Because you can't make up an an uninformed mind.
December 8, 2008 8:49 AM   Subscribe

My neighbour’s eighteen-year-old daughter, let’s call her “Kay”, is in her last year of high school. She’s trying to decide on a post-secondary course of study for next year. I suspect she’s in the same boat that I, and most of my friends, were in when we graduated high school. To wit: we had virtually no idea of what educational and career options were actually out there; very little idea of what our temperaments and strengths actually were, let alone what kind of career path would suit them; and no clue how to go about researching and finding these things out. Moreover, I don't know how good her school's guidance counsellors are, but mine were next to, if not worse than, useless. What information and resources are out there for Kay to give her a good sense of what her options are and help her figure out what area of study would interest her and suit her abilities?

I don’t want to overwhelm her with a mountain of very complex information; anything I give her needs to be straightforward and accessible, and also tailored to Canada/Ontario/Toronto. She probably would be best to go to a community college rather than a university at this point, and I have thought of having catalogues mailed to her so she can browse through them and see what interests her. One thing that was really helpful to me when I was picking out a course of study was a listing of all the programs in Ontario by topic — is there anything like that available now?
posted by orange swan to Education (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Has she thought about taking a year off to "discover" herself? A "Gap Year" seems like a trendy thing to do, and some colleges are even encouraging it. Admissions officers have begun to realize the benefits, and I wish it was something that was available to me at her age. The would be many ways to fill it, from volunteering to resource-based traveling, to internships and part-time work. It's important to make it worth-her-while, for taking a year to sit on the couch tweaking your MySpace won't necessarily help her expand nor focus.
posted by spoons at 9:03 AM on December 8, 2008

From another who had been in said boat, me thinks the best thing to do is do different things while amassing credits, if it's possible. My university had a considerable measure of core requirements--language, science credits, at least one math, one creative arts, some history and English--for most degrees.

As would be the case with most people, I enjoyed some courses more than others; enjoyed some and found that the learning/grasping the information was a struggle; and enjoyed some, found that grasping the information/producing the required work came with relative ease, I enjoyed it and people were pleased with my efforts. As you might have guessed, my degree and career came from the last example mentioned
posted by ambient2 at 9:10 AM on December 8, 2008

Get her to meet adults in various professions and talk to them about their work. I realize this may be logistically difficult when you're talking about the range of all potential fields, and may in some cases be further constrained by geography/available transportation, but I found that to be much more helpful than reading promotional materials. I've found that people that like their work are generally happy to explain it and talk about the skills they need and have developed. It might also help to have her talk particularly to adults who majored in something unrelated/tangentially related to their chosen career to drive home the point that while the choice is important, it isn't set in stone and that critical thinking/writing/etc. skills are very portable.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:18 AM on December 8, 2008

I always recommend community college to high school graduates. It's not as hard (usually), its often MUCH cheaper, less stress, you can take a bewildering number of varied classes to see what interests you, AND it will (probably) all count towards the General Ed requirements for a major degree. Takes a couple years and then one is ready for transfer to a major university, where you are, in theory, better prepared to get your academic ass kicked than you were straight out of high school. And you have time to party etc and do what all young people do during that time in their life without completely wrecking your GPA.

Well, thats how it works here anyway. If there is a Canadian equivilant, I highly recommend it.
posted by elendil71 at 9:28 AM on December 8, 2008

My cousin went the vocational college route and ended up a happy, well-paid, business/systems analyst. Then again she's generally a very happy person. She chose her program by taking a college's course calendar and opening it up at random. Her reasoning was that there wasn't going to be a perfect fit between her and any career so she thought she would just make the most of wherever she landed. She had gone to an arts high school so this technical field was not exactly a logical progression. She decided after finishing college to upgrade at a technical university.
posted by waterandrock at 9:35 AM on December 8, 2008

I think this is a very good question and was in the same boat myself. I fell into my career and could never have predicted where I'd end up. It took quite a few years. I'm not sure that you should be in a hurry, but if there was a way she could take a year off and dip her toes into a different career each month...perhaps a temp agency?
posted by idb at 9:37 AM on December 8, 2008

Do kids have to choose majors straight out of the gate these days or something? Where I went to college, we didn't have to choose a major until we became juniors. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I entered—I just took a variety of liberal-arts and science classes. By the time I was a junior, I had an idea what I wanted to do, and fortunately for me, the mix of classes I'd already taken fit well with my major.

