Cindy Krischer Goodman

To high school grads: Plan careers with care

This week, my oldest son will graduate from high school. I want to give him advice about what to study in college and direct him toward a career with high growth prospects. I also want to encourage him to follow his passion. But guiding a teen into a future career is a tough task.

Like most high school graduates, my son hasn’t been exposed to many careers and only has a vague idea of what he wants to do for a living. He wants what most millennials desire: meaningful work and job satisfaction.

As the future workforce chooses careers, guiding them will require different considerations than prior generations. This new generation of students must know more than how much a career pays. They must also consider whether a career has growth potential and fits the lifestyle they want to live. Research shows this generation will put a high value on working in jobs it enjoys.

My son is among those high school graduates who spent the past four years focused on the arduous task of getting accepted to the college of their choice. Now, as he and his fellow freshmen walk onto campus, they must become aware that their goal is not just to make it into college, but find a career and eventually a job that pays the rent. The most popular college major among incoming freshmen is “undecided,” and even among those who do have a major selected, 75 percent change their minds (and their majors).

To help our future workforce find a direction, college career centers are revamping, trying to guide students earlier about job fields that have potential for employment after graduation. This can be crucial when 90 percent of the 2015 college graduates said they expect to find work in their field of study, but only 64 percent of 2013 and 2014 grads actually did, according to Accenture’s annual college graduate survey released in May. More students (and parents) are doing the cost/benefit analysis before choosing majors, and colleges are often forced to justify graduating students who can’t get jobs that cover their student loan costs. One of the most surprising survey findings is that 49 percent of recent 2013 and 2014 grads consider themselves underemployed.

Lynn University, a private college in Boca Raton, launched a new freshman initiative last year to help students find their paths to employment. “We try to help them by give them lists of occupations they can do with each major and help set up experiences for them,” says Barbara Cambia, executive director of Lynn’s Hannifan Center for Career Connections. Cambia says she also injects a dose of reality into the process, aligning students’ lifestyle priorities with the career path they plan to pursue: “I tell them if you are thinking about the hospitality field and you have an issue with working evenings or weekends, that’s not the industry for you.”

If pay is the priority, career centers now make college graduates aware that the highest-paying majors earn $3.4 million more than those with the lowest-paying majors over the course of their careers, according to a study by the Georgetown University Center of Education and the Workforce. Those high-paying majors are engineering, biochemistry, computer science, mathematics, physics, finance, economics and statistics and pharmaceutical science. Those lower-paying majors are in the arts, education and community service.

Yet, while young job seekers ranked pay and advancement opportunities as top job priorities, they said factors such as training, meaningful work, organizational culture and work/life balance are highly valued, too, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

When it comes to choosing a career that lends itself to those priorities, experts steer young people to occupations that align with their interests. Only 32 percent of high school seniors who take the ACT (American College Testing) exam select a college major that correlates with their interests, according to ACT, Inc. These statistics are important because ACT research also reveals that students who pursue degrees closely related to their interests are more likely to remain in those fields and be happy both in school and in their chosen career field.

High school graduates uncertain of their dream job or chosen career field don’t need to fret, says recent college graduate Katlyn Grasso. The point of the next few years is to try out different roles and different types of work environments. She encourages incoming freshman to talk to people in various occupations and ask about their paths: “Don’t worry about your 10-year plan when you are 18. You have to try different things.”

Grasso is trying her hand at entrepreneurism. She graduated in May from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in economics and a grant that she will use to host conferences around the country to empower girls to become leaders. The 22-year-old Grasso, founder of genHERation, is one of the fortunate graduates who created a path for herself right out of school.

Grasso advises high school graduates to choose a major that is widely applicable, as her own major of economics is: “That is something you can apply to marketing, sports, government…it will always be a valuable degree.”

Those majors in which graduates had the most job offers by the time they graduated were computer science, economics, accounting, engineering and business administration, according to the National Association for Colleges and Employers (NACE), which surveyed nearly 10,000 college seniors who were set to earn bachelor’s degrees in the spring of last year.

Workplace expert John Challenger sees young people trying to follow trends but suggests another direction. “No one really knows where the economy is going so choose areas where your natural talents and interest lie, what you tend to be good at,” advises Challenger, who is CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement and career-transitioning firm.

Tomorrow’s workforce has made it clear that it wants meaningful work, a career that matters. Challenger urges young people also to look for that satisfaction from a pleasant work environment, upbeat co-workers or a good boss: “What makes you happy in a career is more than just the work you do.”

In guiding my son, I will tell him there are many ways to make a living. I will encourage him to forge his own path, decide his priorities, build his skill set, and strive for the job satisfaction we all know is possible from finding the right career.

Business Columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman writes regularly on workplace and work life issues. Connect with her at or visit