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Exploring Future Career Paths During the High School Years

Career Paths

Exploring Future Career Paths During the High School Years

How Students in Grades 7-12 Can Begin to Define Their Future Direction Today

When parents and other adults ask younger people, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, a cute or unrealistically ambitious response is typically expected in terms of what the young child believes they will pursue as a career in the future. However, this question begins to take on more weight as students enter their middle and high school years. This is when it becomes helpful for students and their parents and caregivers to begin giving future career direction sincere thought and taking steps toward formulating solid plans.

Career exploration is an essential step in determining the right path for your high school student’s future, and it’s a great way to figure out whether a traditional college experience is next or if your student might be more inclined to pursue a trade, technical training experience, or military service.

York Catholic’s dedicated College and Career Counselors are passionate about helping students find their best-suited future careers and recognize that pursuing a bachelor’s degree is not a one-size-fits-all next step after high school graduation. But how do we guide students and their families in taking their first steps toward discovering the best path into the future? Read on for a variety of tips and resources (also available to download here), including a rundown of YC’s career exploration programs that we encourage students to experience.

Students Should Get Started with Career Exploration by Getting to Know Themselves

Self-awareness serves as a compass guiding students toward fulfilling and meaningful career paths. Having established a clear understanding of their preferences, skills, and values, students can explore various industries and professions with greater confidence and purpose. Of course, parents, teachers, and school counselors will guide and support students along the way, but each student needs to undertake the self-reflection process with the goal of getting to know who they truly are—and who they want to be in the future.

The following steps can be used as a basic roadmap to begin the self-reflection journey before pursuing more targeted career exploration activities.

  • Step 1 – Identify Skills and Interests with Reflection Questions

By the time students reach middle and high school, they tend to have a good sense of what they like to do, even if they cannot easily express their personal strengths or fully understand how their “likes” can translate into career satisfaction later. For instance, some individuals may thrive in hands-on, technical roles, while others may prefer more academic or managerial positions. Answering thoughtful and intentional reflection questions is a straightforward way to help students uncover valuable insights about themselves and identify where their most marketable skills may lie.

This article shares a great list of questions to help students dig deeper into what they are passionate about and how to connect their passions to goals they might have for the future, including:

    • What subjects or concepts spark your curiosity or excitement?
    • What do you most enjoy doing in your time away from school and extracurriculars?
    • What extracurricular activities, sports, or clubs do you enjoy, and why do you like them?

Don’t forget—it’s a good idea to jot down notes or even write out complete answers to the questions instead of just thinking about them. This way, students can refer back to answers as career exploration continues. Answers may also change over time, which is perfectly normal.

  • Step 2 – Think About Personal Core Values and Goals for Life

An extension of the self-reflection work described in Step 1 above, uncovering individual core values, is incredibly significant—even if it shifts or changes as the student grows and matures. Core values are related to how one approaches life and what are often “non-negotiables” as we make lifestyle choices and discover what kind of work environment—such as an office setting or outdoor job sites—best suits our preferences.

To start, it often helps to read through a comprehensive listing of core values and note which particular words resonate with your student. These lists will include principles like generosity, individuality, quality, and wealth, just to name a few. This listing from Indeed’s Career Guide is comprehensive and includes some valuable tips regarding narrowing down choices if you are unsure.

  • Step 3 – Take Aptitude Tests

To complement the more open-ended self-refection work outlined in the previous steps, professionally designed career aptitude tests can be extremely useful for helping students find their unique strengths. While tests like these can sometimes be intimidating, the results are often quite accurate. Students should keep an open mind and try a test or two. Many high-quality tests can now be taken online for free or at minimal cost, and high school guidance departments may also administer these as part of their regular curriculum. Parents and students should connect with a guidance counselor to learn more about testing options.

Testing Resources for Reference
The following sites provide excellent information about aptitude testing that can be completed online. Each offers helpful, guidance counselor-approved tools, quizzes, and more.

Career Exploration Next Steps: Get to Know the Jobs & Try Them Out

Once students have a sense of their personal values and possible future career pathways, it’s time to delve into research on specific jobs that align with their goals. Begin by exploring broad categories of jobs—sometimes called career clusters—that call for related skillsets. STEM careers, business management careers, and professional trades are just a few examples of career clusters. There are lots of high-quality online resources that provide excellent overviews of these categories, as well as the individual jobs themselves.

Students and families should also take note of the requirements to obtain these roles and the future outlook regarding whether they are susceptible to negative impacts from automation, outsourcing, or other job security threats.

Career Research Resources for Reference
The following sites offer high-quality, data-backed information about many different career options.

While vital to the career exploration process, simply researching jobs cannot show students everything they need to know. Families can look into immersive ways for students to try jobs that interest them now. Job shadowing is a wonderful way to discover what the day-to-day looks like in many careers, and many professionals are willing to invite students into their workplaces for a few hours or a day to observe. Other ways to begin actively trying out career paths may include taking college courses in high school or “earning while you learn” in a summer job or internship opportunity.

At York Catholic, our College and Career Counselors are always ready to help! This includes guiding students and families as they consider all the factors to weigh when determining whether college is the right fit versus work or other opportunities immediately following graduation. Beyond this, our multitude of career exploration resources become available to students beginning in the middle school years. It’s never too early to start planning for a successful future.

What Opportunities Does YC Offer for Career Exploration?

