Your son or daughter just left for (or returned to) college. While your Pacer may be focused on their studies and extra-curricular activities, it’s never too early to start planning and preparing for his or her career.
Choosing a career is a process students need to go through—and they go through the stages of this process at different rates of speed. The steps include:
- assessing skills, interests, and abilities (an important first step to choosing an appropriate career);
- exploring majors and career options;
- experimenting with possible career options; and
- organizing and conducting a job or graduate school search.
You can assist and support your Pacer in each of these stages. But what can—or should—you do? Here's your own career planning timetable.
Careers 101—for parents of first-year students
During their first year or so of college, students will be involved (formally or informally) in assessing their skills, interests, and abilities.
Most students enter college with a very limited knowledge of the vast array of courses and majors available to them. What you can do to help:
- Support your Pacer's exploration of new areas of study and interests.
- Talk with your son or daughter about the courses and activities he or she is enjoying.
- Don't panic if your Pacer is excited about majoring in something like English, history, or art. These can be excellent choices, particularly if they are a good match for a student's interests and skills.
- Support your son or daughter's responsible involvement in campus activities but urge this to be balanced with maintaining achievement in the classroom.
- Urge your Pacer to seek assistance in the campus Career Services Office. They have assessment instruments and counselors to help students to define their skills, interests, and abilities.
Careers 201—for parents of second-year students
Generally, during the second year of college, a student begins to explore majors and career options more seriously. What you can do to help
- Don't insist upon a decision about a major or possible career choice immediately. However, you can encourage your Pacer to visit the Career Services Office. Students often have difficulty making a "final" choice because they fear they may make a wrong choice and close off options
- Direct your Pacer to family, friends, or colleagues who are in fields in which he or she has an interest. Informational interviewing and job shadowing with people can be extremely helpful at this stage. Career Services can arrange these opportunities.
Careers 301—for parents of "mid-career" students
During the sophomore year and throughout the junior year, it is important for students to experiment with possible career options. They can do this in a variety of ways: internships, cooperative education programs, summer jobs, campus jobs, and responsible volunteer experiences.
What you can do to help:
- Encourage your Pacer to use the resources available at the Career Services Office. Experts there can assist your Pacer in preparing a strong resume and finding opportunities to test career choices. The Career Services Office is in direct contact with employers.
- Don't conduct the internship or summer job search for your Pacer. It's a great help to provide networking contacts or names of people who may be helpful; however, making the contact and speaking for your Pacer deprives him or her of an important learning experience—and may make a poor impression on the future employer.
Careers 401—For parents of graduating seniors
Early in the senior year is when organizing and conducting a job search or graduate school search should begin in earnest. It is also a time when students are heavily involved in more advanced courses and often have more responsible roles in campus and/or volunteer activities. Balancing these important pursuits and setting priorities is a constant challenge for seniors.
You are probably anxious for this young adult to make a decision—and yet, he or she may be moving toward closure more slowly than you would wish.
What you can do to help:
- Suggest that your student use the Career Services Office throughout the senior year. The staff there provide assistance in preparation for the job search. Offerings include: workshops and individual help with resume and cover letter writing, interviewing, and other job-search skills; individual career advising, job-search resources; and on-campus interviewing opportunities.
- Don't nag your Pacer about not having a job yet. This will often have the reverse effect. Use positive reinforcement.
- Offer to assist by sending information you may have found about your Pacer’s target career field and/or job listings that may be of interest. Listen for indications from your Pacer that you are getting carried away—and back off.
- Don't call potential employers to intervene for your Pacer. Contact with potential employers is the candidate's responsibility.
- Be prepared to support your Pacer through the ups and downs of the job and graduate school search. It can be a bumpy road—not every desired job or graduate school acceptance will come through. Your student will need reassurance that for every door that closes, another opens.
The college years are a time of exploration, experimentation, and learning on many levels for students and their parents! Some student challenges may seem more positive than others, but all contribute to the educational outcomes of the college or university experience.