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Home  /  News  /  Career Planning Guide for High School Students

Career Planning

An Essential Career Planning Guide for High School Students

Students are expected to make big decisions about their futures while they are still in high school. This career planning guide for high school students can help young people and their families start preparing early for college and beyond.

High school career exploration helps set students up for success later in life. Whether you are a student yourself or a parent looking for guidance on how to help a high schooler choose a career, you will find this guide beneficial for career exploration and planning. 

Unity Career Planning Guide Blog Cover

Unity College connects students directly with employers  using an innovative career exploration tool.

Goals of Career Planning for High School Students

Career planning for high school students is about exploring many different careers in the hopes of finding something they enjoy doing and that they can make money from. It’s essential to begin this process before students graduate from high school and have to choose a major in college or enter the workforce. The goals of career planning for high school students include:

Steps on How to Do Career Preparation for High School Students

It is never too early for high school students to begin exploring career ideas, but they may struggle with where to begin for career readiness. If you are a parent or guardian, use these steps as guidance to provide career advice for high school students. 

Define Your Interests and Hobbies

Discover the Education Requirements of the Career

Apply for Internships

Exploring Interests and Hobbies

Finding a career that brings you joy and fulfillment will increase your quality of life. Think about the things you enjoy doing and learning about. If you aren’t sure yet, explore different types of hobbies. Don’t be afraid to try something new and step outside your comfort zone. This is a great way to learn more about yourself.

There are often more career pathways for high school students that align with their interests than they imagine. For example, if you are passionate about horses, there are  equine careers  where you can work directly with horses every day. For young people that like being outside but prefer learning about plants over animals, there are  careers for outdoor enthusiasts . 

Think About Your Strengths and Needs

Part of a successful career is having a talent for the tasks required for the job. Career exploration activities for high school students should include analyzing their academic, physical, and social strengths. Taking an online aptitude test is a great way to do this. Also, students can identify where they succeed in school. If their favorite class is math or science, they may enjoy a STEM career such as  environmental science . 

Choosing a career after high school can be a smooth journey when the young person has a strong sense of self. Here are some questions young people can ask themselves to increase their introspection around what kind of careers they would thrive in:

Look for a  career that has a positive impact on the world  and matches your strengths and interests.

Explore Career Options at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and on Blogs

Most young people that want to know how to choose a career after high school will turn to the Internet for answers. Parents and guardians would be helping their high school students choose a career by guiding their children to reliable websites for career exploration. Young people should also know how to assess the credibility of a website. 

Of all the career resources for high school students to explore potential career fields, the  Bureau of Labor Statistics  (BLS) is one of the most valuable. It contains important data for career planning such as:

BLS and many online blogs have lists of career choices for high school students. Colleges and universities also often have reliable career guides for high school students. Many of these are based on popular interests such as this  guide to careers working with wildlife  from Unity College.

Discover the Pay for the Job

BLS lists the median annual pay for many occupations. For example, the  annual median salary  for  data scientists  in 2021 was $100,910. The website includes information about average pay in different industries, cities, and states. This critical information can help students and their families make smart choices when it comes to paying for college versus vocational school.

Explore Job Outlooks

Experts predict job outlooks for up to ten years in the future. Job outlook shows how many more job openings are expected to become available each year. This is ideal for high school students who want to plan ahead. They do not have to guess which jobs will be most in demand when they graduate from college and enter the job market in 4-8 years. Instead, they can use BLS data on the  fastest-growing jobs  to make informed decisions about their future. 

Find Where Jobs are Offered

The demand for specific jobs changes depending on the region of the country. Some jobs are more common in rural areas than urban ones or vice versa. Other careers, such as  marine biologists , may be concentrated in coastal areas. Career planning tools for high school students can help students see where jobs are offered. Help your child think about where they want to live when they graduate from high school so that they can explore careers that are available in that area. 

Knowing the exact education requirements for various levels of your desired career can help you calculate how much your education will cost. Pairing this with knowledge about the average salary for the job, students can calculate how quickly they can pay off any student loan debt. Furthermore, when a student and their family starts planning for college early, they can  avoid student loan debt  altogether. 

For young people who are not interested in pursuing higher education, there are several  high-paying jobs that do not require a degree.  Honest career talk for high school students means being realistic about whether a college degree is a good option for your child.

