By Carolyn, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
One of the most daunting parts of the college application process is the pressure to decide right now what you want to study and the type of career you plan to pursue. First, you should know that being unsure about these things, or even having no inkling at all of what you want to do after graduation, is normal.
That being said, it may be helpful to begin exploring your options in high school to make the college process as clear and straightforward as possible.
Why Is It Important to Identify My Passions Now?
Of course, it is not required that you decide what you want to pursue academically or professionally before you enter college. Many schools do not ask you to select a major until your second year since the first few semesters will be spent completing core academic requirements.
However, developing and understanding your passions and goals early on can motivate you and help you make some important decisions as you navigate the college admissions process and college itself. For example, you will be far more likely to dig in and overcome unforeseen obstacles if you are invested in the work you are doing. Imagine the academic and professional experiences that will come if you power through.
Moreover, deciding to which colleges to apply, which major to choose, which activities to get involved in, and a variety of other important decisions will be made much easier if you are more familiar with your end goal and the types of experiences you want to have along the way.
What Factors Should I Consider When Identifying My Passions?
I recommend considering three primary factors when thinking through your academic, personal, and professional passions. First, consider your talents and skills. In which classes do you naturally excel? In which extracurricular activities have you achieved the most? What are the things that your teachers, family, and friends often tell you that you are really good at?
Second, consider your interests. Which classes do you most look forward to because you genuinely enjoy the material and the work? Which activities bring you the most joy? What types of hobbies or interests do you pursue in your free time just because you want to? Third, consider your desired impact. What problem in society or your community do you most want to solve? Which political or social issues get you the most excited or upset? What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
How Can I Learn About and Explore My Options?
Once you have reflected on the factors highlighted above, look for experiences that will allow you to explore some or all of them. For example, if you know that you excel in your science courses, enjoy working with children, and want to impact socioeconomic inequities in your community, try securing a position shadowing a pediatrician in a low-income neighborhood or take an online course on the impact of poverty on medical care. If you are a naturally strong leader, enjoy playing a variety of sports, and want to help shape the character of young people like yourself, look for a part-time job coaching a youth sports team or leading a sports camp over the summer.
Getting involved in these activities does not mean you are locking yourself in or have found your life’s passion, but it can help you decide whether or not a specific pathway would be a good fit for you. If you are still struggling to identify your talents, interests, and desired impact, don’t be afraid to get involved in something completely new and unfamiliar.
These experiences can be just as valuable when it comes to discovering more about yourself and your goals, in addition to having fun, learning something new, and finding a community of people who can support you.
Should I Be Setting a Specific Career Goal?
Once you have identified your personal, academic, and/or professional passions, setting a long-term career goal might be a good next step. A specific goal is even more effective than a general passion at keeping you motivated and making difficult, high-stakes decisions more clear. That being said, setting a goal just for the sake of setting a goal would not be helpful. If you are not genuinely invested in your goal, it will be neither motivating nor clarifying as you navigate the college process and may prove counterproductive.
If you are clear on your talents, interests, and desired impact, as well as the type of lifestyle you would like to lead as a professional adult, there are many career exploration tools you can use to find suitable career pathways. Examples include YouScience.com and CareerOneStop.org, but you should also connect with your school counselor to see if there are any specific tools or resources available to students in your area.
What If I Change My Mind About My Passions or My Goals?
Spoiler alert: you will change your mind about all of these things at one point or another throughout your educational and professional careers. Changing your passions and goals is not a sign of failure but rather a sign of growth and healthy adaptation. If you decide along the way that you no longer want to pursue a specific pathway, take a deep breath, adjust the goal post, and continue moving forward with confidence.
I should note, however, that there is a thin line between changing your mind and giving up. If you find yourself adjusting your plans because of an unforeseen obstacle, make sure you are changing your path, but not your end goal. As my grandmother says, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s always more than one way to pursue your passions, even in the face of challenges you didn’t see coming.
Pursuing and even discovering your passions can be a challenge, but with the proper guidance, you, too, can uncover opportunities that not only bring you joy and help teach you valuable skills but also help you to stand out during the college admissions process. Contact us today to learn how our team can help you identify options that align with your interests and goals.