Unit 7: Career Exploration
“Stay focused, go after your dreams, and keep moving toward your goals.”
– LL Cool J
College and Career: Key Connections
Think back to the time when you first began to contemplate college. Do you remember specific thoughts? Were you excited about the idea? What began to draw you into the web of college life? What compels you to be here now?
In this topic on career and college readiness, we examine key connections between your motivations to be in college and your ultimate success in achieving your goals. We also examine how your college experience prepares you for a specific career, as well as for attaining general skills that you can apply to multiple pursuits.
Exercise 23-1: Motivations for Attending College
- Review some of the many motivations students have for entering college.
- Identify your personal motivations as pathways to achieving goals.
- Review the table below, which lists various motivations cited by other students.
- Identify your main motivations, and rank your top five.
- Reflect on your selections in terms of how they connect with short-term and long-term plans for the future.
Understanding your motivations is essential to helping you not only prioritize your plans for the future but also gain inspiration about directions you may not have yet charted. Ultimately, your motivations for being in college align you with roadways to fulfilling your goals and ambitions.
|MY TOP FIVE||MOTIVATIONS FOR ATTENDING COLLEGE|
|Gain more qualifications in my field|
|Increase my earning potential; make more money|
|Show others that I can succeed|
|Start an independent life|
|Satisfy my curiosity|
|Change my career|
|Do what my parents were not able to do|
|Find a better lifestyle|
|Build my confidence|
|Expand my social contacts; bond with new friends|
|Improve my network of business associates|
|Gain exposure to a wide array of topics|
|Attend campus events|
|Make my family happy|
|Fulfill my dreams|
|Take classes at home or work or anywhere|
|Take advantage of campus resources like the library and gym|
|Join a sports team|
|Join campus organizations|
|Spend my time during retirement|
|Have continued support via alumni programs|
|Learn to study and work on my own|
|Gain access to professors|
|Link up with people who already excel in the ways I aspire to|
|Get sports spirit|
|Gain more access to entertainment like theater and bands|
|Be more productive in life|
|Become well versed in many subjects|
|Dig deeper into learning than I did in high school|
|Expand my knowledge of the world|
|Learn a trade|
Am I College and Career Ready?
What does it mean to be ready for college and a career? In general, college- and career-readiness is defined as having gained the necessary knowledge, skills, and professional behaviors to achieve at least one of the following:
- Earn a certificate or degree in college
- Participate in career training
- Enter the workplace and succeed
For instance, you are college-ready if you have the reading, writing, mathematics, social, and thinking skills to qualify for and succeed in the academic certificate or degree program of your choice.
Similarly, you are a career-ready student if you have the necessary knowledge and technical skills needed to be employed in your desired field. For example, if you are ready to be a nurse, you possess the knowledge and skills needed to secure an entry-level nursing position (probably from the classes and training you have taken), and you also possess required licensing.
“Ultimately, college and career readiness demands students know more than just content, but demonstrate that they know how to learn and build upon that content to solve problems. They must develop versatile communication skills, work collaboratively and work competitively in a school or work environment. Ensuring that you possess both the academic and technical know-how necessary for a career beyond the classroom is a great step toward succeeding on whatever path you choose.”
– Washington, DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education
College and Career Readiness in Your State
So where are you on the readiness scale? You can find out how your state measures your readiness. Visit the Interactive State Map at the College and Career Readiness and Success Center of the American Institutes for Research Web site. The map leads you to definitions of college and career readiness for your state. It also provides metrics to measure readiness. And it provides information about programs and structures to help you and educators. You can compare states across one or more categories.
The Marriage of College and Career
Is “public employment” preparation still the goal of higher education institutions today? Indeed, it is certainly one of the many goals! College is also an opportunity for students to grow personally and intellectually. In fact, in a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, Americans were split on their perceptions of the main purpose of a college education:
- 47 percent of those surveyed said the purpose of college is to teach work-related skills.
- 39 percent said it is to help a student grow personally and intellectually.
- 12 percent said the time spent at college should be dedicated to both pursuits—teaching work-related skills and helping students grow personally and intellectually.