Touring a College Campus

Find the Right College

For students who desire a career that requires higher education, the next step is to choose the right school. Students may be tempted to choose a school based on the social experience they want to have in college. Parents should help their children focus on how well a school will prepare them to meet their career goals. Many colleges only offer certain majors or specialize in specific fields. 

There are also many different types of colleges including:

Associate Degree

An associate degree takes less time and is often more affordable than a bachelor’s degree. It takes most students two years to earn an associate degree at a community college. Many  in-demand careers only require an associate degree  such as veterinary technology and dental hygiene. A complete career guide for high school students also should not discount technical and vocational schools. These institutions have programs that train young people to work many different hands-on and office jobs from medical assistants to mechanics. 

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years of full-time study at a college or university. Earning a bachelor’s degree may open up more career possibilities, but students in college will be asked to choose a major, so they need to do career planning before college. Otherwise, they may end up wasting money on an unnecessary education. 

Some schools require students to choose their major when they apply for college in their junior year of high school. Others allow students to wait until their freshman or sophomore year of college before committing to choosing a career path.

Advanced Degree

An advanced degree such as a master’s or doctoral degree usually means more access to higher-paying jobs. For example,  becoming a veterinarian  requires a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, which generally takes four more years of school after you earn a bachelor’s degree. The median salary for veterinary doctors in 2021 was $100,370. Compare this to becoming a veterinarian technician, which only requires an associate degree but has a median salary of $36,850. With these numbers, it’s easy to see the value that the right advanced degree holds.

For animal lovers, there are  high-paying careers working with animals  at all education levels. 

Once a student has an idea of the career choices for high school students, they should start thinking about gaining relevant experience. There are many internships available for high school students, whether paid or unpaid. Internships have multiple benefits including:

To prepare for their first internship, a young person should practice their  job interview skills , acquire professional clothing and understand appropriate professional behavior. This aspect of career preparation for high school students is often not taught in schools, so parents may want to take the lead in preparing their child for an internship. Information interviews can also help students prepare for an interview at a specific place.

Volunteering Can Also Provide Experience

Volunteering is an excellent method of career exploration for high school students, especially for those that are too young to get a job. There are often more career ideas for high school students than they are even aware exist. Volunteering and community service give young people a glimpse into different occupations and what their daily lives would entail in those jobs. It also provides chances to network and could potentially lead to a job. 

Starting A Career

Achieve Your Career At Unity College

Turning a unique passion such as bird watching into a career  takes some personal exploration, research, and advanced planning. However, the effort is certain to pay off with a rewarding and lucrative career. A vital part for career counselors and parents to help prepare students to pick a career is helping them choose the right college that offers programs that fulfill their career interests. The school they choose should offer a quality degree program to meet the education requirements of their desired future career and support them in their career development. 

Unity College  understands the importance of hands-on experience, internships, and networking in a student’s career success. We provide personalized career planning for students using an innovative career exploration tool called  Handshake . Handshake is more than a job board. They guide students in discovering careers that match their passions and needs, and they offer chances for students to ask for advice from peers, alumni, and potential employers.

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Introducing Students to Health Care Careers

An online, hands-on program opens middle school students’ eyes to the wide range of opportunities in health care fields.

A group of middle school students using desktop computers and engaging with each other

When students consider future careers, they often come up short when trying to imagine themselves working in medicine or other health-related fields. “Most kids believe that if they don’t want to be a doctor or a nurse, there’s no place for them in health care,” says Tom Miller, manager of Connected Learning with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Opening middle school students’ eyes to the wide range of opportunities in fields like radiology and physical therapy, among others, is the goal of an award-winning program called Adventures in Health Science and Medicine .

The evolution of AHSM (aka “awesome”) shows how technology is helping to bridge the distance for career education and expanding the pipeline of students heading into health care fields.

From Guest Speakers to Connected Learning

AHSM began several years ago as a loosely structured guest speaker program of the Cleveland Clinic. The program was popular with schools but faced logistical and scheduling challenges. Bryan Pflaum, director of civic education for the Cleveland Clinic, saw the potential to convert the face-to-face program into connected learning, using technology to bring caregivers into classrooms virtually.

Along with the integration of technology, a more cohesive curriculum has evolved over time. AHSM now includes a weekly series of live webinars in which students meet caregivers from different health fields.

