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Jessica Russo

Picking the Right Career Path for Non-Traditional Students

Posted by Jessica Russo on February 6, 2014

Do you know what you want to do after college? If you are a non-traditional student, you probably think you do, and yet you may not. And even if you think you know, it is good to be sure since college is a big financial investment.

Susan Basalla May wrote an advice column on the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “How to Do What You Love,” about the criteria one should use when looking for the right job[1]. We often hear the cliché “Do what you love,” but for many people, that is either a very obscure statement or it does not sound very practical. For example, there are many hobbies that I love doing, but what should I pursue that I can enjoy doing constantly for more than a month and make a living, even if it is a modest one? This article gives some practical suggestions for finding a good career path for any student, even those who say that they have got it all figured out.

One point that stuck out to me stated that looking through the classified ads to pick a career is a bad idea. We think that it will help to scan all the job listings, but if we do not know what we want, we would end up fitting ourselves into each job description available to us. We then neglect to consider whether that option will lead to a career choice that feels right.

Next, May describes a better approach called the “Library Vacation,” where you spend three days in the library reading whatever attracts you. Afterwards, you can think of how you can apply your skills and experience to that line of work. Another tip consists of writing to look back into your past triumphs. Personally I have not tried these methods. I do not doubt that they would work, but they take a lot of time, and one may not see the point if they are running a busy lifestyle.

I prefer the last method that she stated, “Dive in.” Try something out. Explore. If you are in college, you can work part-time or volunteer in an area that you have a feeling you would like. A low risk opportunity to feel the working environment for yourself would give you a better idea than any if you could enjoy it, or even bear it.

The dive in method has worked for me. By interning, not only was I able to evaluate whether I liked a particular type of career, I was able to build a rapport with my superiors that opens even better opportunities for me and builds my resume while I am still a student. For someone who likes to get their hands in the field and try things out to learn about them, this is the best method.

Whichever exploration method you choose will take a little extra time, but this time can save you a lot of work-related stress in the future. If you take a couple of hours a week to find your passion, your internal motivator, it will ultimately make you and your loved ones happier. Check the websites of the Career Development Center to explore new careers and the Center for Innovative and Continuing Education for advising and more.

No matter what you strive for, you will struggle. When we base our life choices solely on external motivators like paying the bills and being respected, we can run at risk for burning out too soon. But as long as we have an internal motivator for our goal, our determination does not quit. Make sure that whatever you strive for will fulfill your personal passion as well as your familial and financial needs, so that you will feel motivated from the inside and out.

Finding out the right work takes time, the article stresses. It can take “a variety of work experiences.” It could take years after graduation. Do not worry if you have not found it yet. Every day is a chance to realign yourself to your vision for the future.


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