“A scientist!”
“Teacher”
“Doctor!”
“Lawyer!”

In childhood, friends and family members begin asking the simple, yet complex question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And kids give canned answers based on their limited experiences and societal stereotypes. Often, college seniors have familiarity with these career stereotypes, but still have no real grasp on what they want to do for a living.

Pressures placed on kids by parents, colleges, and counselors force them to make sweeping decisions regarding their careers based on anecdotal evidence. The first sweeping decision is choosing a major. Much of the time, children choose career goals based on their adult recommendations or their favorite subject in school, and then pick a major conducive to these career goals. Students who do this end up pursuing a career path not due to genuine aptitude or interest, but because of snap judgments and general stereotypes.

Career decisions should be made according to which jobs or fields would enable you to live the type of life you hope to lead in the future (e.g. income, location, work-life balance). It is also important that you derive personal satisfaction from your work, and this can only be determined via hands-on experience, as through an internship or fellowship. Prior to choosing which field to intern in, a student should expose herself to a wide range of fields and professions. She can do this by taking courses in various subjects, researching career testimonials, and by sampling new hobbies. The most satisfying careers combine extracurricular interests and values with academic affinity. Students should also get to know themselves better, either by taking personality tests or examining their own traits to get a feel for their ideal work environment. These traits can then aid in the career selection process; outgoing students should seek out social workplaces, orderly students should seek out structured workplaces, and so on and so forth.

College is a great time for academic exploration and discovery, so don’t worry if you are unsure of your future career path while in high school. That being said, the earlier you start exploring your aptitudes and interests, the earlier you can choose a major that fits your career goals. If you are interested in medicine, volunteer at a hospital or shadow a doctor; if you are interested in teaching, tutor students through NHS or ESL programs; if you are interested in science, volunteer at a university or laboratory to try your hand at research. By exploring your options early, you will be able to choose a career path based on experience rather than stereotypes—and pursue a self-designed future that you can look forward to!

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