When a young man I know (I’ll call him Ben) was in middle school, he dreamed of going the biggest university in his state. Posters featuring the university mascot decorated his bedroom. He talked about living in the most popular residence hall and waved the school’s pennant as he watched the university’s basketball on television. His parents felt lucky: they didn't have to “push” him to go to college.
Undecided, undeclared, and underprepared.
Sadly, what Ben and his parents didn't realize is that choosing a college is only one step in the process of career planning. Contrary to popular belief, students should choose a career first, not a college. Here’s an example of why this is true: Ben did attend the university he’d always dreamed of, but he had no clear idea what his major would be when he enrolled – and still didn't by the end of his sophomore year. He dropped out and for the next two years he worked as a waiter at a popular local restaurant.
Without a plan, students rack up debt.
His short time at the university cost Ben more than $20,000. There was no return on this investment. Ben was left with the burden of student loan debt. Scholarship dollars and precious time were lost forever. Eventually, Ben became employed as a factory worker at a local plastics plant. He is not happy, but the wages are tolerable.
Without a plan, students fail to reach their dreams.
If Ben's story were unique it would be sad enough; but his story is far from unique:
- Between 1970 and 2009, undergraduate enrollment in the United States more than doubled, while the completion rate has been virtually unchanged.
- Only about 56 percent of students earn degrees within six years.
- Students are wasting time on excess credits and taking too much time to earn a degree. Staying in school longer doesn't significantly increase students' chances of graduating.
Choosing a college is only one step in the career planning process.
To be successful, Ben needed to know his career interests, skills, and work values before he ever set his sights on a specific college. With this information, he could have made a career and education plan focused on an occupation that really excited him. Ben could have then selected a college major to prepare him for that occupation and chosen a college with a strong program in that major. Had he taken these steps, today Ben would probably be working in a satisfying career instead of stuck in an unsatisfying job paying off student loans.
No one wants their child or student to waste precious time, money, and opportunity following high school graduation. To quote Steven Covey, students need to “Begin with the end in mind” and be clear about why they are investing in postsecondary education.
Thankfully, we have resources to help students.
As a field trainer for Kuder, I provide professional development on the effective use and benefits of Kuder® Navigator™ to teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents throughout the United States. Participants at these trainings are always enthusiastic about what they discover about Navigator's functions, and resources. A comment I hear again and again is “I want this for my child!” This is a great compliment. It tells me that educators realize that thoughtful, informed planning for life after high school is essential for both secondary and postsecondary success.
Navigator provides students with the tools they need to determine their career goals and find the education and resources they need to reach those goals. Navigator includes research-based assessments that students use to identify their career interests, skills, and work values. Using Navigator, students explore career clusters, pathways and occupations related to those interests; learn about the appropriate education and financial aid; and choose where they can best obtain the postsecondary education and/or training they need.
The flip side: early career planning that paid off.
I met a young mathematics teacher I'll call Jenny at training in Arkansas. Jenny's story is very different from Ben's. She was very enthusiastic throughout the session. During a break, she explained to me that she began using Navigator as an eighth grade student. She took the Kuder assessments and discovered that she had interests in the Science Technology and Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Cluster and also in Education and Training.
Throughout her high school career, Jenny continued to use Navigator to plan her postsecondary education. She told me that prior to using Navigator, she thought she would follow her mother's footsteps and become a cosmetologist. However, it never really felt right for her and she “just knew” after taking the Kuder assessments and exploring occupations that becoming a high school teacher was the right choice for her.
Jenny exuded the kind of enthusiasm and energy that only comes from finding joy in what you are doing every day. She said she plans on implementing Navigator in her mathematics classroom because she feels career planning is that important to students' academic success and motivation.
 Complete College America (2011). Time is the Enemy: The surprising truth about why today's college students aren't graduating … and what needs to change. Retrieved from .http://www.completecollege.org/docs/Time_Is_the_Enemy.pdf.
 Shapiro, D., Dundar, A., Yuan, X., Harrell, A. & Wakhungu, P.K. (2014, November). Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates – Fall 2008 Cohort (Signature Report No. 8). Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Retrieved from http://nscresearchcenter.org/signaturereport8.
Complete College America (2011)
 Covey, S. R. The 7 habits of highly effective people habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. Retrieved from https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits-habit2.php
- college and career readiness