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From diploma to résumé

What high school grads need to consider when choosing college and career paths

April 23, 2014

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James Baker grins after his graduation from Troy Athens High School last spring.
Troy high graduates Ahmed Kaakarli and Kyleen Crosby celebrate following their ceremony in 2013.

For so many high school graduates this spring, getting a diploma might feel like a ceremonious ending. Really, it’s just the beginning of their adult lives.

After the pomp and circumstance of commencement has settled, it’s up to new graduates to figure out what’s the next step. Whether it’s traveling, working or going to school, there’s a different right answer for each young adult. That’s why local experts say students should reflect on their own values when it comes to making those important decisions, instead of heeding the advice of their peers.

Nicole Griffith is a graduate student working as a career advisor at Oakland University. She said her office has no shortage of older adults who have been displaced in their careers by industry shifts or established workers who want to change things up. But what she doesn’t see enough of are 18-year-olds, fresh out of high school, looking for guidance in their academic goals.

“I think during the career decision process, (college prospects) need to take some time and think about their values and interests,” said Griffith. “It’s a combination of increased self-awareness, confidence in career choice and clarification of values.”

For instance, she said, many students might enroll in career programs at colleges for reasons that, in the long-run, might not lead them to the most enjoyable or successful profession.

“Nursing school and teaching are two programs that are being over-flooded,” noted Griffith. “But sometimes, a student comes in and wants to go to nursing school, gets accepted, but they don’t know the daily activities of that job or the expectations. I think that’s huge.”

To mitigate those disappointing choices down the line, career counselors like Griffith encourage students to take advantage of job-shadowing opportunities or informational interviewing with professionals already in the field. Even college or university instructors and current students can lend some valuable advice on certain academic tracks.

“I would say about half of students end up changing their major,” said Griffith, explaining that once students are enrolled in a program, they might decide it’s not right for them based on their personal interests, lifestyle desires or even competitiveness in the job market.

Robert Penkala, director of career services at Macomb Community College, agreed with Griffith that health care is a field that many students are clamoring to get into after college. The reason for that, he explained, has a lot to do with their parents.

“With the aging population, there’s an increase in needs and services (for health care professionals),” said Penkala, who explained that not all career paths in health care involve two- or four-year degrees. Some require a certification from schools like MCC and take less time to complete than a traditional degree.

Penkala added that metro Detroit is a great place to be if you’re looking to be in the information technology field.

“There are many directions students can go in IT, from software developer to Web design to developing applications for iPads or iPhones,” he said. “IT for students in southeast Michigan is in pretty high demand with pretty good-paying jobs.”

When choosing which area to study in college, Penkala advised looking not just at what vocations are in demand now, but rather four years into the future or even further.

Griffith agreed and added that choosing the school that best fits your professional goals and your current needs is important. All of those factors can be decided early on, before you even fill out an application.

“More students are going to local colleges, like Oakland University versus Michigan State. The recession hit a lot of parents hard, and a lot more students are coming to local colleges so their parents don’t have to pay for them to stay on campus,” she explained. “And we’re open in the summer. If they’re 18 or older, they can come here (to Career Services) and start that decision-making process.”

About the author

Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki covers Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Franklin and Bingham Farms along with Birmingham Public Schools, Oakland County Parks and Recreation and Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center. Esshaki has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2011 and attended the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Oakland Community College.


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