8 tips for choosing a college program to help meet your career goals
Whether going to school for the first time, changing careers or looking to learn new skills, choosing the right degree program often requires factoring in variables unique to each person’s academic journey. Different life experiences, career paths, and personal and professional goals all contribute to helping identify the best program for their individual needs.
Navigating this decision process can be complex, but there are steps to help ensure the best option rises to the top. Heather Livingston, a University of Phoenix certified career coach, said says this begins with accepting and using uncertainty as an opportunity for career exploration. This can lead to valuable insights about both what to and not to pursue.
“Picking a program is different for everybody. There are many contributing factors, and your choice of program is often impacted by variables like goals, current career path and your personal journey,” Livingston says. “There are ways to narrow down your interests to find a path that leads to work in a field that speaks to your talents.”
Livingston recommends students follow these eight tips to choosing the right college program to help enhance their career.
- Choose a goal-oriented program
Some professions are highly specific, with clear academic programs required for entry. Others, however, are less precise and have a multitude of pathways that can lead to an occupation. Livingston advises avoiding an unnecessarily narrow path.“Students shouldn’t feel restricted,” she says. “There may be many different ways to get to the career you want.”
Livingston recommends talking with an academic advisor or a career coach. They can help address questions about aligning academics with career goals and assist in identifying programs that meet each student’s needs.
Reviewing learning outcomes is another great resource to help inform program decisions. University of Phoenix includes learning outcomes on each program’s page on phoenix.edu, and students can compare these outcomes with the skills needed to meet their career goals.
- Conduct informational interviews
Informational interviews can provide great firsthand perspective. Ask a person who is in a program or position you are interested in for a discussion to get their insight.“If you are struggling to decide on a job or program, connect with someone. Ask for an informational 15–20-minute interview. That person can provide granular details to expand on,” Livingston says. “You can better inform your decision by engaging with different people.”
- Use assessment tools
For students who remain unsure about their career path, Livingston recommends assessment tools for additional guidance on identifying talents and areas of interest. These tools can help assess your skills and abilities or identify your value in the workplace.Livingston recommends the free Self-Directed Search tool for anyone looking to home in on their strengths. This test accounts for both subject aptitude and interest while exploring options for goals and career planning.
- Try out personality tests
Another type of assessment tool are personality tests, which can help identify a primary personality trait. The identified trait can then be used to pick a program and occupation based on the preferences typical of that trait.Take personal traits into account when assessing potential career choices. The traits can help to evaluate a person’s potential for success and enjoyment in a particular career. Livingston recommends an assessment that follows the Meyers Briggs typology.
- Pursue what you enjoy
Keep your interests and hobbies in mind when choosing a program. Discovering your passions and work that is enjoyable can help you choose a direction.Livingston suggests asking the following: What is it about my hobbies that I enjoy? What skills or strengths apply to that area of interest in my life?
“Recognizing the things that already make you happy allows you to know yourself better, which is what you’ll need to choose the best program for you,” Livingston says.
- Avoid things you don’t like
While many of us have a multitude of strengths and activities we enjoy, getting stuck doing something we don’t like is a miserable experience, Livingston says.“Identifying what you don’t like is of equal importance to identify what you do like,” she says. “Steer clear of disciplines that don’t utilize your strengths, and recognize that you may not be able to avoid certain subjects altogether.”
- Follow your intuition
Listen to your instincts as you research programs. If you are encouraged by something, learn more about it. If you are disappointed or underwhelmed by something you’ve learned about a job or program, it’s OK to make a change.“Feelings of encouragement or disappointment are strong indicators of whether you are on the right path,” Livingston says.
- Be flexible
People change, and it is not uncommon for goals to shift. As you progress in your education, you might realize that you need to modify your direction to better suit your changing goals.“Your program can grow with you just as much as it can get you to the dream job of your choice,” Livingston says. “Allow yourself the room to grow.”