I'll corroborate the worthlessness of college counselors. The college counselor at my high school told me to consider enlisting in the military instead of college (this is much weirder than it may seem).
posted by adamrice at 9:40 AM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding community college types of institutions. I went to one after high school, and discovered that were I not already in love with art, I'd be a cultural anthropologist. Getting the gen eds out of the way will allow for much more time to find that thing that moves you.
posted by Bakuun at 9:40 AM on December 8, 2008

I'm in Toronto. In high school I did a couple of tests. One was called "The Canadian Work Preference Inventory" and the other was called "Jackson Vocational Inventory Survey." Basicaly these tests asked question like "Would you rather sail a boat or read book? Would you rather decorate a cake or cook a meal? Would you rather play a computer game or watch a movie?" etc. etc. with thousands of options some obviously career-y and some recreational etc.

Then after a couple of weeks you got the results. On test measures five dimensions (Directive, Innovative, Methodical, Objective) and told you how high you scored on each, and the other had a bunch of areas of interest or things that a person might value in a job (Creative arts, mathematics, adventure, personal service, job secuirty, teaching, finance, supervision, independence and lots more) as well as more personality characterisitcs (expressive, logical, inquiring, assertive etc.). You got your scores on each dimension *AND* you got a lost of occupations and university/college majors commnoly chosen by people who scored similarly to you.

For example, I scored in the 97th percentile on desire for independence and in the fourth percentile for interest in engineering.

My top suggested occupations across the different tests were teaching, research, and occupations in social science. Now i"m a professor in the social sciences.

You can do JVIS online now here and find more info about the Canadian Work Preference Inventory here

The advice to go to college instead of university is based on the US ed system. In canada I would say don't go to college unless you know what you want to do. To keep your options open, go to university, take some intro courses and see what grabs your interest.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:45 AM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is she sure she wants to go to college? Ask her why! I wish someone would have asked me and made me answer specifically. It would have saved me a bundle of money and a year of my life. If she is ready to go to college and if she really wants to go, then she'll take the question seriously and do some good soul searching and be able to talk about the reasons she wants to attend college.

Nowadays I see all of these kids going off to school without really thinking about why they want to go, what life path they are going down. Does she really want a career? Does she think or expect that it will lead to greater happiness? Does she want a career for financial security? No, I'm not being facetious. I'm absolutely serious. These questions NEED to be asked.
posted by symbollocks at 9:50 AM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would tell her that a good technical associate's degree is an awesome investment BUT....

If you go for a technical associate's degree do yourself a favor and take transfer level credits for the required generals. In my case, I randomly took some generals at transfer level and some at the non-transfer level The difference in difficulty was not noticeable. But the difference in transferring credits to a 4 year college is HUGE.

Cuz trust me, it is extremely irritating sitting through some lame gen ed requirement at a technical college and having it not count and having to take its doppleganger at a university.

I'm looking at you 'Contemporary American Society'!!!
posted by ian1977 at 9:50 AM on December 8, 2008

I'd also recommend not feeling pressured to choose a major. When I went to college we had to declare it our second year. My first year, I was strongly considering: Physics, Astrophysics, Spanish Literature, Medieval European History and Linguistics.

I took classes in almost all of the above my first year and its amazing how soon you discover what actually inspires you in a more rigorous setting surrounded by motivated classmates. In colleges with their vast libraries and departments is, I thought, supposed to be the place where you discover what excites you.
posted by vacapinta at 9:54 AM on December 8, 2008

One of the biggest problems facing my (ontario high school) students is the inability to connect a college or university course/diploma/degree to a career.

They tend to think a bit narrowly in getting from point A to point B. Make sure that she knows that it's generally OK to start something without a fully developed idea of where it will take her.

