Setting College and Career Goals

Updated: May 15, 2019
This article discusses why and how every student should be thinking about the future.

Setting College and Career Goals

The Future is Closer Than You Think
The wonderful world of full-time employment may seem light-years away to kids, no matter how often adults tell them how quickly the high school and college years fly by.

But today's high school students will be facing a work-world that moves at warp speed. It's not too early for kids to be thinking about where they might be headed professionally, what they want and need from a college education, and how they'll get there.

The American College Testing Service (ACT) has the following suggestions to get kids on track for the college application process, just click on the links below to take the first steps towards defining future goals.

Take a Good Look at Your Courses
Take an honest look at your high school program. Are you challenging yourself or just trying to get by with easy courses? You may want to protect a high grade-point average or just take it easy, but experts say the best thing you can do is challenge yourself.

Michael Barron, admissions director at the University of Iowa, says, "Getting into college isn't a strategy or a game. It's about having a great academic record, stretching yourself, taking a risk, and showing that you're reaching beyond yourself. Colleges care about that."

Beyond getting into the college of your choice, you'll improve your chances of doing well once you're admitted if you stick with a more challenging course load now, especially classes like higher-level math. ACT research shows that students who take advanced placement or honors courses consistently score higher on the ACT test, which is an indicator of how well you're expected to do on college-level work.

Brush Up on Academics
If you think it's too late to improve your academic record or you need help getting up to speed before taking the next level of math, get help from a tutor or take additional coursework.

Start Exploring Colleges
College is such a big commitment--emotionally, intellectually, and financially--that Barron recommends that students begin thinking seriously about college as early as eighth grade. Even sixth-graders can start asking questions about the college experience and application process.

Identify your Priorities
What do you want and expect from a college education? What are your talents and academic strengths? What activities and social opportunities are important to you? Regarding academics, Barron asks, "Do you want to be at the top of the heap, the middle of the pack, or really challenge yourself with a very competitive atmosphere?"

Once you've answered these questions, you can start requesting college catalogues. Research the relative costs and locations of schools; check out academic requirements and course offerings; and consider available housing and social amenities. Gather enough information to narrow down your choices--only schools with the best fit for you should make the cut.

Explore Your Interests
Once you start thinking about your interests, you can begin matching them to potential careers. Take advantage of student activities, volunteer opportunities, part-time jobs, "job shadowing," and internships to discover what career areas interest you. Use online career-planning programs, such as ACT's DISCOVER, to help you match interests with career ideas.

Get Organized
Start collecting the appropriate forms for financial aid and college applications. Inquire about specific application requirements and related deadlines. To find answers, search the Web; visit your school or public library; and consult your guidance counselor's office. Keep a calendar with all your important test and application deadlines.

Talk to Your Parents
Barron emphasizes that a student's search for the right college involves the whole family. "The process of defining your values and selecting the appropriate college can redefine family relationships if approached openly and constructively by both students and parents." Time at the dinner table and in the car during college visits give families the chance to share their values. "Students can talk about what they want, and parents can comment on whether they'll pay for it!" Barron says. "You need an open, honest communication line to work through these issues. That may be the most important advice I have to give."


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