Ask any Grade 12 university-bound student, and they’ll tell you: there's a lot of pressure to know what degree/program they are going to take. Some feel so overwhelmed they hastily pick something—anything—just so the decision is made, while others worry about it so much they seem to take forever to decide.
Many students start university in general Arts or Science. This “general-ness” can make students—and parents—nervous. The good news is that in general Arts and Science the earliest students have to choose a major is the end of first year, so they have time to take courses and do some further research into careers and potential education paths. And it’s relatively easy to change majors, especially early on, without adding a lot of extra time and money (although the later it’s done the worse it is on both accounts). And, if it makes you feel better, many students enter first year of university without a clear idea of what they want to major in.
So, is it really a big of a problem if they don’t know?
Maybe yes…and maybe no; for some students it’s a problem, and for others it’s not.
How do you know which category your student fits into? A good place to start is to ask yourself this question:
Is the reason my child doesn’t know what to choose because they didn’t spend enough time and effort researching their options?
In my experience, many high school students don’t spend nearly enough time examining their interests, skills and values, and they don’t research careers properly. It takes time and energy to do both and, although students spend time thinking about it, many don’t actually do much more than that.
The result? Thousands of first year students arrive at university without much understanding of why they’re there, beyond the very general “getting an education” and, hopefully, preparing for employment. And while some will figure it out on their own, others will wander aimlessly from year to year, changing programs, wasting time and wasting money.
Here’s a way to determine which category your student fits into:
Generally speaking, does your student fit this description?
· Has a proven track record of gathering information and making good decisions
· Is usually focused and motivated
· Will ask questions and advocate for himself/herself when necessary
· Is realistic about time/effort/work involved in life
If so, you can rest easy. This student will likely fare well in a general, not-so-structured program because, when the time comes to decide on a major, they will talk to the right people, gather information, weigh options, and make an informed decision. For this child, the situation isn’t that they don’t know at all; it’s simply they don’t know yet. Although they could still get a lot of benefits from career exploration activities, it's not situation critical.
If your student doesn’t fit the above description, they need career exploration.
Not only will it help them get some focus, more importantly, it will help them learn how to make these kinds of decisions. Learning what kind of information they need to make the decision will benefit them both now and later. In the immediate future, it will help them choose a program/major. Later, they can apply the same basic steps at various decision-making points in their life, such as when they choose volunteer/work experience as an undergraduate, when they look for entry-level positions, and at various other points in their career.
Career exploration is a tool that can be used again and again.
Financially, career exploration can help your child get onto the right academic path sooner, so they are not wasting time (and money!) wandering university halls aimlessly, going from program to program.
Emotionally, it can help them to feel more in control of their future. They will have more focus and more successes so they feel confident in their abilities, and motivated to achieve their goals -- because they'll know what their goals are. This will help relieve some of the stress they -- and you! -- feel about their future.
If you’re not convinced, here are some questions to ask yourself:
What if my child goes to university without this information?
What are the possible repercussions (financially & emotionally) for him or her?
Career exploration doesn’t have any guarantees. For some, it might turn up several options and the choice is relatively easy. They may change their mind at some point but, if they've done some career exploration, they will have the tools and skills to make an informed decision about what to do next. For another student, they may not be ready yet to choose just one career. And that’s OK; they've got some time. And when the time comes to make the decision, they'll know how to do so.
Career exploration is never a useless exercise.
The most important part of the exercise is for them to learn how to do it – to gather insight into their values, skills and interests, and learn how to apply these things when choosing a career, and an academic path to that career.
It’s an exercise worth doing, and worth doing early, before the potential for costly mistakes are made.