College & Career-Ready, Set, Go!

College & Career-Ready, Set, Go!

First things first, this is a long post. Sorry Not sorry about that. But I’ve been asked time and again what I think about prepping kids for post-secondary education and careers and building their “individual plans of study/success.”

And, unsurprisingly enough, I have quite a bit to say about it, because I’ve been doing exactly that since basically 2001. You see, part of my educational background is in gifted education and that’s what we do — help kids identify their interests and strengths, figure out how that translates into a career, and help navigate the secondary and post-secondary path to getting there. And we deal with various social emotional issues (read as “human issues”) of the student along the way.

In fact, gifted education has been doing this — or at least supports doing this, even if your individual local programs may vary — for the past 40+ years!

So you may or may not know, but gifted education hasn’t exactly been the best-funded program in education over the past … oh … EVER so we’ve not had giant billion-dollar companies building one-size-fits-all programs to run our kids through … thankfully. Still scratching my head about a program that’s built for all kids can adequately individualize for all kids, but whatever. I’m not making the billions, so I must not be the smart one. However, now that this “college and career readiness” and “individual plans of study/success” has hit the mainstream, boy-howdy, these programs are coming out of the woodwork! Cool. Career readiness

I’ve seen a few and that same old voice rears up in the back of my head, asking how this is individualized since it looks like it’s built for efficiency to shove a few thousand kids through, but that being said, I’ve not seen all the programs. I just encourage you all, the readers, to be sure that what you invest your few thousands of dollars in can actually look at kids as individuals and not a stamped number. 

But back to the point of the post… I’ve been asked to share what I used to do with my students, both gifted ed and regular ed kiddos, when we were looking toward their futures. So here it is below.

I’ve shared 6 steps we want to take with the kids; but please be aware that we want to circle back up to step 1 from time to time (every year or so, depending upon the student) to help them go through the process again as they grow and change. Because ultimately, they’re learning a process. They’re learning how to pick for themselves when they leave us (and their parents) and decide that what they thought they wanted isn’t accurate at all! You know the old poem from Robert Burns …”“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” Or in english, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

To get more serious, here are big over-arching questions (steps):

  • Step 1: Who are you and what do you like/not like?
  • Step 2: What careers and general clusters might be a good fit for you?
  • Step 3: Looking deeper into careers and the paths to get there
  • Step 4: What’s the education path? To College? Or not to college?
  • Step 5: Now reach out to that college
  • Step 6: Get REAL!

I had students, beginning in 5th grade, working though this process, yearly. I wanted them to explore who they think they are and compare it to what’s actually out there (beyond just their parents’ careers). We took our time and did a LOT of talking, sharing, reflecting. We built portfolios to hold the info. We adjusted it, yearly. Or even more often.

Because remember, it’s less about the actual finite assessment results and a lot more about the conversation and reflection it engenders. Our kids are in flux socially and emotionally at this age (all ages) and we want to catch them in all moods. 

I don’t believe that one tool can deliver all for all kids. (please, silicon valley, prove me wrong — soon!) I think that each teacher, and yes, I’m putting this on to teachers, not just a counselor who might have a few hundred kids to get to know personally (pfft. whatever). It’s about relationships. It’s about pondering. It’s about changing our minds. It’s about exploring. It’s about checking out a variety of tools…and because I’m used to operating on broken shoestring budget, all of these are free. Don’t ask about the research and validity behind them. That’s why we take a lot of them. And then do shadowing. And interviews. And internships. And careers-focused content studies.

C’mon. Did you really think my plan would fit nicely into a traditional-approach school? 

And if we do this, maybe that stat of kids changing majors 8 times before getting a degree (or dropping out)? or people changing careers 8 times in their lifetime might no longer have to be a given. Maybe — just maybe — our lack of purposeful careers exploration has created that. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a truth.

So enough with the pre-think. Let’s dive in. I’m sure this could be a book if I was to truly expand on the topic, so if you’re interested in wrestling with me alongside your own ideas, let’s do! I’m sure we’ll just each strengthen our efforts on behalf of kids and schools. That’s a win every day in my book!

Step 1: Who are you and what do you like/not like?

Learning styles/preferences

These are the first step in helping kids to start thinking about what they like and what things they might need to consider about themselves when thinking about who they are, what roles they might do better in during group work, and maybe even what future work might look like. HOWEVER, I absolutely expect my students, regardless of age, will vary from day to day. That’s why I like them to take a variety of assessments. If one seems “off” to them, tell  them to disregard it. If they find many of their assessments saying the same things, maybe they ought to reconsider what they think they know.

We also encourage students to answer what they think — not what their neighbor thinks is the best answer for them. Also, they’re going to run into questions where “none of the above” is accurate. So find the answer that’s the least horrible. Or visa versa if “all of the above” is the desired answer.

  1. Learning Style Inventory from Penn State
  2. Education Planner
  3. VARK guide to learning styles
  4. Learning Styles Quiz *can use teacher email for results
  5. Inner Heroes Quiz *can use teacher email for results
  6. Not an Learning styles/preferences quiz, per se, but a personality type inventory: NERIS type explorer


Step 2: What careers and general clusters might be a good fit for you?

Let’s look at what jobs and careers are available and what might be good for your students, based upon their passions, work values, and career clusters.