It would likely be beneficial to take some time to explain to her the differences between a college diploma and a university degree, and provide examples of the different career opportunities that may result from selecting one or the other.
posted by davey_darling at 9:59 AM on December 8, 2008

Honestly, I think a lot of the university vs. college thing is dependent on the person. I have a friend who started out the same year as me at Laurier, went into Psych, ran with it, and is now a Psychology-Political Science double major with a minor in Religion and Culture. University is totally her thing, and she thrives on it. She'll probably be doing a master's, if not a doctorate.

I, on the other hand, floundered through two years of Communication Studies, failing left right and centre before finally cluing in that maybe University wasn't for me. Halfway through a class on Boolean logic I went home, applied to a highly specific college program, and dropped out of university. I'm a thousand times happier with my education now, because I go to school with ~50 students, six faculty members, and get constant, tailored feedback.

In terms of finding programs-- Ontario Colleges has a program listing here; a similar university based tool is here. I also really recommend going to see any of the schools she displays interest in. My guidance counselor arranged a few trips for us and it really helped to get a sense of the campus, the city, and the atmosphere. I learned that UofT was waaaay to big for me, while Nipissing felt like a high school.
posted by riane at 10:40 AM on December 8, 2008

This is maybe slightly off the point but it stood out to me that you are a neighbor and dont seem to know too many specifics about the situation with the girl.

I would have been slightly weirded out by the pressure of a neighbor suddenly jumping in on my college search.
Not to mention that at that age I just wanted everybody, including my own parents, to get off my back about the "big decision".

Its possible you are good friends with them or have a personal relationship with the girl, in which case it may seem natural and welcome... If not, or maybe too if so
How about calling up the girl or her parents and offering to take the girl out to coffee to talk about the issue? Tell them you remember being overwhelmed in the situation and you thought she might be interested in your perspective and had some ideas to help her in the search.

You might start off by telling her about your university/major/profession and how you feel your interests or skills come into play in them. Is yours a good or bad match, get her thinking about looking at that. There are some personality tests which highlight strengths and interests she may not have thought of (working with people, hands on, introverted, likes problem solving, math/science vs humanities) that shouldn't make decisions for her but may set her in gear towards making decisions that reflect things she'll like and benefit from.

Ask her what resources she already has or has looked into. If shes already getting overwhelmed by school/parents/etc she may not want lots of extra help. I was in the US but at school we had sessions and counselors dedicated to helping, my parents were involved, and I had millions of mailings coming to the house. If this isn't the case for her, offer your help in an info search. Once shes narrowed down help her solicit info from the schools or offer to accompany her on a visit and tour (personally, at 18 I would have been capable of going on my own to visit but without someone kind of pushing me to do so I would have been lazy or reluctant to get around to it).

If she really seems lost or open to your help and you take on the role of facilitating her search maybe you could do something cute like buy a 3 ring binder and throw in some newspaper articles or college search checklists to bring around to your campus visits (theyll give out tons of handouts).

But like I said, make sure she wants this help first and its not another unneeded pressure
posted by nzydarkxj at 11:29 AM on December 8, 2008

A starting off point might be asking her what she really enjoys doing, and then trying to find a way to make money doing it. Whether it's writing, working with children, playing on the computer, working on car engines; lots of these activities can translate to careers.
posted by NoraCharles at 12:59 PM on December 8, 2008

One of the biggest problems facing my (ontario high school) students is the inability to connect a college or university course/diploma/degree to a career.

This, most definitely.

It would take effort on her part, but I think it would be worthwhile for her to do some volunteering in any field of interest she may have. She may be interested in NGOs or not-for-profit organizations but not understand what people do there, other than save hungry children or the Amazon rain forest. Volunteering would allow her to experience the job culture, learn what programs or degrees would get her a better job and make connections for the future.
posted by Rora at 1:41 PM on December 8, 2008

Why should she go to college at all? Working and travelling are a pretty great way to go, and that's about the best time to do it.

I feel like if someone can't figure out what they want to do when they go to college they might better off not go.
posted by sully75 at 2:17 PM on December 8, 2008

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