Unit 4: Career Exploration

Lumen Learning and Linda Bruce Hill

“Stay focused, go after your dreams, and keep moving toward your goals.”

– LL Cool J

College and Career: Key Connections

Think back to the time when you first began to contemplate college. Do you remember specific thoughts? Were you excited about the idea? What began to draw you into the web of college life? What compels you to be here now?

In this topic on career and college readiness, we examine key connections between your motivations to be in college and your ultimate success in achieving your goals. We also examine how your college experience prepares you for a specific career, as well as for attaining general skills that you can apply to multiple pursuits.

Activity: Motivations for Attending College

Objectives

  • Review some of the many motivations students have for entering college.
  • Identify your personal motivations as pathways to achieving goals.

Directions

  • Review the table below, which lists various motivations cited by other students.
  • Identify your main motivations, and rank your top five.
  • Reflect on your selections in terms of how they connect with short-term and long-term plans for the future.

Understanding your motivations is essential to helping you not only prioritize your plans for the future but also gain inspiration about directions you may not have yet charted. Ultimately, your motivations for being in college align you with roadways to fulfilling your goals and ambitions.

MY TOP FIVE MOTIVATIONS FOR ATTENDING COLLEGE
Gain more qualifications in my field
Increase my earning potential; make more money
Challenge myself
Show others that I can succeed
Start an independent life
Satisfy my curiosity
Have fun
Change my career
Do what my parents were not able to do
Find a better lifestyle
Build my confidence
Expand my social contacts; bond with new friends
Improve my network of business associates
Gain exposure to a wide array of topics
Attend campus events
Make my family happy
Fulfill my dreams
Take classes at home or work or anywhere
Take advantage of campus resources like the library and gym
Join a sports team
Join campus organizations
Spend my time during retirement
Have continued support via alumni programs
Learn to study and work on my own
Gain access to professors
Link up with people who already excel in the ways I aspire to
Get sports spirit
Gain more access to entertainment like theater and bands
Be more productive in life
Explore myself
Become well versed in many subjects
Dig deeper into learning than I did in high school
Expand my knowledge of the world
Others?

Goal Setting

ACTIVITY: IDENTIFYING YOUR OVERALL ACADEMIC GOALS

In order to achieve long-term goals (from college on), you’ll need to first achieve a series of shorter goals. Medium-term goals (this year and while in college) and short-term goals (today, this week, and this month) may take several days, weeks, months, or even a few years to complete, depending on your ultimate long-term goals. Identify what you will need to do in order to achieve your all goals.

Gain a full view of your trajectory.

Objectives

1. Identify and prioritize 3–5 long-term academic goals.

2. Identify three related medium-term and short-term academic goals.

3. Identify what you are doing toward achieving these identified goals (for example, how you are managing time).

Directions

4. Review the worksheet below, and fill in the blank sections to the best of your ability.

Guidelines

5. Phrase goals as positive statements: Affirm your excitement and enthusiasm about attaining a goal by using positive language and expectations.

6. Be exacting: Set a precise goal that includes dates, times, and amounts, so that you have a basis for measuring how closely you achieve your goals.

7. Prioritize: Select your top goals, and put them in order of importance. This helps you understand the degree to which you value each of them. It will also help you better manage related tasks and not feel overwhelmed.

8. Assume you are the captain of your ship: Identify goals that are linked to your own performance, not dependent on the actions of other people or situations beyond your control.

9. Be realistic but optimistic and ambitious: The goals you set should be achievable, but sometimes it pays to reach a little higher than what you may think is possible. Certainly don’t set your goals too low.

10. Be hopeful, excited, and committed: Your enthusiasm and perseverance can open many doors!

Examples of Long-Term Academic Goals

  • I plan to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. My major will be Radio-Television-Film, and my minor will be Spanish.
  • I plan to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service degree with a major in international history.
  • I plan to attain an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN).

Examples of Medium-Term or Short-Term Academic Goals:

  • I would like to study abroad in Spain before I graduate.
  • I want to get involved in a service-learning project in my community, as part of my preparation for eventual service work.
  • I plan to join the student government organization so that I can gain some experience at the community college where I take classes part-time.

Additional immediate goals might be applying for financial aid, getting a part-time job, taking a short leave of absence, speaking with a counselor, etc.

DEALING WITH SETBACKS AND OBSTACLES

At times, unexpected events and challenges can get in the way of best-laid plans. For example, you might get sick or injured or need to deal with a family issue or a financial crisis. Earlier in this section we considered a scenario in which a student realized she needed to change her major and her career plans. Such upsets, whether minor or major, may trigger a need to take some time off from school—perhaps a term or a year. Your priorities may shift. You may need to reevaluate goals.

PROBLEM-SOLVING STRATEGIES

Below is a simple list of four problem-solving strategies. They can be applied to any aspect of your life.
1. What is the problem? Define it in detail. How is it affecting me and other people?
2. How are other people dealing with this problem? Are they adjusting their time management skills? Can they still complete responsibilities, and on time?
3. What is my range of possible solutions? Are solutions realistic? How might these solutions help me reach my goal/s?
4. What do I need to do to implement solutions?

You may wish to also review the earlier set of questions about focusing with intention on goals.
Be confident that you can return to your intended path in time. Acknowledge the ways in which you need to regroup. Read inspiring words from people who have faced adversity and gained. Line up your resources, be resolved, and proceed with certainty toward your goals.

