Let’s start at the beginning, high-school. Yes, planning your career can start as early as high-school. If you’re already past this stage, that’s OK, we will talk about it in another post or you can take key tips from this post! The anxiety of choosing what career you will have for the rest of your life is beginning to hit you. You lay awake late into the night mulling over programs, courses, requirements, grades, exams, all the time the deadline for applications is coming closer and closer. And let’s be fair, for most of us, this choice presents itself when we aren’t even old enough to vote yet. It is daunting, and you are not alone. A million thoughts must be going through your head:
“What school should I go to?”
“Do I go to that one because my friends are going there?”
“Maybe I don’t want to go to school.”
“I want to move as far away as possible.”
“How do I even PAY for that?”
All of these thoughts racing and racing, and it seems like every other person besides you seem to know what they want to do. Why is it that they know what they want but not me? First let’s clarify, they are probably just as scared. I can talk about how I found what’s for me and how I ended up.
Depending on what you like, some of these career paths will need more education: Bachelor, Masters, PhD, Diploma, etc. While others will not: Trade school, direct entry work force. Other than securing the basic requirements to get into the field you want to be in, here is what I did to help me make my choice. (I went to University, so I am not really knowledgeable in the Trades, but I know someone who is).
1. Know Yourself
This is where your first career research should start. Make a list of things that you like to do and/or don’t mind doing. Don’t think about post-secondary schooling just yet, just a list of what you like to do. For example: In high-school I danced and loved art. However, I didn’t see myself doing dance or art 10 years from then. But at the time, I also volunteered to help youths stay off the streets by helping them enroll in after school programs. And that was something I can see myself doing for a while. Next, I LOVED science. And because of dance, I discovered that I love being in front of people. Altogether, I liked outreach, science and public speaking. To me this meant that I could pick a major in the sciences that will eventually lead to a job where I can use what I learned to teach others. Do you see the dots connecting?
- If you aren’t sure what you’re good at, ask your teachers, parents, and friends. They can provide honest and helpful feedback to help you on your search. I had a teacher tell me that I really excelled in biology and one that said my chemistry needed work. It helped narrow down what type of science I would excel in.
2. Job Description Search
You now have a list of strengths and things that you won’t mind doing. You then need to actually find jobs that match most of the things on your list. The tip is to match the Job Description (JD), and not the Job Title. The difference is that the JD actually lists what you DO. A “Surgeon” job title certainly sounds impressive, but what about other things that comes with being a surgeon? It means working with people, being patient, working long hours, long schooling, and may keep you away from family and friends. Is this something that you can see yourself doing? It’s important to know or at least have a general idea of what other skills you may need to do that dream job. It helps to realistically prepare you for what to come. It is important to have a goal, but also know that it is okay to change. You probably wont know exactly that you didn’t really like being a surgeon until your first year. And that is OK.
- Go on a job searching website such as Indeed, LinkedIn, or Workopolis and start typing potential job titles you may be interested in. Other key words such as “teamwork”, “projects”, “graphic design” or any other talents you want to see can also provide a good start.
3. Search Schools and Its Graduates
You have an idea of who you are and you have a rough idea of what you want to do. Now which school to pick. Pick a school that can make you realize your dream the best. And that means picking the best school for that program. There may be limitations based on geography or cost, but once you’ve decided, have a list of schools in your ideal geography and price point. Next, research the program. Read the program brochure, course list, requirements, and course descriptions. Connect with Graduates of that program and ask them how their experience was. What do they do now? What would they do different? If you decided to go the non-academic route, find the best place to start you apprenticeship. Either case, find testimonies of people who have been there before. LinkedIn is a great way to find and connect with alumni.
- If possible, apply for programs that have the option of Co-op, internships, or placements. Getting work experience while you are still in school will give you an edge against others and have filling for your resume. Some of these work-terms may be paid to help offset cost of tuition. They are the best way to get your foot in the door when you are looking for a job after graduation.
- The city/location of where your school is is also important. If you want to be in business, going to school in the urban core may be the best option; while environmental studies may opt for a school in the country to allow for larger research grounds.
4. Visit Campus
Once you made a short-list of schools and the program, visit campus. If you plan on commuting, plan a visit to campus when class time typically starts. This will help you simulate your daily commute. If you plan on moving, ask the campus tour guide to tell you where students normally live after their first year residence. For big cities, student living could be in a cramped and old apartment buildings or in a decent-sized house for schools out in the suburbs. Tour these areas as well, check out what grocery stores and after-school fun activities are around. You may have special needs where the city may not be able to cater to you or resources may not be as easily accessible. You can get a better feel of the culture and the warmth of the school. I have visited schools that are not as well-known but were so warm and friendly and other school with celebrity professors, but felt cold and distant. Where you go is important as some graduates often stay in the city they graduated from for a short time after graduation. You will be spending the next few years here and having an environment where you can see yourself grow is very important.
Hopefully after doing all this research, you are ready to send in your applications. You would also need to research how to finance your education. That may be taking a gap year to earn money, applying for government loans, private loans, or from relatives. There are plenty of scholarships and bursaries online and from the school. Look at entrance scholarships as well as this can only applicable at the time of application. For trades, you are paid as you complete your apprenticeship, so financials will hopefully not be a road block. It’s important to keep finances at the back of your mind when you apply as this can be devastating for students once graduation passes and they have to pay back their loans. I hoped it helped calm the nerves and broke down career planning in stages. Good luck on your application!