, family, network), 3) physical health and well being (fitness, health, nutrition), 4) emotional and spiritual health (self worth, confidence, contentment, faith, gratitude, temperament), 5) leadership/soft skills (integrity, dependability, work ethic, team mindedness, time management, professionalism), and 6) interests/extracurricular activities. 

Then, based on their self evaluations, have them identify their greatest growth priorities for the coming year for each category. Which could have the biggest impact in the near future? In the long-term? Give them some time to think about this, and encourage them to record their thoughts in a journal or device.

  1. Have them develop their top overall priorities based on their conclusions from each category. Parents, teachers, and mentors, you can help them prioritize by sharing your own knowledge or experience, but don’t make up their minds for them. (For example, if a student is hoping to enter the military after high school, physical training might fall higher on the priority list than a student who plans to intern at an art gallery.)

Encourage them to record their three to five top priorities for growth. Don’t let them go overboard making a laundry list. Next, have them set specific, achievable goals for each of their top priorities. What would constitute success to them? What are some measurable ways that they can track their progress? Then, have them develop action steps to help their goals become a reality.

  1. Finally, suggest a quarterly review (with a mentor, counselor, parent, or teacher) to assess their progress, and make any midcourse suggestions or corrections necessary to achieve their goals.

Not only will this “growth challenge” help them progress this year, but it is a discipline that will serve them for a lifetime.

Let’s start building a growth mindset in our children, teens, and students. The future belongs to them, but it starts with us.

If you want to see a sample “Growth Challenge” mock-up for reference, you can find it here.

4 Steps to Ensure You Rock Your College Major Choice

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We’ve been talking a lot about preparing for college around here lately. Now that we’ve arrived at glorious summer, it’s only a matter of months (or weeks) before students are moving into dorms and getting settled in the college rhythm. They’ve made one hard decision already—where to attend school. However, another hard decision still awaits them. What should they major in?

Most of us reading this can likely relate to this struggle. It’s a big decision! I remember agonizing over it as a young student myself. But really, it boils down to one main concept: What can you do for the rest of your life that you’ll enjoy and won’t burn you out? What are you passionate about, what are you good at, and how can you tie those things into a career that will sustain you from here on out? Ideally, we all want to end up working for an employer we admire, fully utilizing our natural talents and skills, building friendships, and growing personally and professionally, as opposed to hating our job, spending our waking hours bored or frustrated, and not feeling rewarded.

When it comes down to choosing your major and future career path, here’s how to avoid the latter: Do your homework. Often, people who end up with career misery do so because they made their choice casually or impulsively. However, choosing your major and subsequent career should be one of the most fully researched decisions of your life! Although intuition is important, don’t base your decision fully off of your emotions.  You’ll regret it.

Here are four steps to get you moving in the right direction:

  • Conduct a comprehensive self-assessment. Be objective and take an honest inventory of your: a) interests and passions, b) lifestyle and work preferences, c) skills, and d) willingness to obtain the necessary qualifications.
  • Develop a list of potential careers that align with what you recorded in the above four areas. Meet with professors and counselors. Attend career fairs offered at your school. Meet with actual practitioners of the careers you’re interested in, in order to get the inside scoop. Nobody can give you a better read on a career than someone who is working in that space.
  • Investigate the current demand for the careers you’re considering. Is there a high need for them right now, or does it appear to be a profession that’s dying off (or being replaced with something else)? For every major you’re evaluating, thoroughly evaluate the employment prospects. Does the outlook look weak (or the pay look less than sustainable)? If so, move in a different direction. Have frank conversations with department heads at your college regarding the employment outcomes of recent graduates. What percent of their graduates land a full-time job in their major within a year? Some majors sound interesting, on paper, but have limited job prospects. College is too costly to go down that path
  • Seek out work-study, internships, and job shadowing opportunities before it’s time to declare your major. This will give you a firsthand reality check and either confirm or reject your initial conclusions.

Once this process is complete, you’ll have narrowed down your major/career choices to a few finalists. Don’t be surprised, though, if your thinking changes as you take more advanced classes and learn more about that career. After all, most college students change their major at least once. I did twice!   
 
