College Major and Career Planning at Any Age

September 19, 2013

Career Exploration

booksAutumn is the busiest season of the year for prospective college students who are researching and applying to colleges and universities.  As a Career Counselor who works with both traditional and nontraditional aged adult clients interested in pursuing higher education, I am often asked questions regarding majors and career planning.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nontraditional college students are those where “most often age (especially being over the age of 24) has been the defining characteristic for this population. Age acts as a surrogate variable that captures a large, heterogeneous population of adult students who often have family and work responsibilities as well as other life circumstances that can interfere with successful completion of educational objectives. Other variables typically used to characterize nontraditional students are associated with their background (race and gender), residence (i.e., not on campus), level of employment (especially working full time), and being enrolled in non-degree occupational programs”.  Traditional college students are those who enter college between the ages of approximately 17-24.

Nontraditional aged students tend to be clearer about what they want to study and what career(s) they wish to pursue.  Often they have taken some college classes and have work experience.  Traditional aged students sometimes lack enough insight about their interests, abilities, values, and personality to make informed decisions about college major and career(s).  This might be due to their developmental period.  They are discovering more about themselves and perhaps living on their own for the first time.

At age 10, my father encouraged me to apply to be a paper carrier.  I was excited about the opportunity to earn money and take on tasks with no supervision required. (Yes, I am the oldest sibling.)  I worked this job for three years and learned priceless information about myself, not to mention the confidence I gained.  It is no surprise that I am self-employed today.  When I entered 8th grade I had the opportunity to be a volunteer peer counselor at school.  First I was trained by the guidance counselor and then I advised and tutored a number of students.  This experience was rewarding and I soon realized my interest in wanting to become a counselor when I grew up.  By my sophomore year in high school, I decided to major in Psychology in order to pursue counseling.

It is important for parents, teachers, coaches and other influential role models to encourage pre-teens and teens to volunteer in an area that interests them and/or work part-time.  Being involved in extracurricular activities on/off campus is also important and can reduce the length of time needed to successfully choose a major and career.

In addition to pursuing volunteer/work as a means to exploring careers, young people would benefit from career assessments.  Career and school counselors are trained to administer assessments to help students determine what careers best fit their interests.  Due to lack of time and funding, school counselors seldom assist students in assessing their values, abilities, and personalities.  Deciding on a career based only on one’s interests is not recommended.  More parents are seeing the value of hiring a career counselor in private practice to assess their children in these areas.  This process decreases the number of times prospective and current college students of any age change majors and career interests.

Given the low number of pre-teens and teens who are able to effectively decide on a career and college major by the time they apply for and enter college, it is not uncommon for traditional aged college students to graduate in five – six years vs. four.  I work with many traditional age adult clients who are either unhappy in their major or have not yet decided.  I see nontraditional clients more often because they want to make sure they are pursuing the most appropriate career and major.

How can students of any age decide whether a major is suitable for them?  First, research the major in detail.  Learn about what courses are required and what the courses are about.  Do you believe you have the aptitude to complete the courses?  Talk to people who have graduated with each major considered, and ask if they would have chosen it, if given the opportunity to do college over again.  Was it easy for them to get a job in their chosen career path or did they fall into a career with little to no planning?  There is no one right way to choose a career, although planning ahead of time is likely the smartest approach, keeping in mind that the path may diverge down the road.

Andrea KingAndrea Killion, MS, NCC, MCC
Careerful Counseling Services
Andrea specializes in assisting clients achieve rewarding employment. She works with adult clients from all industries and stages who are either unemployed or employed (or somewhere in between). Whether you are looking for work, trying to figure out what career to pursue, or unsure whether to stay in your current position, Andrea can assist you with these issues and more.

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3 Comments on “College Major and Career Planning at Any Age”

  1. Anne W. Bryant, MA, LPC Says:

    Nicely done, Andrea. I especially like the ending.



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    […] Career Counselors can offer you a number of assessments, pieces of the puzzle to figure out what direction would suit you. My fellow blogger, Andrea King wrote about additional means to making a choice of college major and career. Read it here. […]

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