These statistics are understandable in light of the great reach and scope of higher education institutions. Today, there are some 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States, offering every manner of education and training to students.
The statistics above are over 10 years old. Do you think these opinions have changed? Survey your classmates to learn what they think the main purpose of higher education is.
What do employers think about the value of a college education? What skills do employers seek in their workforce? A 2021 report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities revealed that the majority of employers believe college education is important and valuable in new employees. However, many said that new graduates often do not have enough field-specific knowledge that would prepare them for success in their careers. Many employers want students to have practical training, in addition to their college degrees, in the form of internships, practicums, or other kinds of field-specific work.
Employers also said that when they hire, they place the greatest value on skills and knowledge that cut across all majors. The learning outcomes they rate as most important include written and oral communication skills, teamwork skills, ethical decision-making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings. 
Employment Rates and Salaries
Consider, too, the following statistics on employment rates and salaries for college graduates. College does make a big difference!
- The average person with a bachelor’s degree earns $20,000 per year more than someone who has only finished high school. 
- In 2019, young adults ages 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree or higher had a higher employment rate (87 percent) than young adults with just some college (74 percent). (NCES)
- The employment rate for young adults with just some college (80 percent) was higher than the rate for those who had completed high school. (NCES)
- The employment rate for those who completed high school (74percent) was higher than the employment rate for young adults who had not finished high school. (NCES)
- Getting a degree is especially important for women, who show the most difference of employment between those having a bachelor’s degree (83 percent) and those who had not completed high school (39 percent). 
You can see this data visualized here: https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2020/comm/labor-force-by-education.html
It is important to note that higher earnings very often come with higher debt, especially if you take out loans to pay for your college education. In the Unit 10, we will cover important information on college finances. Being aware of how you are paying for college now will help ensure that the benefits of a college education will not be offset by the burden of gigantic student loans. However, despite the cost, college does impart a wide and deep range of benefits. The short video Why College, below, shows that with a college degree you are more likely to:
- Have a higher salary
- Have and keep a job
- Get a pension plan
- Be satisfied with your job
- Feel your job is important
- Have health insurance
Video: Why College?
Success in college can be measured in many ways: through your own sense of what is important to you; through your family’s sense of what is important; through your institution’s standards of excellence; through the standards established by your state and country; through your employer’s perceptions about what is needed in the workplace; training for and becoming an entrepreneur, small business owner, or your own boss; and in many respects through your own unfolding goals, dreams, and ambitions.
How are you striving to achieve your goals? And how will you measure your success along the way?
Licenses and Attributions:
CC licensed content, Original:
- Beiderwell, Bruce, Linda F. Tse, Tom Lochhaas, and Nicholas B. deKanter. “College Success”. Lumen Learning. 2016. Located at: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/collegesuccess-lumen/chapter/the-big-picture/ License: CC BY: Attribution.
All rights reserved content:
- “Why College?” YouTube.com, uploaded by OregonGEARUP. 2012. Located at: https://youtu.be/-N6nru0nThg. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
- Finley, Ashley. “How college contributes to workforce success,” Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2021, https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/research/AACUEmployerReport2021.pdf.
Public domain content:
- What Does College and Career Readiness Mean? Provided by: Office of the State Superintendent of Education. Located at: http://osse.dc.gov/service/what-does-college-and-career-readiness-mean. License: Public Domain: No Known Copyright.
Adaptions: Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom essay removed (exists elsewhere in this work), relocated learning objectives, removed Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment graph, updated footnote references, modified footnote formatting. Removed job fair image. October 2021: Updated statistics and footnotes to reflect current economic trends.
- “What Does College and Career Readiness Mean?,” Office of the State Superintendent of Education, accessed April 26, 2018, https://osse.dc.gov/service/what-does-college-and-career-readiness-mean. ↵
- “How college contributes to workforce success,” Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2021, https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/research/AACUEmployerReport2021.pdf. ↵
- "Median annual earnings of full-time year-round workers 25 to 34 years old and full-time year-round workers as a percentage of the labor force, by sex, race/ethnicity, and educational attainment: Selected years, 1995 through 2018." National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_502.30.asp ↵
- "Employment Rates of College Graduates." National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=561 ↵