College Prep

6 Steps to Understanding the College Process – Step 1: Career Research

Last week I started out this series with a post entitled  College Prep Cheat Sheet. There you will find a summary list of these six steps which I will begin addressing in depth starting today.

Before you begin looking at colleges, scholarships, and finances you first need to talk with your student about their aspirations in life. What do they want to pursue as a contributing member of the American workforce? What career path do they want to study and what type of education do they need to get there? Not every job requires a 4 year college degree. Does their desired field require a two year degree?  Apprenticeship? Trade-school? Or does it require far beyond just the traditional four years? All of these questions and their answers will determine your next steps. A great resource for your student to begin their research is the Occupational Outlook Handbook.  Every year the government puts out up-to-date statistics on just about every career option available. Here you’ll find a summary of the type of job you’re looking for, the type and level of education required for an entry level position, most recent median pay rate, expected job growth and so much more. I also recommend having your student talk with real professionals currently working in their desired field of interest. Reading data is one thing, but talking with someone who actually does the work for a living is another. It could help solidify your student’s desires toward that field of study or help them take that career path out of the running. Talking with a career professional can also help your student better understand what field of study they need to actually be pursuing. Too many student end up choosing a field of study only to find out too late it actually isn’t leading them where they truly wanted to go.

The next question you need to ask your student is if they’re prepared to go right off to college after high school and if the career they think they want is the one they really want. This is very important – the average college student changes their major 2-4 times between their freshman and sophomore year of college; and many students graduate unsatisfied with the degree they settled on. Also, college costs have having risen nearly 260% since the 1980, and cost of attendance continues to compound at 5%-7% annually, College is no longer an affordable right of passage. College debt is the second highest debt rate for the average American next to their first home mortgage.  This is a huge financial undertaking for both you and your student and not one that should be done lightly. I highly encourage you and your student to consider their need for, and the benefit of, taking what is called a “Gap Year” and make sure they have a clear head of what they want and why before heading off to college.  For more information on the gap year visit

Also, while you are discussing these big picture ideas for their future – you need to discuss money. I will share more about how to broach this topic with your student in the next few posts in this series, but beginning to open up the dialogue about college finances is crucial. Do you and your student have the same expectations of who is taking on the brunt of their college expenses? Do you have resources saved for your student and are they aware of it? Or have things changed in recent years and this is no longer a viable option for you to help take on this expense as hoped? And do your students know this? Do you expect your student to work while going to school to help pay for their education? Having a base-line understanding for these questions will be important as I help your family begin the process of selecting colleges, understanding the financial aid process, and how to maximize your potential for receiving the best possible financial aid packages from each school.


I hope you found this helpful! If you have questions or thoughts, please share your comments or email me at




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