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How to choose a career path in high school? 6 steps to achieve your goals

How to choose a career path in high school? 6 steps to achieve your goals

  • Why is career planning important for high school students?
  • 6 Steps to choosing a career path in high school
  • 1. Analyze your strengths and interests
  • 2. Meet with your high school counselor
  • 3. Learn more about trending careers
  • 4. Research potential career paths  
  • 5. Secure experience
  • 6. Create your career plan
  • Key takeaways

There’s no such thing as starting too early to plan your career. Choosing a career path in high school can seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be stressful. Read our guide with six key steps to plotting your career path and achieving your professional goals.

We all remember being asked as a kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and perhaps answering an astronaut or President of the United States. Who knows whether you’ll launch into space or move into the Whitehouse in the future, but answering this question as you progress through your teens and high school can often be extremely difficult.

Typically your career goals will change as you grow older, learn about new career paths, discover your talents, and your perspectives change. While nothing is set in stone in terms of your future career, having resources and support to explore careers in high school can ensure your career-ready to grab some great opportunities. In this article, we’ll explore: 

  • Why is career planning important for high school students?

  • 6 steps to choosing a career path in high school?

Why is career planning important for high school students?

Career planning provides a clear sense of direction in your professional life and without it you may lose valuable time and money. Exploring career options in high school enables you to identify your strengths, skills, and interests then apply this information to find the best career path for your future. Channeling your time and financial resources in the right direction will ensure you’re career-ready and avoid the burden of excessive student debt. 

During high school you can tailor your classes, coursework, and extracurricular activities toward your desired career path and gain some practical experience via internships, volunteering etc. These opportunities can help you make a smooth transition to the workforce as well as provide you with valuable network contacts for your future career.    

Remember though, a large part of your career planning in high school will involve learning about and exploring different career options. You’ll undoubtedly change your mind multiple times as you learn more about specific career paths and how they relate to your values, interests, passions, and strengths. But, starting this process early allows you to get ahead of the game.

6 Steps to choosing a career path in high school

Ready to get started? Here’s our top 6 steps to choosing a career path in high school that will help you make the right moves forward in your future career:

1. Analyze your strengths and interests

Career aspirations can be impacted by many factors, such as your talents, values, or lifestyle for example. Sharpening your focus on what’s important to you and what you’re good at will help you define your career goals and create a plan to achieve these objectives. After all, you're going to perform well in a job that interests you and plays to your strengths.

Remember you don’t need to choose a specific career in high school, this process is more about identifying the types of careers that interest you. Here’s some steps to identify your strengths and interests: 

  • Create a list of things you’re good at. What are your talents? What hobbies do you love? What do you enjoy at high school and why? Don’t just limit this to school subjects. While loving math as you’ve a talent for numbers and problem-solving is a great thing, think about your natural talents too. Perhaps you’re really great at working with kids, so a career in teaching or social care could be an option.

  • Recognize external influences. Parental influence can impact your career choices in a positive way, but sometimes it can make you feel pressured to follow a career that aligns with your parents expectations. Choosing a career that doesn’t reflect your own aspirations and goals can be extremely unfulfilling. Ask yourself if you truly want to follow a career or have you been influenced in this direction?

  • Explore your personality traits. When trying to find a good career fit, examining your personality traits is important. For example, if you’re considering a career in teaching but have an introverted personality this probably won’t be a good fit. Introverts tend to struggle with constant social interaction and become easily overwhelmed, so the classroom could be a nightmare! Check out the Myers Briggs career test to learn more about your own unique personality traits.

  • Identify someone who impacted you in a positive way. Is there someone you admire in terms of their success and career achievements? Did a teacher or guest speaker at high school really inspire you? Identifying the reasons why you felt so impacted by these individuals can help you figure out what type of career would be a good match.

  • Reflect on your values, passions, and purpose. Defining your values, following your passions, and finding your purpose is key to career development. This can be tricky to pin down, but with some thought and self-discovery you can clarify what really matters to you and factor this into your career planning. For example, you may be passionate about helping people and value compassion and social justice. Careers in healthcare or law enforcement could therefore be a great option. For example, ask yourself: What is important to you in life? What issues do you feel strongly about? How could you make a difference via your talents, skills, and attributes?

  • Request help and advice from teachers and your close family if you need some help aligning your interests and skills with different career options.
  • Actively network. Connecting with professionals in your target industry is going to help you gain insight, advice, and hear about potential opportunities.
  • Focus purely on money as a motivator for your career path choices. A well-paid job is great, but doing a job you dislike won’t lead to a happy and fulfilled life.
  • Put too much pressure on yourself to plot out your entire career in high school. Exploring careers early is great, but so is giving yourself time to learn and grow.

2. Meet with your high school counselor

High school counselors are a great resource to leverage when you’re exploring careers in high school. They have access to information about your classes, grades, and extracurricular activities that can be applied to help you explore career areas and plan for your future. This could include providing tests to help you further explore your strengths and interests, referring you to a career coach, and facilitating access to career fairs and job-related events. 

It’s a good idea to meet with your high school counselor as soon as you can and schedule periodical meetings to touch base. This will enable you to build a positive relationship with your counselor and allow them to get to know you better so they can provide more insightful advice.  

3. Learn more about trending careers

In the current digital era, career trends are being heavily influenced by technological advancements, economic factors, and changing consumer needs. Having an awareness of which careers are in demand and expected to grow over the next decade is important to factor into your career planning activities. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has a great career guidance resource tool in their Occupational Outlook Handbook, which provides detailed information on hundreds of occupations and the expected forecast for industries and job openings. Here’s a link to the top 20 fastest growing occupations covering the period of 2022 to 2032. 