A great research tool is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at www.bls.gov/oco. On this site, you will find the descriptions for hundreds of occupations, in addition to their education and training requirements. Also listed are average earnings and future projections for growth in each profession. Need help starting to identify which jobs and careers might be a good fit for you?  Also check out this website: http://www.bls.gov/k12/index.htm. It’s called, “What Do You Like?” and can help you narrow down your options based on your own interests.

Thanks for tuning in, and we hope this summer is a productive one full of fun, personal growth, and self discovery!

How to Handle Transitions with Confidence

What do entering kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and your first career job have in common? The answer is transitions. BIG transitions. In these cases, they’re based on stages of life, while other biggies include moves, job changes, a new marital/relationship status, and having kids.

As I look back on my life and reflect on my conversations with today’s students and young adults, I’m reminded of how difficult these transitions can be. You would think the adventure and excitement of the “next chapter” would prevail, but often, it doesn’t. We figure our transitions will be smooth, but instead we can find ourselves depressed, lonely, and filled with doubt. If so, we flounder and underachieve, wondering how we’ll get out of our funk. We might even resort to false comforts and make life choices we later regret. Ouch.

Why can transitions be so darned hard? Here are some common reasons:

  1. We’re unprepared. Have you noticed how educators focus primarily on their stage (elementary, middle, high school, college) rather than also preparing students for the next step? One reason is that administrators aren’t held accountable (and therefore don’t feel responsible) for success in the next step. Parents can fall into this trap too, focusing on the immediate term, rather than also on what comes next. Students are often caught off guard.
  2. Out with the old, in with the new. For students who are content with their current stage, they may feel a sense of loss and anxiety as they begin their new chapter. (On the other hand, if the current stage isn’t going so hot, it can be a relief!) Transitions often come with new environments, social settings, teachers/evaluators, and expectations (with increasing performance pressure), and some handle this better than others. Arguably, the greatest transition comes after college where there is a loss of the common denominator of the college environment, often relocation, social disruption, career and financial pressures, and the reality that life will never be the same as an independent adult. That’s a lot to absorb!

What to do? How can we position ourselves to confidently handle the transitions in our lives? Although each stage is unique, here are some tips to help master your transitions and those of your children/students:

  1. Adopt the POP mindset. That means being Patient, Optimistic, and Proactive.  Patience is incredibly important, especially on the social front as you seek new friends. Recognize that your adjustment will take time, just like your previous ones. Self-imposed pressure adds unnecessary stress and can lead to compromising your standards. Optimism is also key. When things don’t go as well as expected, keep the faith and a positive attitude. You’ve done this before and can do it again! Finally, as you progress into the later stages, it becomes increasingly important to be proactive and take the initiative. I know many young adults who are floundering because they don’t fully grasp this. The more independent they are, the more responsible they are for their success and happiness. Instead, too many are waiting in vain for it to come to them.
  2. Meet people in your next step. Go out of your way (parents take note!) to meet people who are a few years into the stage just ahead of you. That means high school students should be meeting with college students and college students with early career adults. Be sure they are positive and empowering influences who can offer fresh perspectives with no sugar coating.
  3. Explore your interests and passions. It helps to identify your greatest interests (intellectual, recreational, community/service, vocational, spiritual) for both personal enjoyment and to meet like-minded people. What are the common denominators of the people and activities you enjoy the most?
  4. Go for it! Once you’ve identified your greatest interests, research the places, programs, and courses that offer what you’re looking for. Check out the Web, library, Chamber of Commerce, YMCA, school counselors, club fairs, tourist information centers etc. to discover the outlets you can plug into. Not only will you enjoy yourself by doing what you like, but also you’ll be more likely to meet people with common interests. Momentum is huge, but you have to create your own.

 

Transitions aren’t always easy, but they’re a necessary part of life. We hope these tips will help you and your students master yours. Good luck!

Risk Aversion and the Importance of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: Part Two

Last week, we talked about risk aversion (especially in millennials and the younger generation) and the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone in all areas of your life. We are continuing that theme this week. (If you missed last week’s blog, you can find it here.)

