What are you currently doing to help you figure out which careers are a good fit for you? For many years, career decision-making was done by trial and error. Students passively engaged in coursework and part-time jobs to determine if their interests matched pursuing that career professionally. Some students felt simply researching an academic major was enough information to help them make a career choice. Although these are worthy pursuits, additional career exploration methods are available for students today.
There are many opportunities to gain insight into your professional future and “try out” careers as you pursue your educational goals. Selecting a college major and researching careers are only pieces of the career decision-making process.
Interning, studying abroad and service learning are three hands-on strategies that you can actively participate in as a means of career exploration. You may think of it as a career “trial” or testing the waters to see what it’s like.
Internships and co-ops
Most colleges sponsor internship and co-op opportunities for students to pursue as part of the academic experience.
Internships can either be paid or unpaid positions. They usually require a certain amount of hours in a professional employment setting, and if you will receive credit for your work, an on-campus seminar to discuss your experience.
Advantages of interning include career testing, networking, professional skill development and being able to receive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses.
One popular internship experience among college students is the Walt Disney World College Program, wdwcollegeprogram.com. Students spend an entire semester at the resort in Orlando, Fla., as a paid member of the Disney cast. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about corporate culture and explore a variety of roles within an organization.
Study abroad/international study
Spending a semester abroad can be a life-changing experience. Many students report it as being the best, most rewarding and exciting thing they have ever done. Generally, studying abroad is a semester-long experience that involves more than just coursework. It involves excursions, adventure, immersing yourself into another culture and learning about yourself. Benefits of studying in another country include getting an international perspective on academics and life, advancing your language and professional skills, seeing new places and experiencing other cultures.
Environmental science majors study the rainforest in Costa Rica. Architecture students study the masonry and design of piazzas in Italy. Check out your options at studyabroad.com.
Service learning/gap year programs
Gaining popularity among new graduates are gap-year programs or service-learning experiences between high school and college or college and full-time work.
Service learning entails taking what is learned in a classroom setting and applying it directly to what is needed in the community.
For example, students studying psychology can provide a year’s worth of peer counseling and teaching services to students at Boys Hope Girls Hope School in one of 17 cities across the U.S. Service-learning programs entail an application procedure and may provide a salary and health insurance for student participants. This can help you gain practical experience and explore what it means to serve and make a difference in someone’s life. The value of service learning involves gaining practical life experience and learning about yourself and the world. For more, see idealist.org.
Coursework and the college experience can provide you with introductory skills. Internships, study-abroad and service-learning programs are unique opportunities for additional personal growth and skill development that enhance your employability.
Avoid waiting for a career to find you. Go out and seek experiences that will provide opportunities for self-development and give you that edge you need!