Going to College? Start with Yourself!

choose your path quoteIn Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” The opposite can be even truer: If you know where you are going, you can overcome almost any obstacle to get there.

Sound easy? Not really.

Many students find it very difficult to envision their future – to know where they’re going. They don’t have enough experience about their options; or, conversely, they have preconceived opinions about the “only” career they want. Often this is based on what a parent or friend is doing.

In reality, each student has to make decisions based on one very real issue: who am I? You are a unique individual, hardwired in ways that make you distinct. You may have some of the strengths and talents – and maybe even some of the interests – of your parents, but you will also have some that are unique to you as well. So how do you decide what “road” to take to school, majors, and career?

What to Consider When Choosing Your Road

college-girl-busConsider you natural abilities, your interests, your values, your personal style, and your acquired skills. Understand how these affect your choices can give you practical guidance for considering options without limiting your choices. Let’s get more specific.

1. Learn what your natural strengths are. What are you good at? What comes to you easily? What activities are more difficult? How do you learn best? How do you solve real strategic problems most effectively? For example…

Karen was planning to study philosophy at a small liberal arts college when she took The Highlands Ability Battery. In this process, she learned that she had strong structural abilities. In thinking about these abilities, she realized that she had always had an interest in the architecture and design of buildings around her. Karen decided to try a larger university where she could study philosophy but also explore courses in architecture and industrial design as well. Today, Karen is a successful practicing architect. 

2. Determine how you study and work most easily and effectively with others. Do you prefer to work alone or on projects which involve cooperation with others? How do you learn best: in group discussion, lectures, laboratory work, or individual study time? Do you get intense about one element of a subject you’re interested in, or do you prefer getting involved in numerous aspects of the same subject? Another example…

Bill started out in a technical program concentrating on computer programming. His classes were small and design-oriented with individual hands-on projects. He soon found that he was tired and bored at the end of a day. His grades began to suffer. Bill’s parents suggested he learn what his true abilities were before he went any further in his studies. By completing the Highlands Ability Battery, Bill learned that his personal style and learning channels were directed to more discussion-oriented classes involving lectures and group projects. He found a group of classmates with whom he could study and he began taking more general business courses. Bill became enthusiastic about his classes, his grades improved, and he went on to graduate and get a management training position at a mid-sized computer software firm.

3. Think beyond grades and test scores. What you have learned and accomplished, and how well you do on standardized tests, are certainly important. But what may be more important is who you are, what you do well and what you enjoy. A third example…

Diane scored well on all the standardized tests. She made good grades at a well-known prep school and went on to an Ivy League school where she also excelled. She then went to law school and got a job at a good law firm. Diane did well, but she was unhappy with her career. When she took the ability battery, she realized that her strongest abilities were those that lawyers rarely utilize and her relatively weaker abilities were those that lawyers make almost constant use of. Diane was intelligent and motivated enough to do any job well, but her satisfaction was greatly reduced by the effort it cost her to work against her natural abilities and interests.

4. See out practical as well as educational learning experiences that focus on your choices. College is a time of learning and experiencing. Do you see a connection between your school work and future work activities? Once you have discovered your natural abilities, give yourself the chance to experience life in areas that combine your abilities and interests. Consider several options and concentrate on courses, summer jobs, and internships that draw upon these abilities and interests. One last example…

Peter went to college with three possible career targets: be a journalist, be a lawyer, or go into politics. These may be related, but each is a broad and challenging field distinct from the others. They were all related to Peter’s strongest natural abilities. In college, he systematically took courses and got internships in all three fields. By the end of college, he had eliminated politics and law but decided to go into journalism. He now has a job in that field with a major newspaper. Of his group of 6 or 7 friends from high school, Peter is the only one who graduated in 4 years.

To recap, here’s what to consider when considering your path and whether or not college is right for you:

  • Know your natural abilities
  • Consider your interests
  • Formulate 2 or 3 reasonable choices
  • Begin to focus on those options
  • Start getting hands-on experience in the areas you’ve chosen