A “major” decision: Guiding your teen’s career exploration before college

A “major” decision: Guiding your teen’s career exploration before college

Mom on tablet with teenage daughter looking at smart phone

As a parent, you can help guide your teen toward a career marked by purpose and fulfillment. This is especially crucial as your child gets closer to college. By engaging in thoughtful conversations and activities, you can empower your teen to make an informed decision about how to choose a major and take the first step in pursuing a career. Here are some tips to help you as your teen navigates career exploration.

Create a safe space

It can be a little daunting for any teen to share what they are thinking in terms of a long-term career. Do your best to make them feel comfortable talking about this. Ask open-ended questions that prompt them to reflect on what they enjoy doing and what makes them feel fulfilled. Try not to judge them, but instead allow them to be as transparent as possible about what they are thinking and feeling.

Encourage passion projects

Sometimes your teen’s hobbies and interests can reveal possible career paths. If you see them gravitating toward a particular pastime, encourage it. Whether it's photography, coding, writing, or any other interest, engaging in passion projects can build skills and foster interest, thus illuminating a path for the future.

Suggest job shadowing and internship opportunities

Facilitate opportunities for your teen to job shadow or intern in various fields of interest. This kind of hands-on experience is invaluable in helping them understand the day-to-day realities of different professions. It also allows them to build a network of professionals who can offer guidance and mentorship.

Recommend career exploration tools

There are numerous online tools designed to assist individuals with career discovery. Work with your teen to explore these resources, such as personality assessments and career aptitude tests, to gain insights into potential career matches. A quick internet search will connect you with many options. While you may have to pay for some to see your results, there are plenty of free career exploration tools available online. Many high school counseling offices also offer career assessments and advice for free.

Help them build professional connections

You probably know people who have a wide variety of careers. Take advantage of that! Work with your teen to build a list of professional connections by bridging the gap between your teen and those who have careers they may be interested in. Your teen could invite them to a coffee meet-up or even chat with them over Zoom. This can be a great way to learn about different jobs and career paths in a more casual environment compared to internships and job shadows. 

Research college programs together

Sometimes doing a little reverse engineering may lead your student to uncover the perfect career path. Rather than going straight to career options, think in terms of how to choose a major. If your teen has already committed to attend a particular college or even if they have a short list, look into the majors those particular colleges offer. See if anything sparks your teen’s interest. Schools like UNI will list the jobs alumni of different programs hold on their major pages. This can lead to some career discovery — you may find out about jobs you never knew existed!

You can view a complete list of majors the University of Northern Iowa offers at majors.uni.edu. Easily sort by interest area, see the type of courses they'll take and watch videos of current students within the major. You can also direct your teen to degrees.uni.edu for a short quiz that will offer them insight into a degree area that aligns with their passions and skills.

Share your own story

Lastly, it’s a good idea to share your own experiences with career exploration with your teen. How did you land on your current job? What created the interest? What have your work experiences been like? While they may not be interested in the same field, hearing about your experiences may give them insight into how they can make a decision for themselves. 

Start researching careers with your teen

Hopefully you now feel like you’re in a good position to help your teen figure out how to choose a major and how to find a career path. It can be one of the most challenging things for a young person to figure out, but with the aid of a supportive parent, it can be much easier!

It’s also important to remember that your teen can thrive in college even if they don’t know what they want to pursue as a first-year student. There is still time to explore their options and change their minds, and colleges like UNI have plentiful resources to assist them in finding the best major that will lead to a fulfilling career.

Real, relevant academic excellence for a world that expects future-ready graduates.

  • 94% of UNI grads find success within six months of graduation.
  • UNI graduates more teachers than any other university in Iowa.
  • UNI graduates more CPAs than anywhere in Iowa.
  • UNI is ranked a top regional public university by U.S. News & World Report.
Program of Interest:*
Currently we do not offer any on-campus doctoral degrees. Please see our online options.

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