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
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
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
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...