My greatest lesson on the importance of career studies was in the late 70s when I was a middle school student in a small private school that did not have resources and curriculum to teach career exploration. (Remember, the internet didn’t exist then!) As a teenager, I was desperately in need of connecting my present world with my future vocational possibilities and creating a motivational pull toward what best fit me as a career. But, sadly, I didn’t have that help.
Without those resources, I didn’t realize my career path until I was much older—and after many years of experimenting with different jobs. Looking back at my own stilted experience, I realize how important it is to help students engage in career exploration, especially career investigation in light of what motivates them intrinsically.
Ironically, I found my sweet spot as a public middle-school Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher! A big part of my job now is to unpack the topic of career planning for both highschool and middle school students. And in this role, I have access to a great amount of career exploration resources I’d like to share with you, the homeschool parent.
Without professional experts or guidance counselors, homeschools (like private schools) may seem at a disadvantage when it comes to career guidance questions. But these days, and with the ease of online options, career exploration curriculum is actually bountiful. With all the choices, homeschool career exploration courses can and should be an exciting taste of possibilities.
What Do You Do in a Career Exploration Class?
In a career exploration class, students primarily investigate careers and their pathways, delving into the myriad career options available and learning what skills and education are required for different vocations.
The word explore is key here. Career exploration classes should be like going to a dinner buffet where you scan the food lines for possibilities and finally fill your plate with the choicest savory morsels that suit your personal tastes. Some may look tasty but turn out bland. There may be unusual foods you’ve never considered that happen to be delicious.
A middle schooler likely won’t settle on their future career path through this kind of exploration. But that’s not the ultimate goal at this stage. In the middle school years, students can absorb a sense of what field might suit them, which career clusters are a safe bet for employability, and what they need to achieve today to reach their future job goals.
Students in career exploration classes also learn about the importance of soft-skills:
- critical thinking
- problem solving
- public speaking
- professional writing
- digital literacy
- professional attitude
- work ethic
Students may also learn practical job seeking skills like how to fill out job applications and write resumes.
Benefits of Career Exploration
A college bound teen may still have quite a few years before entering the workforce. What’s the hurry with career exploration? Does it even matter at such a tender age when their interests fluctuate so quickly? The answer is yes! Career exploration for high school students (and middle schoolers) has multiple perks.
1. Tying Today’s Lessons to Tomorrow’s Choices
Middle schoolers are highly suspect of useless learning. You know the common refrain, “When will I never need/use this?!” One huge benefit of career exploration is helping kids see the practical applications of what they are learning today.
- Yes, that math will be essential in their future field!
- Yes, knowing how to write well will make or break them in their career of choice.
- Yes, this scientific concept actually will be something you use every day in your adult worklife.
When they can see today’s lessons as a springboard to tomorrow’s job, they are more motivated to apply themselves fully. Of course, there will still be subjects they dislike and see as irrelevant, but a wise parent can remind a reluctant teen that every step along this path gets them closer to (or farther from) their ultimate career goal.
Homeschoolers have even more flexibility than their public school peers to customize courses to accommodate a teen’s motivations and career interests. Crafting tailor-made curriculum keeps teens excited about learning, so take advantage of this benefit!
2. A Lens for Imagining Independence
And although adulthood may feel far away to them, middle schoolers crave the coming autonomy they will experience as young adults. Letting them imagine themselves wearing various career hats is an empowering feeling: “I’m going to be a working adult in a few more years! I can make this choice and bring it to fruition!”
3. Getting Out of Ruts and Stereotypes
Homeschool career exploration can open new possibilities of job paths teens don’t necessarily experience in their day-to-day lives. It’s hard to imagine being a petroleum engineer when you’ve never met one or even heard of this role. Kids who come from a family of teachers tend to lean towards the education field even if it’s not best suited for them.
Part of homeschool career exploration is understanding the wide scope of career paths open to them and ruling out those that aren’t a good fit due to temperament, interests, motivations, or educational requirements.
For some idealistic teens, career exploration can bring them back down to reality when they compare the work requirements, educational requirements, and job growth projections with their desire to be a professional athlete, professional gamer, pop star, or YouTuber. Instead of dashing their hopes, real-world career investigation can help them channel their passions into more realistic choices with greater job security (or empower them to actually aim for those one-in-a-million jobs).
Benefits of Career Exploration for Homeschoolers
When it comes to career exploration class, homeschoolers have quite a few advantages compared to their public schooled peers, most revolving around freedom, support, and flexibility.
- Freedom to extend a lesson of interest. If a student is more interested in a particular topic, there is the freedom to not interrupt the experience.
- Flexibility to travel. Homeschoolers can simply jump in the car and travel to an area of interest. Small groups and virtually no red tape mean it’s easy to arrange field trips, campus tours, and job shadowing. Homeschoolers can even integrate career planning into family vacations!
- A caring, invested parent. During the high school years, a homeschool parent may keenly feel the loss of a school guidance counselor. But with the abundance of career exploration resources available, it’s quite doable for a parent to serve this role with success. And as a bonus, a parent cares deeply about their child’s vocational future in a way even the most diligent school guidance counselor never could.
Best Homeschool Career Exploration Websites
These sites can enrich your career exploration in the classroom or homeschool. (Each description comes directly from the website’s own stated purpose.)
