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ISSUES IN COLLEGE READINESS

COLLEGE

READINESS

Career Planning: Students Need Help

Starting Early and Staying Focused

Many students rely heavily on their interests when making college and career

choices. Understanding how interests develop and relate to academic

achievement will help high school counselors and other educators determine

both when and how to help students prepare for college and a career. Students

make more informed educational and career plans if they receive

individualized and accurate feedback about their interests and academic

achievement.

ACT’s Educational Planning and Assessment System® (EPAS) provides

academic achievement, career interest, and educational planning information to

eighth, tenth, and eleventh/twelfth grade students and their parents. ACT’s

Interest Inventory is a component of its three EPAS programs (EXPLORE®,

PLAN®, and the ACT®) and is administered to students at each of these grade

levels. Because such a large number of schools participate in EPAS, ACT is

able to study the academic and career-interest development of students from

middle school through high school.

The sample for this study was based on 69,987 ACT-tested students who had

participated in EPAS between 1997 and 2001. By following these students over

time from eighth grade to high school graduation, we were able to answer

several important questions about students’ academic achievement and career

development. The answers to these questions enable counselors, teachers, and

parents to assist students during important academic and career transitions.

When Do Students Begin Thinking About Their Career

Interests?

Students have career and occupational interests as early as the eighth grade

(Tracey, Robbins, & Hofsess, 2005; Wimberly & Noeth, 2004). These interests

then become clearer as students progress through high school. Remarkably, the

interests of all students appear to develop at the same rate (Tracey & Robbins,

in press), whether these interests include working with data or ideas, having

technical and scientific careers, such as engineering, or having social careers,

such as teaching or social work.

Most researchers agree that interests develop as a result of experience. Middle

school is a good time to begin encouraging students to participate in a range of

experiences. Students who have explored all of their educational and career

options make more informed career decisions.2

Are Students’ Academic Achievement and Career

Interests Related?

Although they certainly overlap, career interests and academic achievement

appear to develop independently. That is, students may often have skills in an

area in which they have little interest, or may be interested in an area in which

they have few skills.

In making educational and career decisions, students need to be encouraged to

consider both their interests and their skills. In cases where interests are

stronger than skills, students should be encouraged to consider strategies for

improving their skills.

Are Students’ Career Interests Consistent with Their

College Major and Career Choices?

Research suggests that it is important for students to have interests that are

consistent with their college major and, ultimately, their career choice

(Leuwerke, Robbins, Sawyer, & Hovland, 2004). Students who have interests

that are consistent with their choice of college major are more likely to remain

in college. Further, individuals who are interested in their work are more

satisfied with that work.

Even when students’ interests and choices are consistent, however, students’

career choices may not be consistent with current or future workforce demands.

For example, more ACT-tested students express a desire to enter occupations

in the visual, performing, and applied arts than there are jobs in these areas. In...
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