The Pressure on High School Students to Have It All Figured Out

Is your student feeling pressure to “figure it all out” and “pick a career” while in high school? (They may not tell you that they are thinking this way–choosing to keep it inside.)

Where is that pressure coming from?

The pressure on high school students can come from several directions. We doubt anyone is saying, “You have to lock in your future career right now!!!” to your child. However…

  • They do hear messaging about making career choices.
  • Perhaps, they took a quiz or assessment at school that gave them career recommendations that completely missed the mark.
  • They hear students around them who seem to have their act together. Maybe a friend says they are going to be an investment banker, a physical therapist, or a doctor. That friend may be handling the pressure by simply verbalizing a career choice they are familiar with or that they feel will be acceptable.

As a result, your student can be left thinking, “Why don’t I know what career is right? Will bad things happen because I don’t know?”

Does anyone really know at 15 or 16 or 17 what they want to do for a living when they are done with school?

A very small percentage of people will lock in on what they believe is the right career and stay with that. We all know someone who will say, “I wanted to be a (insert career) since second grade and that’s what I do now.”

Much more common? Students don’t feel a strong pull. Teens know very little about the wide range of real-world careers. Students can develop anxiety around their lack of knowledge. They don’t know what they don’t know.

Here’s what we know:

Teens don’t have to “know” at 15. It’s ridiculous to think they COULD know at 15. They don’t know themselves well enough to make that decision, and they don’t know enough about the whole world of careers out there.

We also know the opportunities and experiences of high school, college, and first jobs can and will shape an individual’s path.

And, we know something else, and this is really important.

Soon, teens will need to make SOME (not all!) decisions about their future. And there are key steps you as a family can take right now – at 15, at 16, at 17 – that will help tremendously as these decisions arise!

How can parents help?

Parents can make sure their student understands that career exploration messages and activities are not about making a decision right now. Such efforts are about the ongoing intake of information as they continue to learn about themselves, their interests, their strengths, and develop their direction.

(We support these knowledge-building steps with events like our Why Go to College? and Heads Up programming.)

Parents can encourage teens to take action and explore during the important years of high school (camps, activities, HS courses, electives, career research). When they do need to make some decisions, they’ll do so with a larger collection of experiences to draw upon.

How can At The Core help?

With Guided Self Assessment, At The Core helps students peek behind the curtain of the unknown to explore who they are and discuss the possible career choices based on those personal traits and interests. The process supports the student in a structured 1-on-1 experience – no online quizzes or assessments.

Our deep conversations with students allow our experienced facilitators to help students take stock of their interests and gifts and use that knowledge to connect to and begin to explore career fields that are available. Often, there are careers we suggest that an entire family may never have heard of.

We love it when a parent tells us that their child’s experience with Guided Self Assessment allowed the student to recognize what is awesome about them. We listen, ask probing questions, and clarify answers as we walk alongside and support the student’s exploration of their own self knowledge.

The self knowledge collected and the understanding of how to explore careers allows students to be flexible and adaptive going forward. The process we use helps develop this important skill that students can use again and again.

Guided Self Assessment fills in the unknown gap. It doesn’t force a child to make decisions, but rather it lowers the pressure by providing the confidence and clarity so that when the time comes to make some decisions, the student can be ready.

If you’d like to learn more about Guided Self Assessment, please book a no-obligation family meeting with our online calendar. We’re not sales people–no hard selling of any kind! These meetings are simply a sharing of information about how the process works so families can make a decision about whether this tool is right for them.

Have quick questions? Reach out via email or by phone at (614) 404-0646.


Updated 6/2024

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