When we think about our favorite feel-good movies—those with memorable heroes and heroines and happy endings that make our souls feel full—what’s the general plot line that comes to mind? For many of us, they feature protagonists who boldly step out of their comfort zone, defy the status-quo, and take risks with highly uncertain outcomes. We see them believe in themselves enough to try, work their tails off, overcome obstacles of all sorts (including fear), and eventually, win the prize.

We like these kinds of movies because they make us feel empowered and hopeful. But, honestly, how many of us actually live out our day-to-day lives like the heroes and heroines in our favorite movies? Are we willing to push back against the nay-sayers, summon the courage,, and boldly forge ahead, even if we don’t know how things will turn out?

This week, in our second installment in our series on risk aversion, I’d like to share three more benefits to stepping out of your comfort zone and living a fearless, confident life.

  • Successful people go for it. It’s one of the most identifying hallmarks of a true leader. They take each situation as it comes, and make a decision out of confidence rather than fear. Successful people do not fear what others think, nor do they let their insecurities hold them back from pursuing their goals. And, they’re not shy about expressing their views, even if their opinion might be contrary to others.

    (In the same vein, know that it’s perfectly normal to care about or acknowledge what other people think of you. The key is making sure you do not fear their opinion, nor let their opinion determine the way you feel about yourself.)

  • One of the greatest joys in living life—our biggest confidence booster and our biggest source of motivation—is stretching ourselves, trying something new, and being surprised by an amazing outcome. In most cases, whenever you decide to simply “go for it,” you’ll be glad you did.
  • We often try to avoid uncertainty, because, well… it can be uncomfortable. However, life is full of uncertainty, yet true leaders take the time and initiative to solve problems. Understand that life is a learning process, and the process itself sometimes matters more than the outcome! Even if things don’t turn out as hoped, at least you tried AND you gained a learning experience to help you the next time.

 

Consider making a list of the things you’ve been wanting to do or try but you’ve been hesitant to take the plunge. Do you see any common denominators? What’s the underlying risk aversion or insecurity? Vow to yourself that you will consciously decide to step out of your comfort zone and follow those pursuits. Trying is a sign of self respect!

Many (and I mean MANY) people cite their biggest life regrets as the risks they didn’t take. So, I encourage you today… raise your hand. Be the first to answer the question. Accept that job. Move to that city. Take on that internship. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and refuse to live your life with regret! Maybe it’s time to take off those training wheels, and give it a go!

Forget “Get Rich Quick.” Grow Your Wealth PATIENTLY.

Promises of getting rich quick are more rampant than ever these days and especially during rising markets. Any of us with a Facebook account probably see at least a dozen invitations a week to some sort of multi-level marketing company that will get you wealthy in no time (“from the comfort of your own cell phone!”). The implication with any sort of “get rich quick” promise or advertisement is that, with little effort or investment, you can become wealthy overnight.

 

Not so fast. That’s just not how it works!

 

In life, patience is a virtue. In building wealth, it’s an absolute necessity! It means starting early so time is on your side, investing as much as you can so you have more money working for you, and adopting a globally diversified, long-term strategy so you avoid the pitfalls of market timing. Most studies show that the average investor loses about 2 percent per year to lousy timing decisions, by buying high and selling low! That’s a wealth destroyer you’ll want to avoid.

 

Bear in mind that a key component in the investment process is TIME, and that’s why I tell people you can never be too young to start! Inexperienced investors often succumb to “get rich quick” schemes and hot stock tips. They buy at the top, after the big gains have already occurred and just before the stock plunges. However, just because a stock or a mutual fund had a great run last year doesn’t mean it will have a repeat performance again this year. In fact, often last year’s biggest winners become this year’s biggest losers because they became overpriced.

 

Here are some smart tips for investing wisely and growing your wealth patiently. If you’re entirely new to the concept of investing, the stock market, and growing your wealth, I’ll give you some straight forward facts so you can understand the basics:

 

