So Your Kid is Having Career Day

We used to love Career Day when we were kids. It got us out of the humdrum, boring day-to-day classes, and it gave us an opportunity to hear what some of our classmates’ parents did for a living. One year we even got to dress up for the career of our choice.

But how do kids really learn about careers? Career Day is helpful, but one day really really isn’t enough. Working in higher education for several decades has shown me that by the time students get to college, a large percentage still have no clue as to what they want to do professionally with their lives. High school guidance counselors don’t help either when they tell students to sign up for college as undeclared majors. They can figure it out once they take a few classes, or so students are told.

The problem with this strategy is that 1) the initial classes college students take tend to be general education requirements, prereqs for the upper level classes that are more likely to define their likes/dislikes, and 2) it is an expensive and hit-or-miss way to find a career interest, especially when the student may need an extra semester to complete his/her degree.

I get the idea of education for education’s sake, but with college getting ever more expensive, students and parents want to see tangible results, a solid job at the end of four or six or ten years of study. And I am not sure we are doing a good job of telling our students at ANY level why getting a solid education is important. There is a push for more career coaching at the high school level. But we need to be looking at the lower grades as well.

For example, how good of a job do parents and teachers do in explaining why knowing the periodical table is important to everyday life and how it is used on the job? What do you tell a child who struggles to answer basic comprehension questions about a story read in class? Why is it important to know about the angles in different triangles? The question I hear most of often from students of every age is, “Why do I have to know this?” Perhaps we need to make every day Career Day and take time to explain why learning is relevant to everyone’s life.