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Career Exploration: It Begins With Self-Knowledge

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." - Aristotle

I heard this quote for the first time in high school, and I realized its truth at once. I wish I could say that I had the guidance to do some serious self-exploration then, but I really didn’t. The things I thought I knew about myself turned out to be more the reflections of others than they were serious introspections, but I took other's opinions as fact, and it took me considerable time to come into myself as an adult human being.

I can unravel my life story at your request, but suffice it to say I am thrilled that my journey has brought me to the roles of Career Specialist and College Consultant for Access College America. One of my roles is to help students, in classrooms, in labs and individually to explore their future career options and narrow down the answer to the all-important question: "What do I want to be when I grow up?" This path for me is indeed intentional and informed by my high-school experience. I am truly excited to do this work every day!

I have excellent tools to share with you, as well as all of my life's work. I can teach you how to connect with professionals who are willing to help you discover your true passion. It all begins, however, with taking a look inside yourself and defining your true strengths and preferences. What makes you happiest? Is it when you are with a group, engaged in a lively conversation? Is it when you are solving a problem? Is it when you are alone that you are most able to come into your own mind? By asking yourself these questions AND answering them honestly, you will be one step closer to knowing yourself.

Students should consider reflecting on the following questions:

  1. What am I really good at?

  2. What would I like to be better at?

  3. When, in my daily life, am I truly happiest?

  4. What can I contribute to the world around me?

These are big questions, and I promise that the adults in your life struggle with the answers all the time. This summer, take a bit of time to THINK about it.

Ok I know - easier said than done! To help you answer the questions listed above, try some of these methods to get you closer to your best answer:

Career Assessments or Interest Inventories

There are many FREE resources out there that students and parents can use to get started. You may want to do several and compare your results! I recommend My Next Move at, or if your school uses Naviance, that is also a wonderful career exploration tool. If you don’t have Naviance, The Princeton Review has a free career quiz as well! Our scholars have the benefit of using YouScience, which is a bit more involved than these free resources, and gives a more comprehensive picture of a student’s aptitudes and preferences.

The YouScience Profile uses engaging exercises, (or 'brain games' as some students call them), to deliver real data about students' aptitudes or natural abilities that are set around age 15 and remain stable throughout their lifetime.

I recommend beginning this exploration process as early as the summer before 9th grade, but understand that your results may change and grow as you do. If you are a junior who has still not decided on a major, or if it seems like you are the only one of your friends who still doesn’t know, it isn't too late! (Take it from an old lady, it really isn't.) You are young with so very much time ahead to learn and grow.

Informational Interviews

Speaking with professionals whose jobs you find interesting is an EXCELLENT way to learn what you may or may not want to do for a career someday. For some students, reaching out to adults they don’t know can seem daunting, but remember that everyone likes to talk about themselves, and it is the ultimate flattery for someone to be asked to provide expertise to a young person about their path in life. How to get started? Simple! Look around your world for adults who have jobs and careers you find interesting. Ask them for 30 minutes of their time. Still stuck on who to ask? Believe it or not, you have more people in your personal network than you might think. Your parent’s co-workers, friend’s parents, neighbors, small business owners in your town, doctors and dentists, teachers at your school, etc. Even if these folks don’t have the career you want to learn more about they may know someone who does! Don’t be shy about asking! Bring them a coffee - adults love that :)

Not sure what to ask? Here are a few ideas:

1 - What advice would you give a student who wants to have a career in (X)?

2 - What education did you get to bring you to (X) career?

3 - What is the best/worst part about working in this industry?

4 - What does your typical workday look and feel like?

5 - Is there anyone else you know who would also be willing to speak to me about careers in (X)?

Always send a handwritten thank you note as a follow-up. This, my friends, is the beginning of networking.

Explore the things you LOVE

This probably goes without saying but intellectual curiosity and curiosity about the world around you is important. Take on a challenge, read voraciously about topics that interest you, seek to deepen your experience with things you love, and learn about things you aren’t sure about. Not every career consists of 100% loveable things, but if you are lucky, you may be able to marry your passions with a facet of your future career.

For example, the artsy student may want to explore music production, graphic design or landscape architecture. The future scientist might want to create a community garden or research the latest AI technology.

Make the most of your summer job

There are so many great reasons to have a part-time or summer job in high school. Research shows that students who are employed during their high school years are better time managers, do better in school and are better money managers than their non-working peers. Aside from the excellent soft skills learned on the job, these experiences can be informative especially when students open their eyes to other things they can learn about the business as a whole. Interested in marketing, accounting, supply chain, logistics, manufacturing technologies or human resources? If the place you work sells anything/provides services, management will be involved in these things.

My first real summer job (aside from babysitting) was at my local movie theater in Fairview Park, OH. From the experience, I learned what an excellent manager is, how and when they advertise and market the movies, how to supervise and evaluate employees, etc. (Yes I also learned how to count change quickly at the candy stand, what a projectionist does, and how to clean the popcorn bins until they shine!) This is life experience that DOES count on your college application, but many times, with a little curiosity, students are able to use the experience to help inform them of what they do (or don’t) want to do in the future!

This is just the beginning! If you are one of our Access College America scholars, I am glad to sit down and do a career exploration strategy session with you! For everyone, though, these tips and ideas should help you get started answering the very important questions of “What should I major in and what do I want to be when I grow up?

Let us know how we can help!


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