  • Regularly invest in a diversified, long-term strategy rather than chase yesterday’s winners or engage in market timing. Begin by establishing an automatic monthly investment program as soon as you receive your first paycheck (even if you’re still in college if you can!). Many large mutual fund companies offer global balanced funds at relatively low fees and minimums. They can arrange for monthly investments from your bank account so it’s a user friendly process.
  • Resist taking more risk after strong market gains and taking less risk (panic selling) after major market losses. Remember, it’s “buy low, sell high” not the reverse! Understand that markets peak when the economy is great and they trough when the news is bleak. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of your wealth. Think and act long term.
  • Avoid overly concentrating your investments in a few stocks or market segments (e.g., technology). The market has a ruthless way of humbling the overconfident investor!
  • As a rule of thumb, no stock should represent more than 10-15 percent of your assets. That way, if things don’t pan out, you’ll still have the other 85-90 percent working for you. (Tip: Although it may seem tempting to go for what seems popular or successful at the time, that’s not always wisest.)
  • Remember to diversify across different asset classes (the three main asset classes are stocks, bonds, and cash equivalents, and others include real estate and commodities) to reduce your risk and beat inflation. Too many people put all (or none) of their assets in stocks and live to regret it during market downturns they can’t handle.

 

After taking the above tips into consideration, remember, above all, that patience is key. Very few “get rich quick” schemes—even if they work—are sustainable for the long term. Save and invest with your END GOALS in mind.

 

Do you see the value in building your wealth patiently? Have you had some experiences with this (investing or otherwise) you’d like to share?

 

3 Tips to Preserve Your (Precious) Reputation

 What is a prized possession you can never get back once you lose it?

The answer is your reputation.

At some point in your life, your values will be challenged and possibly even ridiculed by others. It’s crucial to talk about this now, with the beginning of the college school year upon us. Why? It’s especially common in the years after high to face situations that test your values, integrity, and ability to stand up to peer pressure. It can be a difficult time for many young people with all of this newfound independence (and adversity!).

Will you have the moral courage to withstand the pressure and take the high ground, even if it means you may lose an opportunity or a friendship in the process?

 I was fortunate to have worked with George Russell, the Chairman Emeritus of Russell Investments. He always took pride in saying, “Our company operates with non-negotiable integrity.” He meant it. George always said, “If you’re wondering whether or not to do something, ask how you would feel if it became tomorrow’s headline in the New York Times. Enough said.

Sadly, you can see how poor choices have destroyed the reputations and lives of countless people in the sports, entertainment, political, and business world. Since many of them were heroes to impressionable kids, their missteps have even greater consequence. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen how the loss of trust and respect can ruin lives and relationships.  That’s why I came up with this list that we can apply to our own lives and reputations. Here are three tips to help you hold on to your values and keep your reputation upstanding:

  1. Avoid the “gray area.” It can be tempting to take shortcuts. We’ve all been there. But if you are not 100 percent positive that something is right, ethical, or in line with your values…then just don’t do it.
  2. Surround yourself with people that uplift you, understand you, and make you want to be your best self. If you find yourself comparing, striving, and doing things out of the ordinary in order to fit in, then they probably aren’t “your people.”
  3. Always tell the truth—even white lies can be detrimental to your reputation. It may sound cliché, but honesty is ALWAYS the best policy.

No matter what you do, preserve your integrity, values, and reputation with every ounce of strength you can muster. You will absolutely, positively, and totally regret it if you don’t!

How have you handled situations where you were asked or tempted to compromise your integrity?  Have you shared the story with the young people in your life? Your positive example will encourage them in their own struggles, especially as they embark into adulthood and life after high school.

Crisis Decision Making 101

It used to be that when I was upset, I either made a rash decision or said something I would later regret. I remember having to go back and clean up my messes or apologize for saying something out-of-line. Being impulsive in the heat of the moment never worked in my favor.

I may have learned it the hard way, but eventually I figured it out. The fact is, we don’t think as clearly when we’re in a highly emotional state (whether we are feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, etc.). There’s too much distraction and we don’t think objectively. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but (where possible) wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because my thinking is clearer and more objective the next day. Often, with the perspective from time and reflection, I change my decision for the better.

Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.

Being in a stressful situation messes with our brain—and can impair our decision-making capabilities.  A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we’re stressed-out.

Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity, don’t you?)

When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can, or at least defer it until you’ve settled down and can think clearly. Ask for more time if you need it. Learn to recognize and release your stress.  Here are 3 quick tips to help unwind and cool you down:

  1. Reach out to your support system. You don’t have to go through hard moments alone. Their wise counsel and perspectives can help immensely.
  2. The endorphin rush you get from exercise will up your mood and help chase away the blues.
  3. Practice conscious breathing and relaxation techniques. Meditate, pray, do yoga, or all of the above. Connect your mind, body, and spirit for a holistic de-stressing.