Statistical Insight

So, what are the career aspirations of Gen Z’ers? According to a recent Morning Consult survey, Gen Z are focused on pursuing careers in sectors that are innovative and collaborative. Entertainment and media ranked highest with 33 percent of respondents, followed by technology and design (30 percent), and health industries (24 percent).

4. Research potential career paths  

Once you’ve conducted some self-analysis, sought advice from your high school counselor, and accessed recommended career planning resources you’ll have some occupations to explore. Research will help you work out which specific career paths you want to look into further and those that you might prefer to rule out. Try these approaches as part of your research:

  • Request an informational interview. Informational interviews usually occur between the employees of a company and individuals interested in pursuing the same career. Requesting an interview is a great networking opportunity and will give you vital information about a career or industry you’re interested in to see if it's a good fit. 

  • Talk to family, friends, or alumni. Organizing a meet-up with trusted sources who work in the profession can give you a great insight into the occupation and industry. Ask whether any job shadowing opportunities would be possible. This will give you a taste of what a day in the job is really like.

  • Tap into school resources. Ask your high school counselor for information on any opportunities to explore your career path further, such as career-related events or links the school has with relevant employers.

5. Secure experience

Having a test run of your potential career will give you a real sense of whether you’ll actually enjoy the job as well as providing you with good networking opportunities and maybe even a potential job opportunity in the future. 

Here’s some different ways to gain that all-important experience:

  • Internships.  An internship can give you the experience you need to make informed career decisions as well as look pretty impressive on your college application or resume. Many organizations offer summer internship programs for high school students, with wide-ranging options from tech and healthcare, to finance and education.    

  • Volunteering. Volunteering in your career area of interest is an ideal way to secure experience and give back to the community. Seek out opportunities with national organizations or local non-profits via your network, online sources, social media, or by sending a speculative email to a target organization. You could also volunteer on research programs, which is a good way to boost your academics and contribute toward cutting-edge projects in your field of interest. Here’s an example of the ARISE Science and Engineering program offered by NYU.  

  • Part-time jobs. Working part-time in the evening, on weekends, and during the summer allows you to bag some work experience, develop your soft skills, as well as earn some money! Even if the work experience is not directly related to your dream career, it can help. For example, if you’re targeting a career in human resources, working a part-time customer service job could provide you with valuable transferable skills in communication, problem-solving, and teamwork. 

Expert Tip

If you're applying for part-time or summer jobs, you’ll need to bear in mind the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which includes rules for young workers. The law includes:

  • minimum age for employment (14 years for non-agricultural jobs)

  • restrictions on hours youth under the age of 16 may work

  • prohibits youth under the age of 18 from being employed in hazardous occupations

States also have their own standards concerning youth employment.

6. Create your career plan

Choosing a job or pathway is one thing, but being career-ready means having all your ducks in a row when it comes to making informed decisions about your career and acting on these goals. 

Identifying the educational pathways, courses, and training you need to excel in your chosen field is critical. This not only applies to hard (industry-specific) skills but also the soft skills you’ll need to thrive in your chosen occupation, such as resilience, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and leadership. Here’s some options to consider:

  • Develop a tailored high school course plan. This should align with your career path. For example, if you’re passionate about a career in the field of architecture, you’ll want to ensure you take classes in geometry, algebra, and trigonometry. Your high school counselor will be able to support you in aligning your educational pathway with your career goals.

  • Volunteer in the community & join clubs. Developing soft skills will help you navigate your academic studies and the workplace with more confidence. Volunteering in your community and being active in clubs are both good ways to enhance team work, leadership, communication, and interpersonal skills.

  • Consider a vocational training program. Vocational education has dramatically evolved from wood shop and home economics to courses in forestry, automotive technology, criminal justice, cosmetology and much more. Hands-on training at a trade school and a certification or diploma within one or two years can quickly offer you a direct pathway to a job you love. 

  • Pursue an associate’s degree. Covering a two-year period, you can complete your associate’s degree in a community, technical, or career college as well as some select universities. Options can be broad including liberal arts and sciences, humanities, and general studies. Associate degrees provide a solid foundation in your chosen field, which can lead to entry-level positions in the job market or serve as a stepping stone to completing a bachelor’s degree. 

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree. Offering a wider range of job prospects as well as a pathway to graduate studies, completing a bachelor’s degree is a great option if you're looking to follow a specific course of study. Most programs tend to be four or five years, with Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) being the most common.

  • Employer training. If you decide to take the plunge and join the workforce or military straight after high school then you’ll receive on the job training and your employer may offer to pay for specific industry certifications. Securing an apprenticeship can be a great way to secure full practical training while earning an income, with many opportunities in construction, manufacturing, service, and transportation sectors.

Career planning can be a challenge in today’s rapidly shifting job market. Being resilient is going to help you adapt to unexpected situations and chart new courses in your career path. Focus on embracing lifelong learning, growing your professional network, taking charge of your career trajectory, and looking forward to the future to embrace new opportunities. This will ensure your career from high school onwards goes from strength to strength.

Need some additional support in career planning? Check out our Career Pathways tool, where you can explore potential career interests, identify required skills, bridge skill gaps, and stay updated on job demand and competitive salaries.

Key takeaways

  1. When it comes to choosing a career in high school there’s no right or wrong path, it’s more about exploring different career options that align with your interests.

  2. Conducting a deep-dive on your strengths and interests, researching target careers, and seeking support from your high school counselor will help you plot the right career path.

  3. Having a test run of your career is vital. Try to secure some practical experience via an internship, volunteer work, or part-time job to see if you actually like it.

  4. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or let others' expectations influence your career decisions. Find the career pathway that is right for you, be resilient, and enjoy your future career success.

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