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My neighbour�s eighteen-year-old daughter, let�s call her �Kay�, is in her last

year of high school. She�s trying to decide on a post-secondary course of study

for next year. I suspect she�s in the same boat that I, and most of my friends,
were in when we graduated high school. To wit: we had virtually no idea of what
educational and career options were actually out there; very little idea of what
our temperaments and strengths actually were, let alone what kind of career path
would suit them; and no clue how to go about researching and finding these things
out. Moreover, I don't know how good her school's guidance counsellors are, but
mine were next to, if not worse than, useless. What information and resources are
out there for Kay to give her a good sense of what her options are and help her
figure out what area of study would interest her and suit her abilities?

I don�t want to overwhelm her with a mountain of very complex information;

anything I give her needs to be straightforward and accessible, and also tailored
to Canada/Ontario/Toronto. She probably would be best to go to a community college
rather than a university at this point, and I have thought of having catalogues
mailed to her so she can browse through them and see what interests her. One thing
that was really helpful to me when I was picking out a course of study was a
listing of all the programs in Ontario by topic � is there anything like that
available now?
posted by orange swan to education (18 comments total) 4 users marked this as a
Has she thought about taking a year off to "discover" herself? A "Gap Year" seems
like a trendy thing to do, and some colleges are even encouraging it. Admissions
officers have begun to realize the benefits, and I wish it was something that was
available to me at her age. The would be many ways to fill it, from volunteering
to resource-based traveling, to internships and part-time work. It's important to
make it worth-her-while, for taking a year to sit on the couch tweaking your
MySpace won't necessarily help her expand nor focus.
posted by spoons at 9:03 AM on December 8

From another who had been in said boat, me thinks the best thing to do is do
different things while amassing credits, if it's possible. My university had a
considerable measure of core requirements--language, science credits, at least one
math, one creative arts, some history and English--for most degrees.

As would be the case with most people, I enjoyed some courses more than others;
enjoyed some and found that the learning/grasping the information was a struggle;
and enjoyed some, found that grasping the information/producing the required work
came with relative ease, I enjoyed it and people were pleased with my efforts. As
you might have guessed, my degree and career came from the last example mentioned
posted by ambient2 at 9:10 AM on December 8

Get her to meet adults in various professions and talk to them about their work. I
realize this may be logistically difficult when you're talking about the range of
all potential fields, and may in some cases be further constrained by
geography/available transportation, but I found that to be much more helpful than
reading promotional materials. I've found that people that like their work are
generally happy to explain it and talk about the skills they need and have
developed. It might also help to have her talk particularly to adults who majored
in something unrelated/tangentially related to their chosen career to drive home
the point that while the choice is important, it isn't set in stone and that
critical thinking/writing/etc. skills are very portable.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:18 AM on December 8
I always recommend community college to high school graduates. It's not as hard
(usually), its often MUCH cheaper, less stress, you can take a bewildering number
of varied classes to see what interests you, AND it will (probably) all count
towards the General Ed requirements for a major degree. Takes a couple years and
then one is ready for transfer to a major university, where you are, in theory,
better prepared to get your academic ass kicked than you were straight out of high
school. And you have time to party etc and do what all young people do during that
time in their life without completely wrecking your GPA.

Well, thats how it works here anyway. If there is a Canadian equivilant, I highly
recommend it.
posted by elendil71 at 9:28 AM on December 8

My cousin went the vocational college route and ended up a happy, well-paid,
business/systems analyst. Then again she's generally a very happy person. She
chose her program by taking a college's course calendar and opening it up at
random. Her reasoning was that there wasn't going to be a perfect fit between her
and any career so she thought she would just make the most of wherever she landed.
She had gone to an arts high school so this technical field was not exactly a
logical progression. She decided after finishing college to upgrade at a technical
posted by waterandrock at 9:35 AM on December 8

I think this is a very good question and was in the same boat myself. I fell into
my career and could never have predicted where I'd end up. It took quite a few
years. I'm not sure that you should be in a hurry, but if there was a way she
could take a year off and dip her toes into a different career each
month...perhaps a temp agency?
posted by idb at 9:37 AM on December 8

Do kids have to choose majors straight out of the gate these days or something?
Where I went to college, we didn't have to choose a major until we became juniors.
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I entered�I just took a variety of liberal-
arts and science classes. By the time I was a junior, I had an idea what I wanted
to do, and fortunately for me, the mix of classes I'd already taken fit well with
my major.