Students also watch videos that take them inside various health care environments—a program feature first suggested by a high school intern at the Cleveland Clinic. One video, for example, shows all the experts who interact with a patient’s blood sample, from the phlebotomist who draws it to medical lab technicians who conduct tests to physicians who interpret results. “Once the blood sample is drawn, where does it go? Students see the path and all the caregivers who are part of it,” Miller explains.

In their own classrooms, students engage in hands-on activities to build their understanding of science content and apply what they learn to solve medical case studies. “Students become AHSM Investigators,” Pflaum says, “who diagnose and treat a patient [in a case study] who is their age.”

At the culmination of the program, students tackle an innovation challenge to develop a product or solution for a real health issue facing a young patient. In past years, students have shared their ideas via videos, with 3D printed prototypes, and in webinar presentations. Judging happens in real time, with students from other schools choosing winners based on a rubric.

AHSM earned the Innovation Award from the U.S. Distance Learning Association earlier this year. Miller, a former teacher and technology director, understands that effective distance learning depends on good teaching practices. “It’s not about the technology,” he insists. “It’s about, how good is the instruction? How does it tie to the curriculum? How does it connect to students?”

Value of the “Gross-Out”

To prepare caregivers for their virtual classroom visits, Miller coaches health professionals on how to connect with middle schoolers. “Can you gross ’em out? Can you make them laugh? If you can do that with a compelling story,” he says, “it won’t feel like the presenter is miles away from the classroom.”

Instead of watching canned lectures, students interact with caregivers and learn about the paths they took into their careers. A young man who is now a respiratory therapist, for example, was a high school student in the same school system that participating students attend. That makes him a relatable role model who has a good story to tell.

Teachers who sign up for AHSM receive a teaching guide plus a kit filled with materials for hands-on activities. Miller says the success of the program, which is free to participating schools, “relies on the teacher in the classroom.”

A Model to Share

To allow for student interaction during live webinars, participation in AHSM is limited to about 300 middle school students in Northeast Ohio annually. Schools are deliberately diverse, Miller says, including urban, rural, and suburban schools. The Cleveland Clinic has also licensed the model so that other health care systems can offer AHSM in their regions, using their own caregivers as featured health professionals.

At Strongsville Middle School in Strongsville, Ohio, Principal Steve Deitrick says the AHSM program “offers schools one more tool in the toolkit” to fire up student interest in science and get them thinking about careers. “If this jump-starts even one student’s path toward health or medicine, then it’s beneficial,” he says. Some students are intrigued to learn about challenging careers that require a two-year degree rather than four years of college. Deitrick has also seen students respond positively to the hands-on activities as well as the project-based learning that happens at the culmination. Solving the case studies requires students to think critically and apply deductive reasoning, skills that the school emphasizes across content areas.

AHSM is one of several innovative education programs developed by the Cleveland Clinic to increase student interest in health care careers. An earlier Edutopia post featured the eXpressions program , which integrates the arts with health sciences. Another distance learning program, called Worldwide Classroom , features webinars on hot topics in health care and medicine for high school and middle school student.

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The Student Success Plan (SSP) is a personalized student driven plan that will be created  to address every learner’s needs and interests to help then stay engaged in school and to achieve post secondary educational and career goals. Below you will find a list of student success plans for K-12 and college students.

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Make a Career Plan

A career plan lists short- and long-term career goals and the actions you can take to achieve them. Career plans can help you make decisions about what classes to take, and identify the extracurricular activities, research, and internships that will make you a strong job candidate. Below are some helpful steps to guide you in creating a career plan customized to your interests and ambitions. Still have questions? We are here to help — set up an appointment  with a Career Advisor to get started or review your plan.

8 Steps to an Effective Career Plan

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Pursue a Health Care Career While You Are Still in High School

Students at a Scrubs camp event next to an EMS helicopter.

Which health care career interests you the most? Of course, there are a lot of students who want to be a doctor or nurse. These are highly respected professions. But there are vast possibilities you have never even heard of. Some students have specific and less common interests, such as “I want to be a radiologic technician.” Or, “I want to be an anesthesiologist.” It is certainly not necessary to choose a specific field while still in high school, but being interested, being inspired looks like a lot more fun than being uninterested. In fact, inspiration is the only secret weapon to achieve a rewarding career . Beyond that, it takes hard work to gain knowledge and skills.