Also, think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. You’ll be glad you did!

Have you noticed that your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? Which young people in your life can benefit from this lesson when facing stressful situations?

Four Steps to Choosing Your College Major and Career

Can you imagine working at a job you hate? Spending most of your waking hours bored, frustrated, or totally stressed out, working with people or for an employer you don’t care for?

On the other hand, imagine working for a company you admire, where your skills are fully utilized, where you can build life-long friendships, where you’re given opportunities to grow professionally, and where you’re rewarded and recognized for a job well done.

I think we’d all prefer the second scenario, wouldn’t we? Unfortunately, many don’t experience it because they don’t do the proper homework. Choosing your major and career should be one of the most fully researched decisions of your life. But, is it?

Unfortunately, far too many grads are disenchanted with their major and career. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll of some 90,000 college grads, 36% regret choosing the major they did! Yes, 36% have buyer’s remorse! This is a shocking statistic given the amount of money poured into our college educations and the importance of actually liking (and succeeding in) a career that fits. I believe this major/career regret stems from the following:

  1. Insufficient research by students on their career options. They are either struggling to find a job in their major or discovering it wasn’t a fit after all.
  2. Insufficient guidance and preparation by colleges provided to students. I speak with far too many college grads who are still uncertain about their careers or are clueless as to how to land a job. This is a travesty.
  3. Too many college majors with limited career connections. Shouldn’t colleges provide students with the percentage of their graduates landing a job in each available major? Many students simply major in what they like (with full support from their counselors) without realizing the challenges in actually finding work.

 

Now that summer is here and many students have college and career on their minds, it’s the perfect time to do some assessing, research, and hands-on learning to get a good grasp of what your future can look like.

The first step is to conduct a comprehensive self-assessment. This involves taking an honest and objective inventory of your:

  • Interests and passions
  • Skills and aptitudes (Be honest with yourself here. Don’t say you’re good with numbers when you’ve nearly failed all your math classes!)
  • Lifestyle and workplace preferences (are you laid back? Orderly? Type A? Do you hope to work remotely, travel a lot, etc.? Like working solo or in teams? Thrive on pressure…or not? People or task oriented?)
  • Ability to obtain the necessary qualifications (Degrees, certifications, continued education)

The second step is to develop a list of potential careers that captures your interests, skills, and personal preferences. Learn about the qualifications for each career possibility and consider whether you have the skills and/or are willing to acquire them. Meet with admissions counselors and professors. Attend career fairs. Review the recommendations from any aptitude tests you’ve completed. Meet with actual practitioners in each career area to learn what the job is like. Speak with others who know you best to gain their perspectives.

The third step involves investigating the demand outlook for the careers you’re considering. Do your research to discover which careers are experiencing strong job growth and which majors will qualify you. This step is more crucial than you realize. For every major you’re considering, thoroughly evaluate its employment prospects. Your return on college investment may be at stake!

Finally, seek out work-study, internship, and job shadowing opportunities to get a taste of what the career is like. This will provide a firsthand reality check and either confirm or reject your preliminary conclusions.

Once you complete this process, you’ll have narrowed down your major/career choices to a few finalists. Don’t be surprised, though, if your thinking changes as you take more advanced classes and learn more about that career. After all, most college students change their major at least once. I did twice!   

A great research tool is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at www.bls.gov/oco. On this site you will find the descriptions for hundreds of occupations, in addition to the education and training you’ll need to qualify for them. Also listed are average earnings and future projections for growth in each profession. Need help starting to identify which jobs and careers might be a good fit for you?  Also check out this website.  It’s called, “What Do You Like?” and can help you narrow down your options based on your own interests. Another good option is www.careercruising.com.

 Parents, youth mentors, and educators: Please consider sharing this email with the career-bound students in your life. Use it as a bridge to opening conversations about life direction, career options, and preparation for life as an adult. Then feel free to share your comments and testimonials with our online community; we’d love to hear your thoughts!