I'll corroborate the worthlessness of college counselors. The college counselor at

my high school told me to consider enlisting in the military instead of college
(this is much weirder than it may seem).
posted by adamrice at 9:40 AM on December 8 [1 favorite]

Seconding community college types of institutions. I went to one after high

school, and discovered that were I not already in love with art, I'd be a cultural
anthropologist. Getting the gen eds out of the way will allow for much more time
to find that thing that moves you.
posted by Bakuun at 9:40 AM on December 8

I'm in Toronto. In high school I did a couple of tests. One was called "The
Canadian Work Preference Inventory" and the other was called "Jackson Vocational
Inventory Survey." Basicaly these tests asked question like "Would you rather sail
a boat or read book? Would you rather decorate a cake or cook a meal? Would you
rather play a computer game or watch a movie?" etc. etc. with thousands of options
some obviously career-y and some recreational etc.

Then after a couple of weeks you got the results. On test measures five dimensions
(Directive, Innovative, Methodical, Objective) and told you how high you scored on
each, and the other had a bunch of areas of interest or things that a person might
value in a job (Creative arts, mathematics, adventure, personal service, job
secuirty, teaching, finance, supervision, independence and lots more) as well as
more personality characterisitcs (expressive, logical, inquiring, assertive etc.).
You got your scores on each dimension *AND* you got a lost of occupations and
university/college majors commnoly chosen by people who scored similarly to you.

For example, I scored in the 97th percentile on desire for independence and in the
fourth percentile for interest in engineering.

My top suggested occupations across the different tests were teaching, research,
and occupations in social science. Now i"m a professor in the social sciences.

You can do JVIS online now here and find more info about the Canadian Work
Preference Inventory here

The advice to go to college instead of university is based on the US ed system. In

canada I would say don't go to college unless you know what you want to do. To
keep your options open, go to university, take some intro courses and see what
grabs your interest.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:45 AM on December 8 [1 favorite]

Is she sure she wants to go to college? Ask her why! I wish someone would have
asked me and made me answer specifically. It would have saved me a bundle of money
and a year of my life. If she is ready to go to college and if she really wants to
go, then she'll take the question seriously and do some good soul searching and be
able to talk about the reasons she wants to attend college.

Nowadays I see all of these kids going off to school without really thinking about
why they want to go, what life path they are going down. Does she really want a
career? Does she think or expect that it will lead to greater happiness? Does she
want a career for financial security? No, I'm not being facetious. I'm absolutely
serious. These questions NEED to be asked.
posted by symbollocks at 9:50 AM on December 8 [1 favorite]

I would tell her that a good technical associate's degree is an awesome investment

If you go for a technical associate's degree do yourself a favor and take transfer
level credits for the required generals. In my case, I randomly took some generals
at transfer level and some at the non-transfer level The difference in difficulty
was not noticeable. But the difference in transferring credits to a 4 year college
is HUGE.

Cuz trust me, it is extremely irritating sitting through some lame gen ed
requirement at a technical college and having it not count and having to take its
doppleganger at a university.

I'm looking at you 'Contemporary American Society'!!!

posted by ian1977 at 9:50 AM on December 8
I'd also recommend not feeling pressured to choose a major. When I went to college
we had to declare it our second year. My first year, I was strongly considering:
Physics, Astrophysics, Spanish Literature, Medieval European History and

I took classes in almost all of the above my first year and its amazing how soon
you discover what actually inspires you in a more rigorous setting surrounded by
motivated classmates. In colleges with their vast libraries and departments is, I
thought, supposed to be the place where you discover what excites you.
posted by vacapinta at 9:54 AM on December 8

One of the biggest problems facing my (ontario high school) students is the
inability to connect a college or university course/diploma/degree to a career.

They tend to think a bit narrowly in getting from point A to point B. Make sure
that she knows that it's generally OK to start something without a fully developed
idea of where it will take her.