From Exploration to Experiences

How do you develop a strong career interest?

Of course, we don’t want our family or ourselves to need medical treatment, so what other ways can you get experience with health care careers?

Health care poses some unique challenges to gaining experience. Even while in high school, you can design and build something for engineering experience or start a small venture for business experience, but diagnosing or treating patients requires knowledge, skills, and credentials. There are also limitations on tours and job shadowing due to patient privacy and to ensure that care is not affected. On top of all that, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited entry to care facilities to prevent spreading the virus. This raises the importance of online and virtual experiences.

Attend a Virtual Event

There are a growing number of virtual events to learn about healthcare careers. For example, HealthForce Minnesota , Care Providers of Minnesota , and Leading Age Minnesota teamed up to hold virtual career fairs that introduce students to careers in senior care featuring conversations with those who work in the field.

Upcoming Events

“Scrubs Online was directed and organized for everyone. The presenters did a good job at being thorough and self-explanatory with their live sessions.” - Scrubs Online student

“I like how flexible Scrubs Online was and how I was able to work at my own pace. I also like how it covers a variety of careers while also teaching about skills that we will need in the real world.” - Scrubs Online student

Students at scrubs camp event.

Scrubs Camps are offered in the summer throughout the state, providing opportunities for students to interact with a wide range of healthcare professionals and gain hands-on experiences related to a variety of fields, for example, activities with lab equipment, simulation manikins and surgical tools. The fun, engaging activities and interactions with professionals and other students inspire interest in healthcare careers.

Scrubs Camp went virtual in response to the pandemic. Last summer marked the first ever Scrubs Online. It is unknown at this point whether in-person Scrubs Camps can resume in Summer 2021, but either way, the virtual experiences will continue either as a supplement to in-person events or as a needed replacement. The students who participated in Scrubs Online definitely benefited from the virtual career experience. 

Join a Student Organization

HOSA-Future Health Professionals is another great way to gain health science experience while in high school. Minnesota HOSA is the Minnesota affiliate of this international student organization that develops leadership and skills in health science through motivation, awareness, and recognition experiences. HOSA is student-led, and the student leaders provide the best introduction to why you would want to join.

Join Minnesota HOSA

Get Experience: Jobs and Volunteer Work

If virtual and organized experiences described above fuel your desire to learn and do more in health care, you should consider getting a part-time or summer job in health care, either volunteer or paid. The roles that you can fill before you are an adult and before you obtain higher education are limited, but they do exist, and they can be very rewarding and a rich source of experience. Long-term care and senior care provide your best shot at work experience while you are in high school. And, it is great experience no matter your health care career goal – audiologist, clinical laboratory scientist, nurse, neurosurgeon, phlebotomist, physical therapist, or whatever – all entail either providing care or helping those who provide care. See more about working in senior care .

Any experience you get providing care will help you in your career pursuit and development. Plus, you will increase your opportunities to interact with healthcare professionals and learn from them. If you are working, they will know that you are serious.

A quick google search for “long-term care facilities near me” will provide you a list to contact. Call and ask if they provide volunteer or paid work experience for high school students, and if so, how you can be considered for one of these jobs. If you do this soon, you may find that opportunities are currently suspended due to the COVID pandemic. Access to long-term care has been restricted to prevent spreading the virus to residents. So, while this strategy is highly recommended, it will need to wait until after the pandemic.

Three Careers in Health Care

Here are three careers in health care that require only short-term training and often provide great experience for high school or college students:

This brings us to another issue raised by the pandemic: It may make you reluctant or discouraged to work in health care. This is understandable, but the fact remains that many health care careers involve treating the sick. This is a risk, but the infection control protocols are in place to minimize the risk. Be sure to discuss the risks of working in health care with your parents, friends and others who care about you. If you are inspired for a career in health care, you will want their support.

The bottom line is that there is no substitute for experience. The more you get, the more you will know about working in healthcare and the more you will know about yourself.

News and Events

Keep up with the latest trends in career exploration, education, and job searches.  Sign up for the CAREERwise email newsletter .

Do you need help with your career plan?  CAREERwise representatives are waiting to assist you.  Chat with us at the Info Hub.

Return to the Minnesota State Home Page


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