Career planning in high school doesn’t mean deciding the exact job you want to have. Instead, it means finding a career cluster (a group of similar careers) that interests you. That way, you can find appropriate resources and start setting career goals without locking yourself into one specific job.
Helping Students find help with Career Planning
Sometimes it feels like the second you start high school, every adult within a 50-mile radius asks, “What do you want to do after you graduate?” Not only does that question get annoying after a while, but it’s also a frequent source of stress. Sometimes it’s hard enough to decide what shirt to wear or what to have for dinner; how are you supposed to decide on what career you’ll have for the rest of your life?
Here’s the secret: you don’t.
Career planning is a long-term process that spans well past your high school years. Let’s take a look at career planning in high school and how to set yourself up for success down the line.
Career Planning Doesn’t Mean “Pick Your Dream Job”
Most guides on career planning for high schoolers boil down to “Decide what you want to do and choose the right college major to find the right job opportunities and earn money.” But despite their prevalence, all those guides are misleading.
Ignoring the fact that most people get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of career options, career planning isn’t a one-time decision or event. Rather, it’s a process that continues throughout your life. Career planning for high school students is probably better described as career exploration—that is, looking into what fields of work you might be interested in—so that you can make more specific career choices later on.
The truth is, nobody can plan out their entire career path, no matter where they are in life. Your interests and skills will change over time, what you want from your job may change, and you may be surprised by unexpected career opportunities.
Plenty of people eventually change their career path—48% of people who changed jobs between 2019 and 2021 switched to an entirely different field. Changing tracks throughout life is common; your career isn’t fixed in place.
Career Clusters: Finding the Right Field
If you’re asking, “What job do I want after I graduate?” you’re asking the wrong question. Instead, you should ask, “What career clusters interest me?”
A career cluster is a group of jobs and occupations that are closely related. These clusters include areas like marketing, STEM careers, arts, education, hospitality, and law. Many positions within a cluster share the same or similar skills and underlying goals.
Curious about career clusters? CareerOneStop provides an overview of each career cluster, and the National Bureau of Labor Statistics offers the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which can help you learn more about specific jobs in a cluster.
Finding which career clusters interest you allows you to investigate potential careers and potentially establish a few relevant career goals without firmly committing to a specific job or career path. That way, you have the resources available to start making more specific goals but still have plenty of flexibility in case you later realize that this is the wrong field for you.
Where Can I Find Help with My Career Plan?
You’re the only one who can decide what career is right for you. But that doesn’t mean you must take on career planning alone. Many career planning resources are available.
Plenty of high schools offer college and career planning resources to help you move forward after graduation. Talking to your school counselor is often the best way to start, as they have information on local resources that can help you plan your way forward. Your school might also partner with online resources like Tallo to help you connect with mentors and resources.
You’ll set, adapt, and refine many career goals. It’s normal not to have your whole career planned out in high school; most people don’t. But developing your initial career goals early on will help you get a head start on your future and lead to a career where you will ultimately thrive.