Planning Your Future: A Guide to Career Exploration
Content produced in partnership with the National Career Development Association (NCDA), the first and longest running career development organization in the world that develops standards and provides professional development for educators who empower individuals to achieve their career and life goals.
It's never too late─or too soon─to start preparing for your future. High school is an important time to engage in career exploration so you begin working toward your long-term goals. At this stage, a career search is all about investigating what's out there and finding opportunities that interest you so that you can decide what you need to do next.
Exploring possible career paths can guide your academic and extracurricular pursuits. When you have a general idea about future goals, you can pursue relevant coursework, obtain skills, and effectively transition into education or work after graduating from high school.
But where do you begin? Follow these tips to find career paths worth exploring.
Step 1: Identify What Matters to You.
There's an entire world of career possibilities before you. It might feel a little overwhelming to settle on something now while you're still in high school. Even if you change your mind later, knowing which options best fit your needs can help you stay on the right track to a fulfilling career. That’s why we recommend starting with your preferences.
One of the best ways to begin is by completing an interest survey, like the BigFuture Career Quiz, which matches your preferences to potential career opportunities. Next, think about your values and skills. Is salary the most important factor when thinking about your career? Consider what else a job might provide. For example, some can pave the way for owning a business, making an impact on the world, or growing your skillset. Identifying what’s important to you can help you focus on best-fit options.
Step 2: Research Career Options.
Once you have a list of career matches, research the opportunities to determine what's right for you.
Career Exploration Questions to Answer
To determine if a career is right for you, here are questions you should ask and find answers to:
What do people in this career do?
Can you imagine how you want your day-to-day routine to look? It's easy to think that a career is a good fit when you look at generalized job descriptions. But what does someone with a specific occupation that interests you actually do in a typical workday?
In what type of environment do people in this career work?
Your future work environment matters. Some people thrive in a closed-office setting. Others would rather be on the go, spending some or all of their working hours outdoors. Some people do better when working alone and setting their own pace, while others prefer to work in a challenging environment where they can collaborate with their colleagues face-to-face. Figure out what sort of environment your potential career involves.
What salary do people in this career earn?
Once you land on an occupation, start looking into salary potential. The importance of pay to your search might change over time but will always matter to some degree. Although you can’t know for sure what you’d make in a specific job, you can learn more about what most people make in that occupation.
Every job will have a wide range of pay rates depending on factors such as location, scale, and experience. What entry-level professionals make will be vastly different than the salary of someone in a leadership position. That's why doing adequate salary research is critical.
Is this salary enough?
To better understand if a job salary would cover your expenses, you can assume that you’d pay the average U.S. tax rate of 22% and deduct that from the overall salary number. Once you see the potential annual take-home pay, divide the annual salary by 52 weeks to get a sense of what you’d make every week.
Think about what your potential expenses might look like. What’s average rent where you want to live? What about potential car payments? Entertainment expenses? Healthcare costs? Talk to different adults to learn more about their weekly costs. Consider how yours might stack up.
Viewing potential weekly take-home pay can help you consider if you’d have enough money to cover your cost of living. There are variables, but you want to start with at least an estimate.
Is this career growing?
Job outlooks change as technology and society evolve. Numerous jobs from decades ago no longer exist. Investigate job forecasts when exploring potential career paths. Although you can't predict the future, you can dig into anticipated occupational changes to get a better idea about the best positions to pursue. BigFuture Career Search relies on dynamic labor market information to get you the most relevant insights as they emerge.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many occupations will experience significant growth in the next decade. They include:
- Wind turbine service technicians
- Nurse practitioners
- Solar photovoltaic installers
- Occupational therapists and assistants
- Information security analysts
What education or training is needed to enter this career?
Some career paths require complex job training that could affect your educational timeline and costs. A variety of potential education and training options after high school lead to good jobs, including four-year college, two-year college, apprenticeships, certificate programs, and other skills training. You can explore some of these paths at BigFuture College Search.
Keep in mind that some programs have better outcomes than others as you explore. Many scholarships and educational grants help you pay for your education. Knowing what you're in for can help you start your career with a better financial strategy.
Step 3: Set a Goal.
Once you’ve identified some career options, think about where you see yourself long term and the right next step to explore further. Commit to doing something to get started. You can learn more about setting career goals here.
Step 4: Review Your Plan.
Career exploration isn’t a process you go through just once. People will go through the experience across their lifetime. As you learn more, you know more about what you do and don’t like. Check in often to make sure your current interests, values, and skills match the goals you set. If there’s misalignment, start the process again, and update your plan.