Lessons from a Career Planning Director on Preparing for Your Career

Posted by: Dana Sumner, Director, Career Planning

Fountain at Science and Math Building

As you consider where to go to college, I’m sure you’re thinking about what you plan to study and how that decision will prepare you for the career you hope to pursue. In my 17 years in the career planning field, I have worked with students who come to college knowing what they want to do with their lives (though that often changes when they get to college – up to 75% of students change their major at least once), while others may not be as sure.

In this post, I’d like to talk about some productive steps you can take to make informed career decisions during college (including some things you can do to get started even before you go to college!).

Take an active and intentional approach to understanding yourself.

This is critical to finding a career in which you will thrive. Here are some things about yourself you should consider when working with a career counselor (and others on campus such as your academic advisor):

  • Interests: likes and dislikes
  • Skills: aptitude, ability
  • Values: what is important to you
  • Strengths: talent practiced and invested (knowledge + skills)
  • Passions: excitement
  • Motivations: ambition and drive, determination

Learn about the career options available.

How do you do this?

  • Read about careers, job titles, and industries
  • Test options out – to help clarify a fit and to make connections – internships, research, study abroad, leadership, volunteering – you name it!
  • Read LinkedIn profiles of alumnae/i from schools you’re considering. In our case, search for Meredith students and alumnae – this will help you gain a picture of how they’ve used their degree and major
  • Explore websites to learn more about a school’s majors and how students combine their academic interests and experiential learning. For example, you could read and watch Strong Stories of Meredith students and alumnae
  • Talk to individuals in those career paths. Your parents, family friends, and connections you make through employment and volunteering can serve as a jumping off point for conversations. What would you say? Here are a few ideas: Describe your career path. How do people enter this field? What advice do you have for students preparing to enter this field?
  • Special note for parents: one of the best things you can do for your daughter is to connect her with people you know in various careers for your student to learn about that field, to ask questions, to shadow, and to potentially be mentored by that professional

When can you get started?
Before you even go to college! I often encourage students to log on to and take the variety of assessments available for free to help you narrow in on your interests, skills, and values.

Once you get to college, it is never too early to meet with the career office. In fact those who explore and make discoveries beginning their freshman year are better prepared and usually employed or heading to graduate school by the end of their senior year.

So, what can you do in the next 10 minutes? Next day? Next month? By the end of the semester? Here are some ideas:

  • take an assessment on CFNC
  • set up your LinkedIn profile and explore profiles of Meredith alumnae and those of other colleges on your list
  • set up an informational interview and talk with a professional – through a connection of a family member – about their career
  • talk with faculty on your college visits about what their alumnae/i go on to do and how their education helped get them there

Bottom line: it’s okay not to know right now what you want to do … college will give you time for discovery and the opportunities you need, provided you make the most of the resources that are available to you, starting early and continuing throughout your college career.

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