As students map out their futures, a path of supported self-discovery can help increase the odds that they find college and career success.

Why self-discovery increases college and career success


As students map out their futures, a path of supported self-discovery can help increase the odds that they find postsecondary success

What do you want to be when you grow up? As we get older, the answer often changes from highly visible and glamorous endeavors, such as being an actor or a rockstar, to something more useful and meaningful to us personally.

Determining a great career path, however, isn’t always easy and is more often than not inhibited by a lack of exposure to career options and awareness of our own natural abilities. Yet, in order to secure the right educational pathway, students are asked to make a decision as early as high school and sometimes even middle school. 

Statistics show that over the course of a person’s lifetime, they will work an average of 90,000 hours. That’s a lot of time. Time that, if not mapped out properly, can be costly and less than satisfying. So how does a high school-aged student choose a career path at such a young age? What are the steps students need to take to pick a fulfilling profession? 

Let’s take a look at a few proven ways to help. 

Defining Success and Determining How to Achieve It

One of the first things students should do is make it deeply personal – this is more than just thinking about likes or dislikes (those often change rapidly when we’re young). It is about discovering what is deep within them – their natural aptitudes. It is about learning more about their inherent talents and interests and determining what success actually looks and feels like for them personally. By exploring their inherent aptitudes and interests, we can better help students explore careers they may never have considered before, and open up whole new worlds of possibility and opportunity.

Once they have identified personalized career areas, they need to explore some of the ins and outs of those career fields. For example, if they showed natural aptitude and interest in the medical field, and thought they might want to be a doctor, they need to consider the requirements – high grades to get into a medical college, dexterity, leadership skills, emotional intelligence, and more. After knowing the basic requirements, they should try to determine if being a doctor is something they will truly enjoy doing? The last thing anyone wants is to spend four years in an undergraduate program, along with four years in medical school, and three to seven years in a residency program just to learn it isn’t for them? The good news is that interest in healthcare doesn’t mean that you have to become a doctor. There are a multitude of career options in healthcare, and in any other general field, that tap into people’s interests, align with their natural talents, and offer a good fit for their life goals.

What Makes You, You?

Oftentimes, individuals are a product of their environment and get pigeonholed into a career they aren’t well-suited for and won’t enjoy. Self-discovery, or knowing themselves and understanding their natural talents, can be found through an aptitude assessment and is an ideal way to avoid pursuing the wrong career. Aptitude assessments are more than personality tests. They use a series of behavioral assessments designed to identify natural talents, not just a person’s interests or IQ. This provides a deeper, richer, and personalized view of an individual that supports and promotes long-term success and satisfaction. For far too long, society has relied solely on a student’s self-reported interests as a way to guide them into a career path. The results always hinge on a students’ familiarity with various careers. However, due to lack of career exposure, they miss the mark. As a result, interest surveys can actually steer students away from the modern economy.

Aptitude assessments can be taken as young as middle school to get students exploring what they are inherently good at, what they like, and what types of careers will build on those natural talents and promote their success. While they may not know exactly what they want to be when they grow up, by identifying their natural aptitudes, students can explore a broader array of careers and career clusters they may not have known about before. It also enables them to work with teachers and counselors to create the proper educational pathway to prepare them for a successful future career.

Is a College Degree a Requirement to Be Successful?

Is four years of college the only answer? No! There are a number of education paths to a successful career. The average in-state college student spends $25,615 for two semesters of education. Even with the help of scholarships, student loans, and family assistance, this financial burden is not an option for many people. But, talents can be magnified through many options that lead to wonderful careers. In fact, there are many options that allow you to “earn while you learn” including through trade schools and apprenticeship programs. Not only do these types of programs help financially, but they also help individuals gain transferable skills and experience that are equivalent to a college degree. 

Unfortunately, most people’s path to success is a winding road with detours, miscues, and redirects. Is there a way to avoid a broken path and have a straighter, truer journey to professional success? In short, yes. The secret is starting off on the right foot by providing students with more career options based on the student’s natural talents and abilities. This self-discovery will show students what they are naturally wired to do and enjoy. From there, they can be exposed to real-world careers where their talents will equal success. They can be shown careers where their aptitudes and interests converge.

In addition to students understanding their innate abilities, it is critically important to match those abilities and interests to tangible and personally relevant in-demand careers. Understanding what jobs are in-demand when they enter the market (and aligning those jobs with their interests and aptitudes) helps ensure they get a job more quickly, and also helps set them up for a straighter path to a successful, satisfying career.

Like any long-term activity, planning is key. Mapping out a course of action helps to get them on the right path. While there are many options to find one’s way to a successful career, the most important factor is to help each student determine their natural talents so they know exactly where they can be most successful. In fact, when we can start career exposure early, getting students into the right career and technical education (CTE) programs aligned with their aptitudes and interests, graduation rates significantly increase. According to research, CTE reduces dropout and increases on-time graduation, particularly CTE courses taken in 11th and 12th grades. And, graduation rates skyrocket when the same is done for our most at-risk and vulnerable student populations.

The bottom line is that to correctly answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?,” we need to help students better understand what they are really capable of accomplishing and connect those capabilities to personalized career and education opportunities. In this process, planning is essential. Self-discovery takes time, and you need an open mind. There are many opportunities out there, especially with so many people leaving their jobs. The time is ripe for change – change for education and change for adults. If you are starting out, don’t pigeonhole yourself, and if you’re restarting your career, the future is yours when you add self-discovery to your journey.

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