Visiting websites and reading up-to-date facts about jobs is a primary aspect of what is involved in a career exploration. But enrich the web surfing experience with a focused note taking sheet instead of relying on memory alone. The free Career Exploration Worksheet here is perfect! Print multiple copies and turn to it again and again as a cornerstone of your career exploration homeschool curriculum.
- TruSpark “A story-based motivation quiz for teens. What sparks your student’s core motivations, captures their interest, and draws them into activities they love and do well? Recognize and celebrate the unique motivations of your early- or mid-teen to assist them with self-awareness and career exploration.”
- O*NET OnLine “Welcome to your tool for career exploration and job analysis! O*NET OnLine has detailed descriptions of the world of work for use by job seekers, workforce development and HR professionals, students, researchers, and more!”
- FutureLearnCareers “Our mission is to help everyone fulfill their potential in a changing world and explore which new job could be the right fit for them.”
- My Next Move This career database, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration, is designed to be student focused and includes a career assessment tool, along with details on more than 900 occupations.
- MyPlan.com “Search, browse or query through over 900 different careers. Read career profiles, job descriptions, educational requirements, and career outlook information. Find out what kind of salary to expect, watch short videos, and even learn about the types of people that typically go into each career. If it’s not in here, it’s probably illegal.”
- Careeronestop “Get in-depth details about nearly 900 occupations. A career profile is a great place to start your career research. The detailed information can help you get a good idea of an occupation. That’s often enough to determine whether you want to learn more or realize it’s not for you.”
- CollegeGrad “Get expert guidance on all stages of the Job Search process.”
- Jumpstart’s Reality Check “Students, imagine you’ve just graduated from high school or college, and you’re about to embark on your life as an independent, adult consumer. Answer these simple questions about what you think your lifestyle will be.”
- The Balance Careers “Whatever field you’re trying to pursue, we’ll help you achieve your dreams, with advice on education, training, important job decisions, career changes, and more.”
- U.S. Bureau of Labor “Find careers that relate to your interests and learn fun facts about the economy and jobs.”
- Mapping Your Future “Mapping Your Future provides programs and initiatives to help people achieve financial wellness and lead successful lives.”
- GetMyFuture “Find a career that makes you happy every morning you wake up.”
- Learn How To Become “A career is a commitment; a career is hard work; a career is your passion. Are you ready to find yours?”
What Is Career Exploration in School?
Besides doing outright career exploration as a course, all of a homeschooler’s high school and middle school years can be designed with career pathways in mind.
What Is a Career Pathway?
A career pathway consists of all the important steps a student could take as they get older and closer to employment in a particular career. For example, if a student wants to become an engineer, a career pathway would include taking the right math courses in high school and choosing colleges with strong engineering departments.
How Do I Help a Teenager Choose a Career?
The most effective way to help your teenager lies in your relationship. It’s key that you know your teenager. Even more important, your teen needs self-awareness. TruSpark is the only motivational assessment and career assessment on the planet that uses a teenager’s own stories to help them (and you) understand what motivates them and what careers might be the best motivational fit. It’s an excellent starting point for homeschool career exploration.
Armed with TruSpark results, move on to these other steps:
- Learn the different categories of careers, for example these 16 Career Clusters.
- Have discussions with your student about the importance of career exploration and the viability of different fields.
- Have them do their own research on career exploration websites.
- Also, have them look for a career assessment tool that will help them narrow down their interests.
- Finally, give your teenager lots of enriching experiences and practical life skills so they can see what tasks resonate with them.
How Can I Help My Child Explore Their Career?
Get them ready early by showing them their TruSpark motivations. Show them who they really are, and then celebrate their uniqueness. Give them the buffet of experiences they need that will help them, when the time is right, to make the ideal job/career choice.
TruSpark provides powerful & practical resources for parents.
The TruSpark curriculum (see a sample here) includes insights for parents or teachers who are guiding homeschool career exploration for students. Work through the questions for reflection, the discussion topics, and the applications. These career guidance questions will help you serve as your teens’ career coach!
Getting Started with Homeschool Career Exploration
Here are ideas to get started with homeschool career exploration today.
- Explore Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses offered at local high schools.
- Search for CTSO (Career and Technical Student Organizations), competitive events, and service activities in your area.
- Create business and community partnerships (opportunities to interact with employers and their businesses): job shadowing, site visits, hearing guest speakers.
- Look for work-based learning opportunities to provide your student with real-life work experiences where they can develop their employability.
- Participate in career guidance by seeing a career counselor. Check to see if your homeschool co-op or local homeschool advocacy group offers this service. Many do!
- Search for Academic and Career Planning (ACP) resources in your particular state.
What Is Career Exploration for Students?
Career exploration for students is more than just learning career clusters, how much education is required, and salary ranges. The most valuable career exploration helps students evaluate jobs in light of their own motivations, preferences, and values.
The first part of getting students to take ownership of their career exploration is for them to understand their own motivations. Then exposure to a buffet of real-life experiences helps them uncover how their motivation is best leveraged in potential careers.
Just giving a student a career textbook does not foster engaging career exploration. It must start with introspection. Once a student has self-awareness of their Core Motivations, they are more driven to push forward on their own. It is a wonderful experience for a homeschool parent to not have to urge their child’s learning, but to sit back and watch it all unfold, naturally. The parent becomes a coach who is ready to help but does not have to dribble the basketball for the player.