Success with goals (any goals—education, family, career, finances, etc.) is essentially a three-part process:
1. Identify your long-term, medium-term and short-term goals.
2. Set priorities to accomplish these goals.
3. Manage your time according to the priorities you’ve set.
By following these three straightforward steps, you can more readily achieve goals because you clearly organize the process and follow through with commitment. Focus your sights on what you want to acquire, attain, or achieve. Prioritize the steps you need to take to get there. And organize your tasks into manageable chunks and blocks of time. These are the roadways to accomplishment and fulfillment. In the following passage from Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, former political- science student Patricia Munsch—now a college counselor—reflects on how a structured, conscientious approach to decision-making and goal setting in college can lead to fulfillment and achievement.

The Marriage of College and Career

The oldest institution of higher learning in the United States is widely acknowledged to be Harvard University. It was established in 1636 with the aim of providing instruction in arts and sciences to qualify students for employment. In the 1779 Constitution of Massachusetts submitted by Samuel Adams, John Adams, and James Bowdoin to the full Massachusetts Convention, the following language was used:

Art. I.—Whereas our wise and pious ancestors, so early as the year one thousand six hundred and thirty six, laid the foundation of Harvard-College, in which University many persons of great eminence have, by the blessing of GOD, been initiated in those arts and sciences, which qualified them for public employments, both in Church and State . . .

Is “public employment” preparation still the goal of higher education institutions today? Indeed, it is certainly one of the many goals! College is also an opportunity for students to grow personally and intellectually. In fact, in a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, Americans were split on their perceptions of the main purpose of a college education:

  • 47 percent of those surveyed said the purpose of college is to teach work-related skills.
  • 39 percent said it is to help a student grow personally and intellectually.
  • 12 percent said the time spent at college should be dedicated to both pursuits—teaching work-related skills and helping students grow personally and intellectually.

These statistics are understandable in light of the great reach and scope of higher education institutions. Today, there are some 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States, offering every manner of education and training to students.

What do employers think about the value of a college education? What skills do employers seek in their workforce? In 2014, Hart Research Associates conducted a survey on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The survey revealed that the majority of employers believe that having field-specific knowledge as well as a broad range of knowledge and skills is important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term career success.

Employers also said that when they hire, they place the greatest value on skills and knowledge that cut across all majors. The learning outcomes they rate as most important include written and oral communication skills, teamwork skills, ethical decision-making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings.[1]

Employment Rates and Salaries

Consider, too, the following statistics on employment rates and salaries for college graduates. College does make a big difference!

  • The average college graduate earns about 75 percent more than a non-college graduate over a typical, forty-year working lifetime. (U.S. Census Bureau)
  • In 2014, young adults ages 20 to 24 with a bachelor’s degree or higher had a higher employment rate (88.1 percent) than young adults with just some college (75.0 percent). (NCES)
  • The employment rate for young adults with just some college (63.7 percent) was higher than the rate for those who had completed high school. (NCES)
  • The employment rate for those who completed high school (46.6 percent) was higher than the employment rate for young adults who had not finished high school. (NCES)
  • Employment rates were generally higher for males than females at each level of educational attainment in 2015. (NCES) [2]
  • Over the course of a forty-year working life, the typical college graduate earns an estimated $550,000 more than the typical high school graduate. (PEW)
  • The median gap in annual earnings between a high school and college graduate as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010 is $19,550. (PEW)[3]

Perhaps most important, an overwhelming majority of college graduates—86 percent—say that college has been a good investment for them personally (PEW).

Differences in Earnings between States

You may wish to use this Earnings and Educational Attainment (2011) interactive table to see how earnings for college graduates vs. high school–only graduates in your state compare with those in other states.

All in all, college imparts a wide and deep range of benefits. The short video Why College, below, shows that with a college degree you are more likely to

  • Have a higher salary
  • Have and keep a job
  • Get a pension plan
  • Be satisfied with your job
  • Feel your job is important
  • Have health insurance

Summary

Success in college can be measured in many ways: through your own sense of what is important to you; through your family’s sense of what is important; through your institution’s standards of excellence; through the standards established by your state and country; through your employer’s perceptions about what is needed in the workplace; training for and becoming an entrepreneur, small business owner, or your own boss; and in many respects through your own unfolding goals, dreams, and ambitions.

How are you striving to achieve your goals? And how will you measure your success along the way?

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

All rights reserved content:

  • “Why College?” YouTube.com, uploaded by OregonGEARUP. 2012. Located at: https://youtu.be/-N6nru0nThg. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

Public domain content:

Adaptions: Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom essay removed (exists elsewhere in this work), relocated learning objectives, removed Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment graph, updated footnote references, modified footnote formatting. Removed job fair image.

 


  1. “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success,” Association of American Colleges & Universities, Hart Research Associates, 2015, https://www.aacu.org/leap/public-opinion-research/2015-survey-falling-short.
  2. “Employment and Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment,” 2016, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/Indicator_CBC/coe_CBC_2016_05.pdf.
  3. “Is College Worth It?,” Pew Social Trends, Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS, 2011, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2011/05/higher-ed-report.pdf.

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Blueprint for Success in College and Career Copyright © 2019 by Lumen Learning and Linda Bruce Hill is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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