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Advising A Teen On Choosing A Career Path

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My oldest child is a junior in high school. In academia, this is a big year. Since he will likely start applying to colleges next Fall, his academic standing at the end of this year and his performance on his SATs this Spring, will play a large role in what his college choices will be. We have already received dozens of college brochures from all over the country. Frankly, all the choices are overwhelming. Cost is a major concern. An even larger concern is choosing the college that will prepare him the best for doing something he loves for the rest of his life.

Do you remember when you were 16? Did you know FOR CERTAIN what you were going to do with the rest of your life back then? If you did, did you end up doing that? I was certain I was going to work for a Fortune 500 company and gradually work my way up the corporate ladder to senior executive. I had barely finished my MBA when I found myself married and in love with a U.S. Marine whose job required frequent moves to remote locations far away from any of the Fortune 500 companies I aspired to work for. I ended up being a SAHM for 14 years and now work as a blogger and teaching assistant. Not the life I pictured and I’m far happier than I’d ever hoped to be.

I try to explain this to my son who feels like choosing the wrong college and major will derail his entire future. He’s certain, kinda maybe, that he wants to be an engineer, mostly because math and science come easily to him. If you want to throw him into a panic though, ask him what kind of engineer he’d like to be–electrical, nuclear, chemical, aeronautical, mechanical, environmental, civil??? It reminds me of people I knew in college who were dead set on being lawyers but had no idea if they wanted to be a corporate lawyer or criminal lawyer. Even funnier was that they would weed out certain options based strictly on salary, rather than on their interest in the subject area. For example, since immigration attorneys make on average over $15,000 less than average attorneys, they wouldn’t even consider pursuing that path.


Career Criteria

I understand that financial security is important to most people so I can see why expected salary is one consideration when choosing a career. But since my own personal career paid nothing in terms of a cash salary, I hate to see people limit their options based solely on that criteria. My son is choosing his probable career based on his strengths and interests which I think is another good criteria. Here are some other things I think individuals should consider when selecting a career:

  • Work Style – Do you require flexibility or do you prefer clear guidelines and set procedures?
  • Sociability – Do you prefer to work alone or with others?
  • Need For Balance – Do you plan to have a family and if so, do you want to be actively involved with them? Or do you prefer to focus on your career goals?
  • Stress Tolerance – Do you work well under pressure or do you fall apart?

Career Strategy

Remember earlier when I mentioned that it’s hard to know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life when you’re still basically a kid? Well, that point is one that should weigh in heavily with any career strategy. When you’re trying to choose a career and you’re uncertain what you want to do, it’s a good idea to keep your options open. There’s a reason most colleges have you knock out general education requirements during the first two years. You are exposed to several different areas of interest so you can start to determine which subjects you want to learn more about.

Even after you’ve stumbled upon what you think is the right path, don’t over commit. Going straight for the master’s degree (like I did) will make it harder for you to walk away later if your interests change since you have so much invested in that path. Likewise, contracts that require a multi-year commitment may not be your best choice if you are just starting out and still trying to figure out if you’ve made the right decision.

Finally, don’t be afraid to make a change. My husband is eligible to retire from the military. For now, he is staying in to give us some stability until my son starts college. However, he’s nervous about transitioning to a civilian job. He’s at the point in his career where he doesn’t get to run around in the woods and man the front line, which is what he loved about his job, so if he stays on after my son graduates it will be solely out of fear. That’s NOT a good reason to stick with a job. As long as we save and plan well for a transition period, there’s no reason he can’t branch out and find a new career that he will love as much as his first twenty years in the Marine Corps.

1 thought on “Advising A Teen On Choosing A Career Path”

  1. It is really not very easy to find the career path meant for us. Sometimes we discover it a little late and end up having to study longer. It would be best to offer guidance to our own children without forcing our decisions on them.


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