Florida Department of Education’s Career Cruiser
This may be a paper packet of 26 pages, but don’t judge it based on that. The parts that it asks students to consider are the best I’ve ever seen out there. And believe me, in the past 15 years, I’ve been looking! Not only do they explore their interests, personality preferences, they also look at their work values, meaning, what’s important for them in a job? Is it making money? Is it having a flexible work environment? Is it doing projects alone? These are important things to have identified if you’re looking for future paths.

**and remind the kids to consider this list again in a year. And again in a year. And again in a year. Because if we, as educators, are doing our jobs providing various experiences, and they, as learners, are doing their jobs, seeking out and staying open to new experiences, their answers will change. At least for the huge majority of them, their answers will change. There are those few who, even faced with a good variety of choices, know precisely what they’re going to do and actually end up doing that, quite happily. Good for them! But while those folks certainly exist, they are certainly outliers. 

Other careers Inventories:

CAREERwise Career Cluster Interest Survey
This one is great because it takes what kids have already learned about themselves and spits out a couple career clusters they might want to explore more. They get to see careers, industries, pathways, majors, and even hobbies/activities they can begin engaging in right now to test the waters.  I recommend doing this each year to see how/if they change as they grow.

Kansas Career Pipeline
Your state may have its own state-sponsored career inventory. This one is created by the folks at Kuder. Jump aboard the the Kansas one if your state doesn’t sponsor one. Or don’t. Remember, this is one of many possible assessment that should be used multiple times throughout the process.

The MAPP Career Assessment
This is a 15 minute assessment (71 questions) that does a great job of helping zero in on our interests and disinterests. Sometimes, it’s very helpful early in the process to know what we don’t want to do, even before we know for sure what we do.


Step 3: Looking deeper into careers and the paths to get there

I have loved thumbing through the Occupational Outlook Handbook since I first found out about it back in 1999. Yes, it was around for decades before that, massive volumes looking like a giant set of encyclopedias and taking up several shelves in most high school libraries. But be honest: how many of us actually knew they existed? A few. Not enough. (I never knew.) Nowadays, thankfully, it’s online.

Occupational Outlook Handbook
Look at the occupation groups on the left, matching what your career cluster suggested. Review the occupations, job summary, education required, and median pay amounts. Have students pick 1 or 2  occupations for each career cluster interest.

Click into the occupation and review what the people do, what the environment is like, how to become one of those, what’s the pay. Consider carefully the job outlook for that occupation. Is it projected to be an area of growth? or stagnancy? How much does that matter to the student? Don’t forget to click into each section for even more detailed information. Take your time. Talk with your students. This is not a rush job with a deadline. Allow them time to consider and reflect and most importantly, get excited about possibilities. Help the kids consider a variety of options because too many get locked into a dream (which isn’t necessarily bad) or a career they know because of an influential adult in their lives (also not bad). We’re deeply exploring. Cast a wide and heavy net.

Have students collect information for each occupation they are exploring into a career journal or portfolio. Consider asking them to and narrow down to 2 or 3 occupations and the education required for each before advancing to the next step.


Step 4: What’s the education path? To College? Or not to college?

Peterson’s College Search
Peterson’s has always been one of my favorite to explore because it shares more than just 4 year liberal arts universities. If you’re looking for education in welding technology, you can find a school. Also, some of the colleges here are offered because they pay to have their schools displayed first. This might skew results. But the service costs us how much? That’s right, free. So someone has to pay the bill. We acknowledge that and continue our search. You can also filter your results to include size, location, and extra-curricular offerings, if you like.

Remember that one search in one location, like everything we’ve done so far, just won’t cut it. Let’s keep looking elsewhere.

Big Future from the College Board
I like this search tool because you start with filtering what types of experience you want to have in your post-secondary life.


Step 5: Now reach out to that school (or military branch)

Go visit a website. Look over their admissions qualifications. Are you preparing a path to get there? See what they want to see from you outside of academics during your high school years to qualify for entrance and scholarships. Download or open their application. Read over it. Practice filling one out. Call them. Email them. Find out their job/career placement stats, and be sure you’re asking about people working in the fields of their degree. Interview them. Don’t hand anyone thousands of dollars without interviewing them to be sure they are able to provide the results you expect.

Now go to another school and do the same.


Step 6: Get REAL!

Interview (5th-6th grades), job shadow (7th-9th grades), or intern (10th – 12th grades) with someone working inside the career cluster of your choice. Consider various types of jobs that require various levels of degrees. Get into the field. Get your hands dirty. Try on the work. Ask them about the math they use. The science. The business skills. The tech use. Ask them about the interpersonal relations skills they need. Find out if they have to work with others in groups or on teams. Find out how they use technical writing/reading to enhance their work. Find out about their post-secondary training and what they’d recommend, knowing what they know now.

And then do it again. And again.

Because one unit, one week or semester isn’t going to cut it.

I was asked one time, “Ginger, what would you do if someone asked you to build/design the perfect high school?” I was so excited because I have had the opportunity to do that before and to know this friend was embarking on a similar path? I told him to see me in 3 days and when I started sharing my thoughts about the perfect high school, I started with Kindergarten.


You see, I believe that prepping for life isn’t something that starts your Junior year. Or your Freshman year. Or your 7th grade year. Or your 4th grade year. It’s a combination of exploration, consideration, reflection, and experiences over time, repeated to take a look at who we are becoming over time that is the right approach. But if you’re a freshman and haven’t started in earnest, get on it now!

What have I missed? What would you question, change, or add to this list? I’d love to hear from you! What I did with my students extended beyond this list, so if you want to know more about that, let me know in the comments below. 

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Written by GingerLewman

Comments are closed.
Copyright © 2016