The following YC-based programs and partnerships with York-area organizations are designed to help all students explore possible directions for the future. Some opportunities are tailored toward those considering tech training or military service, though all are open to any qualifying student interested in learning more.

SOAR Career Curriculum (8th & 10th grade)

This career-centered curriculum offers 8th and 10th grade students an opportunity to cultivate skills necessary for success on the job.

8th Grade Career Exploration

Centered around a theme of having a growth mindset, students learn about employability skills. Through many hands-on activities and games, students work on sharpening skills in time management, communication, collaboration/teamwork, goal setting, critical thinking, digital citizenship, and more.

10th Grade Career Exploration

Building on employability skills and centered around the four domains of career readiness, 10th grade students in SOAR develop better self-knowledge through completing personality assessments and the career pathways that match their strengths. Along the way, students explore creating a professional online presence, building resumes, attaining interviewing skills, searching for scholarships, and determining their post-high school pathway. The culminating project results in students creating a portfolio that includes research on their plans for college/university/academy, technical college, the military, or the workforce.

Job Shadowing and Other Programs through York County Alliance for Learning

One of the most exciting opportunities YC has to offer to its students is job shadowing and career exploration through the York County Alliance for Learning (YCAL), which offers four unique ways for students to experience and start preparing for future careers.

Career Exploration Programs

This option features more than 30 unique opportunities for high school students to engage with and explore potential career avenues of interest. Hosted by business partners with expertise in relevant fields, these programs offer insights and training, aiming to enhance students’ understanding of job roles within each career category and the necessary education, training, and skills. Ultimately, the goal is to empower students with the information needed to make well-informed decisions about their future careers. Please note that the YC Guidance Department strongly encourages students to sign up for one or more experiences in the Career Exploration Programs to be completed by or before the first semester of senior year.

Pre-Apprenticeship Program

Designed for high school students enrolled at YCAL’s partner schools, this program supports those considering pursuing an apprenticeship in a chosen trade after graduation. YCAL offers various Pre-Apprenticeship options through several different training partners.

Career Readiness Education Workshop (CREW)

CREW assists students who haven’t yet defined their career or educational trajectory after high school, aiming to facilitate connections and support students in making informed decisions as they near graduation. Upon arrival at the workshop, students can opt to attend three out of sixteen career cluster informational presentations led by industry-related business or training partners. Students are also offered the chance to participate in sessions focusing on post-secondary education and employment skills.

Manufacturing Days

Coinciding with National Manufacturing Day on the first Friday of October, these events seek to raise awareness of manufacturing’s importance locally and beyond. The central focus is organizing customized school tours at diverse manufacturing sites in York County, catering to high school students and offering them insights into the manufacturing world and its influence.

York Tech Flex Program

York Catholic offers our students a unique, intensive opportunity to start their education and career in trades before even graduating from high school! This opportunity occurs during student’s junior and senior years and is available through the York Technical School Flex Program. (Students typically apply during their sophomore year.)

Field Trips to Technical Schools & Colleges

YC offers field trips to Lancaster’s Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology and Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport when possible. Both are excellent technical schools that offer students a fast track to their careers while also providing a higher education setting to their students. YC also offers field trips to college campuses, such as Penn State University and Catholic University.

Military & College Visits to YC

YC has military recruiters and liaisons visiting the school throughout the year. Students are welcome to sign up for these visits to learn more about military commitments and the career training available within each branch of service. Additionally, colleges and technical schools visit YC to talk to students about their future plans.

Career Aptitude Testing

A multiple-aptitude assessment can often be a valuable tool for multi-talented students and those just beginning to determine where their interests and skills intersect to form a possible career path. The YC Guidance department recommends the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) and its accompanying Career Exploration Program (CEP) designed for students in 10th grade and above. Though initially created as a military test in 1968, the ASVAB is now considered the gold standard exam for measuring developed abilities and helping to predict future academic and career success.

Career Panels

YC hosts a number of career panels each year geared toward students in grades 10 to 12. Focus areas of the panels vary, and this year’s offerings include a STEM panel and a Business Management panel. Panelists consist of local professionals and YC alumni.

Careers in the Trades Panel

The YC guidance department regularly hosts a panel for careers in trades. Local professionals from prominent businesses in the area come to YC and speak to students, sharing how they came to be in their roles. The panelists offer students excellent life advice and insight and show that career paths may not always be linear. Students also discover the importance of learning whenever someone is willing to teach and take advantage of opportunities when offered.

Young Alumni Panel

Both recent graduates and more seasoned YC alumni are panelists ready to share their knowledge and experience with junior and senior students. The panel focuses on life after high school, how to prepare for college, and how to prepare for entering the workforce or technical school.

How Do I Ensure That My Student Finds the Best Career?

The path to identifying the right career is very personal, and each student will have a unique journey based on their individual preferences, goals, and circumstances. Taking an intentional approach that starts early with conversations, reflection, and deliberate exploration and continues through facilitated opportunities to get early experiences with careers of interest can build a strong foundation for future planning.

Get the Printable Guide

Click the button below to download the printable guide featuring the career exploration tips above.

Preparing students of all faiths and backgrounds for future success in college and their careers is at the core of our approach at York Catholic. The heart of YC’s academic program is a dedication to helping students cultivate their passions, develop their strengths, and ready them for a rapidly changing world. Have questions about our educational programs? We invite you to get in touch.

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