Before College: Use Grades K-8 to Identify General Career Directions

Cheryl and Mike have two young children — Lucas, a 9-year old third-grader, and Olivia, a 5-year old kindergartener. They want both to go to college.

They’ve already started 529 plans, but what else can they do to make postsecondary learning more affordable for their son and daughter?

One thing is to help Lucas and Olivia each begin to determine a general career IMG_4769direction.

At first this might not appear to have anything to do with college affordability. But it does.

Early identification of general career directions — broad sets of vocations in which they’ll  do things they enjoy, are passionate about, and are good at — will eventually make college less costly for Lucas and Olivia by:

  • Cutting the chances of them joining the 80% of college students who change majors, some two or three times; and
  • Making them less likely to be among the 30% of students who transfer from one institution to another.

Changing majors and transferring generates extra costs for extra courses and academic terms. They also result in students’ forfeiting scholarships that are major and institution-specific.

So how to approach this? Here are some, but not necessarily all, of the steps Cheryl and Mike can take during grades K-8:

  • Consult with Lucas and Olivia’s teachers every year. Do their grades reflect IMG_4773their actual strengths and weaknesses? What traits emerge as they interact others? As they work alone? What do their teachers consider possible career paths for them based on what they’ve observed, and why?
  • Watch Lucas and Olivia while they’re out of school, and talk with them about what they observe. For example, “Lucas, you seem to enjoy reading about cars and how they work. Would you like to look under our car’s hood?” or “Olivia, I notice you made a very creative list for the scavenger hunt! Was that fun?”
  • While young, Lucas and Olivia probably know only about occupations to whichIMG_4771 they’re routinely exposed — e.g. dentists, doctors, teachers, and whatever Cheryl and Mike do. So begin exposing them to children’s books about other vocations, and have friends and neighbors tell them about what they do. Note what does and doesn’t interest them.
  • Spend time with Lucas and Olivia on USA.gov’s Research Career Fields page, an official U.S. government portal with videos and links to descriptions of different occupations.
  • Avoid steering Lucas and Olivia toward occupations to fulfill their own hopes and ambitions. Postsecondary education is full of unhappy, unmotivated, and underperforming students whose parents pressured them into certain majors.

Deciding on careers is a multi-step process. Grades K-8 are the time to build career awareness and explore options. Later on, in high school, comes the time for narrowing down to specific occupations and college majors.

Looking for ways to help keep the cost of high-quality postsecondary education reasonable? Contact College Affordability Solutions for free help!

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