It would likely be beneficial to take some time to explain to her the differences
between a college diploma and a university degree, and provide examples of the
different career opportunities that may result from selecting one or the other.
posted by davey_darling at 9:59 AM on December 8

Honestly, I think a lot of the university vs. college thing is dependent on the
person. I have a friend who started out the same year as me at Laurier, went into
Psych, ran with it, and is now a Psychology-Political Science double major with a
minor in Religion and Culture. University is totally her thing, and she thrives on
it. She'll probably be doing a master's, if not a doctorate.

I, on the other hand, floundered through two years of Communication Studies,

failing left right and centre before finally cluing in that maybe University
wasn't for me. Halfway through a class on Boolean logic I went home, applied to a
highly specific college program, and dropped out of university. I'm a thousand
times happier with my education now, because I go to school with ~50 students, six
faculty members, and get constant, tailored feedback.

In terms of finding programs-- Ontario Colleges has a program listing here; a

similar university based tool is here. I also really recommend going to see any of
the schools she displays interest in. My guidance counselor arranged a few trips
for us and it really helped to get a sense of the campus, the city, and the
atmosphere. I learned that UofT was waaaay to big for me, while Nipissing felt
like a high school.
posted by riane at 10:40 AM on December 8

This is maybe slightly off the point but it stood out to me that you are a
neighbor and dont seem to know too many specifics about the situation with the

I would have been slightly weirded out by the pressure of a neighbor suddenly
jumping in on my college search.
Not to mention that at that age I just wanted everybody, including my own parents,
to get off my back about the "big decision".

Its possible you are good friends with them or have a personal relationship with
the girl, in which case it may seem natural and welcome... If not, or maybe too if
How about calling up the girl or her parents and offering to take the girl out to
coffee to talk about the issue? Tell them you remember being overwhelmed in the
situation and you thought she might be interested in your perspective and had some
ideas to help her in the search.

You might start off by telling her about your university/major/profession and how
you feel your interests or skills come into play in them. Is yours a good or bad
match, get her thinking about looking at that. There are some personality tests
which highlight strengths and interests she may not have thought of (working with
people, hands on, introverted, likes problem solving, math/science vs humanities)
that shouldn't make decisions for her but may set her in gear towards making
decisions that reflect things she'll like and benefit from.

Ask her what resources she already has or has looked into. If shes already getting
overwhelmed by school/parents/etc she may not want lots of extra help. I was in
the US but at school we had sessions and counselors dedicated to helping, my
parents were involved, and I had millions of mailings coming to the house. If this
isn't the case for her, offer your help in an info search. Once shes narrowed down
help her solicit info from the schools or offer to accompany her on a visit and
tour (personally, at 18 I would have been capable of going on my own to visit but
without someone kind of pushing me to do so I would have been lazy or reluctant to
get around to it).

If she really seems lost or open to your help and you take on the role of
facilitating her search maybe you could do something cute like buy a 3 ring binder
and throw in some newspaper articles or college search checklists to bring around
to your campus visits (theyll give out tons of handouts).

But like I said, make sure she wants this help first and its not another unneeded
posted by nzydarkxj at 11:29 AM on December 8

A starting off point might be asking her what she really enjoys doing, and then
trying to find a way to make money doing it. Whether it's writing, working with
children, playing on the computer, working on car engines; lots of these
activities can translate to careers.
posted by NoraCharles at 12:59 PM on December 8

One of the biggest problems facing my (ontario high school) students is the
inability to connect a college or university course/diploma/degree to a career.

This, most definitely.

It would take effort on her part, but I think it would be worthwhile for her to do
some volunteering in any field of interest she may have. She may be interested in
NGOs or not-for-profit organizations but not understand what people do there,
other than save hungry children or the Amazon rain forest. Volunteering would
allow her to experience the job culture, learn what programs or degrees would get
her a better job and make connections for the future.
posted by Rora at 1:41 PM on December 8

Why should she go to college at all? Working and travelling are a pretty great way
to go, and that's about the best time to do it.
I feel like if someone can't figure out what they want to do when they go to
college they might better off not go.
posted by sully75 at 2:17 PM on December 8