A Career Planning Course for Parents

Your son or daughter just left for college and does not have a clue as to what he or she wants to major in, let alone choose as a career.  This is not unusual.  Choosing a career is a process students need to go through and they go through the stages of this process at different rates of speed.  The steps include:

  • Assessing skills, interests, and abilities(an important first step to choosing an appropriate career);
  • Exploring majors and career options;
  • Experimenting with possible career options; and
  • Organizing and conducting a job or graduate school search.

Career Planning Timetable

During their first year or so of college, students will be involved in assessing their skills, interests, and abilities.  They will do this through finding success in courses they take, involvement in campus activities, discussions with their friends and faculty, and by being exposed to and trying out different ideas and experiences.

What you can do – First Year

  • Support your child’s exploration of new areas of study and interests.  This is what education is about.
  • Affirm what you know to be areas of skill and ability he or she has consistently demonstrated. 
  • Talk with your son or daughter about the courses and activities he or she is enjoying.  Students discover new things about themselves throughout the college experience. 
  • Don’t panic if your child is excited about majoring in something like English, history, or art. 
  • Support your son or daughter’s responsible involvement in campus activities but urge this to be balanced with maintaining achievement in the classroom.
  • Urge your child to see assistance in the campus career center. 

Second Year

  • Don’t insist upon a decision about a major or possible career choice immediately.
  • Suggest that your son or daughter talk with faculty and career advisers about potential choices.
  • Direct your child to family, friends, or colleagues who are in fields in which he or she has an interest.  “Informational interviewing” with people can be extremely helpful at this stage.
  • Steer your child toward a source of information.  Many campuses have a career consultant or mentoring network of alumni in various career fields who are willing to share information with students about their careers.

Third or Mid –career

During this time students should experiment with career options.  This can be done by participating in internships, cooperative education programs, summer jobs, campus jobs, and volunteering.

Parents can:

  • Encourage your child to use the resources available at the campus career center. 
  • Tell your child to broaden their experience outside of the classroom.
  • Internships or summer experiences may be non-paying. 
  • Don’t conduct the internship or summer job search for your child.  It’s a great help to provide networking contacts or names of people who may be helpful. 

Graduating Seniors

The senior year is when organizing and conducting a job search or graduate school search begins in earnest.  It is the time when students are involved in more advanced courses and often have more responsible roles in campus and/or volunteer activities. 

Parents can:

  • Suggest that he or she use the campus career center.  Attend workshops, job skills session, interviewing, etc. 
  • Don’t nag your child about not having a job yet.  This will often have the reverse effect.  Use positive reinforcement.
  • Offer to assist by sending information you may have found about child’s target career field. 
  • Don’t call potential employers to intervene for your child.
  • Be prepared to support your child through the ups and downs of the job and graduate school search. 

Final Thoughts

The college years are a time of exploration, experimentation, and learning on many levels for students and their parents.    Throughout these years, students are developing a “record of achievement” that will be evaluated by employers and graduate schools as they move beyond college.  There are several pieces of this record:

  • Academic achievement – The grade point average is one factor considered by employers and graduate schools.  It is one of the few tangible indications of a student’s ability to learn and perform effectively.  Therefore, students need to do as well as possible in the classroom, especially in their majors.
  • Responsible work experience – In today’s competitive employment market, many employers see students who have related internship, summer, cooperative education, or part-time job or volunteer experiences. 
  • Responsible involvement outside the classroom – Extracurricular activities provide the opportunity for students to gain many valuable and career-related skills, such as the ability to work effectively with others in a team environment; leadership; planning and organization skills; and priority-setting and time management.

Resource – National Association of Colleges and Employers – By Sally Kearsley