Career path in mind

So Your High Schooler Has a Chosen Career in Mind

We hear this story from lots of families. Their teen decides on a concrete, well-defined career like nursing or engineering while in high school. Awesome news! They tell their friends, family, and teachers. The teen is congratulated. That box is checked. Everyone is happy. College visits begin, applications are sent, and a college is chosen. College begins, and then….the call or text comes: “I want to change my major.” Usually, the desired change is to a less “concrete” major like psychology, business, or the like.

Totally okay, right? Life is change. But many families think, “What went wrong? What did we all miss?”

Next steps for Students and Parents

In the short term, for a student in college, they need to dig into a few realities with your immediate support:

  • What is driving their decision to turn away from the original major? The student must be very specific and honest here.
  • What sparked their interest in this new major? Again, the depth of the answer is key.
  • The original major of ______ put them on the path to be a _______. What research have they done now to connect a path from this NEW major to what they will do after college? How specifically is the new chosen career a better fit for them?

For a student IN college experiencing this situation, time is of the essence.

The years of college move very quickly. What is learned in those fleeting semesters leads directly to the opportunity for work experiences during college. These experiences help shape a sense of what’s the best job pathway for the student after college is done.

A college’s Career Services team can be of great assistance. Parents of a student in this situation should urge the student to engage with their support.

But let’s jump back to the beginning of the story—before the student went to college.

Back up to the first paragraph. When that student verbalized their “concrete” direction, it’s likely that no one really dug a little deeper. Everyone was so happy the choice had been made. No parent wants to question their child’s stated dream.

But we would encourage you to have an important discussion (even if you think their stated career destination is smart and a good fit for them):

  • What evidence is there for your student’s declaration?
  • How do the teen’s interests, skills, lifestyle goals, etc. align with the characteristics of this job role?
  • Were they in associated HS clubs and activities to engage in the interest?
  • Did they take related coursework, excel in it, and ENJOY it?
  • What real exposure to the concrete career did they have? (Watching a fictional portrayal of that profession doesn’t count.)
  • Have they spoken with professionals doing that work about what their day is like, what skills they need, or how they became that professional?
  • Have they thought about the specific schooling and coursework they will need? Students often don’t think about the extra years they’ll need to become a physical therapist or the difficult calculus or physics they’ll need freshman year for engineering.

We love it when a student has a definite career in mind, but that chosen path needs to be built upon a supportive framework of thinking and analysis.

For some teenagers, the above bullets can be enough to think through a successful career choice. However, for many (many!) teens, they need more structured guidance from a trusted adult. That could be a parent or family member, a neighbor, a school counselor, or our At The Core professionals.

The ideal, in-depth process to help students grades 10 through early college with this thinking is Guided Self Assessment. Through this work, students are paired with a professional facilitator and gain a heightened understanding of themselves (self assessment work with a “guide” – Guided Self Assessment). They are able to organize many complex thoughts about their experiences into a more focused, well-thought-out potential career set. They eliminate career choices based on their deeper knowledge. They leave for college with more confidence and clarity. Should unexpected surprises come up once they get to college, they are also armed with an understanding through the exposure to self assessment and career research how to pivot to a better fit. (Want to learn more about Guided Self Assessment? Give us a call at (614) 404-0646, send an email to, or book a 30-minute free family meeting to get a deep understanding of what it is and how it works.)

Younger students in grades 7, 8, and 9 can begin to understand the relationship between what they know about themselves and how to learn about careers in our Heads Up! workshop.

Parents and students in grades 8 through 11 can watch (together!) our Why Go to College? Career/Major Thinking for Teens for more ideas on how to work through those bullets above. (Request access to the recording of this program here.)

Our ultimate goal is a happy ending to the story. Your teen leaves for college with certain, well-thought-out career destinations in mind. They understand the education and experiences needed to get there. And they are able to nimbly move through any momentary obstacles to a career they will love.

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