Three students sitting and smiling outside

Naomi Written by Naomi (she/her), student 

Deciding on a career can be daunting, but we have plenty of experience guiding students through the process. Learn how to choose the right career for you.  

High school graduation is around the corner, and it’s time to make the ultimate decision of choosing a career. Everyone around you seems to know exactly what they want to do, but you’re not even sure which path you want to pursue.

Sound familiar? Don’t stress! Current university student here: I can help you out. 

Let’s get one thing straight – your entire life doesn’t have to be figured out before you turn 18. Deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life can be nerve-racking and putting unrealistic expectations on yourself will only stress you out. Take it step-by-step. You don’t need a 10-year plan, but it’s good to get a head start and to begin thinking about these things.

Finding the right career path for you

What constitutes an amazing job to someone else could sound like a nightmare to you, and your dream job might not be everybody's cup of tea. 

We're looking for the right career path for you, so drown out those other opinions and focus on yourself. You don’t have to become a doctor because your grandma said it’s the only way to be successful, and you don’t have to build your career path solely to impress your family or outshine your siblings.

At the end of the day, it's your life, and the only person directly affected by the decisions you make is you.

So, how do you narrow it down? There are three main things to focus on: passion, success, and expectations.

student working on laptop

Pinpoint your passion

I don’t know about you, but I hate the cliché “What are your top strengths and weaknesses?” interview question. Nonetheless, we’ll be using that question as our guiding point. 

You don’t want to end up doing something you hate, so you have to find out what works for you. What are you good at? What’s your best subject in school? What do you absolutely never want to do again? Basically, what are your strengths and weaknesses?  

These are all questions that will kick-start the process of narrowing down what career is best for you. Take time to explore your interests and values and think about your strongest qualities. If you love crunching numbers and you aced your math classes, try looking into financial jobs. If you’ve always been into marketing and selling, consider a career in business. Career tests and Google are great resources in helping you figure out what sorts of jobs align with your interests.

Visualize your success

Everyone’s definition of success is different – what does it mean to you? It could be securing a job with a great pension so you can retire early. Maybe you’d like to see the world and work a job with international travel. It could also mean working flexible hours or being your own manager, so you’d have control over your schedule and more free time. Do some research to see what’s out there!  

Internships are a great way to gain first-hand experience and learn more about an industry. Then there’s websites like Glassdoor, which offer valuable insights into different careers, as they allow employees to review companies. Once you figure out what your version of success looks like, you’ll find jobs that could give you what you’re looking for.

Examine the expectations

So, you’ve done some self-reflection and looked into the types of jobs that exist for someone with your passions. Now it’s time to figure out what you can expect in those workplaces, and whether that career aligns with the lifestyle you want for yourself. 

Figure out the amount of time that goes into getting that career, and the type of environment you’d be in. Not all companies operate the exact same, but there are still common aspects about jobs that could make or break it for you. Consider the following:

  • What’s the time investment? What sort of education is required?

  • How flexible is the industry? Is there room for professional development?

  • What would your days look like? 9-5 in-office? Freelance?

  • What’s the average salary?

  • How important is work-life balance to you? Is this career demanding?

Asking questions and doing research are necessary steps to help you determine whether the careers you’re interested in are worth it for you. Having informational interviews with professionals from your fields of interest is a great way to get some answers and LinkedIn is the perfect platform for that. Let’s be real — people love talking about themselves! Take advantage of that and learn about the environment and responsibilities of your potential future careers.

student reading a viewbook

Is university worth it?

I know what you’re thinking: after 12 years of school, I’m expected to go back again, but this time pay thousands of dollars for it? Yeah, it sounds like a rip off, but hear me out. While a university degree isn’t required for every job, the level of education you have can impact your salary.

Canadian students enrolled in full-time undergraduate programs pay, on average, $7,000 in tuition per semester. However, their average salary two years post-graduation is also $53,000, compared to the $35,000 high school graduates earn. More often than not, higher education equals higher earnings. Lawyers might have to do three years of intense law school, but their average salary two years after graduation is $78,000.

Being in a university’s co-op program is also one of the best ways to test-drive your career path and gain an edge in the workforce. You get hands-on experience in your fields of interest, which can help you figure out that you like doing before you’re even finished school. Students in Waterloo’s co-op program also earn an average of $9,000 to $21,500 per work term in Canada, which can also help fund your tuition.

More education after high school might not be the most appealing thing in the world to everyone, and that’s okay. Weigh out the pros and cons, identify your goals, and find out if you need more schooling to get to where you want to be.

resume on a desk

Careers in demand

Let’s face it – it would suck if you spent time figuring out what jobs you like only to realize that the choices left on your dwindling list were dying career options. It’s worth looking into how in-demand your area of interest is, and what careers might be the most popular in the future. 

If you look at the top in-demand jobs for the next decade, careers in health, environment, and technology will be the most popular. This ranges from registered nurses, to software developers, to solar photovoltaic installers. Teachers, financial managers, and physicians are also at the top of the list. Plus, there’s jobs out there that don’t even exist yet; think of the fields that are bound to expand soon! Just do your research so you’re not out of the loop.

There are plenty of fish in the sea

Yes, we’re back to the clichés, but bear with me. If I tell you to name five occupations, odds are you’ll name one of the few I’ve already mentioned so far – doctors, lawyers, teachers – that’s simply because those are the most talked about. If you're genuinely interested in being a doctor, lawyer, or teacher, go for it! But if these careers aren't of genuine interest to you, there are tons of other options you could explore. 

You don't have to pick a "mainstream" career if you don't want to; out of the thousands of jobs that exist, there's one that's suited just for you.

It’s okay to stray from what other people might like. For example, if you’re more introverted and the idea of being surrounded by people all day makes your skin crawl, then don’t worry — there are lots of careers out there that don't revolve around socialization!

Architects and accountants are examples of careers that involve lots of independent work. Although those roles might require you to meet with clients occasionally, most of the work is done solo. There are also quite a few remote jobs, including occupations like application developers, content managers, graphic designers, or editors. There are even flexible-schedule positions that allow for more freedom, like social media-based roles to fitness-related careers, to jobs like a translator, or a photographer.

It doesn’t matter what your personality type is, whether you’re an introvert, an independent worker, or a free spirit who doesn’t follow the societal norm. Bottom line is: there’s something out there for everyone.

students sitting together and laughing

If you're still undecided

So, you’ve gone through all the steps, and you’re still absolutely clueless.

Deep breath! I’m here to help, not to stress you out. 

Not having a current or future plan doesn’t mean you can’t still build your resume and your character. Take time to learn about your values and develop your soft skills. These are the things that will truly help you succeed in life. You might have the periodic table memorized and know the value of Pi like the back of your hand, but if you throw a tantrum when you receive constructive criticism from your boss, you might find it hard to navigate your future workplace. 

Skills like successful communication, collaboration, time management, adaptability; strengthening these will benefit you in the long run. These are skills we’ve all picked up over the years, through working with peers in the classroom, or volunteering, or balancing academics and extracurriculars. Luckily, they can always be improved, too. You can take specialized courses for the things you really want to work on, or you can do something as simple as trying out a new hobby to get yourself comfortable with change.

Figure out what’s important to you and what you want to work on, then do what you can to become the best possible version of yourself.

Your life, your rules

Like I said, no one’s affected more by your decisions than yourself. Go at your own pace! I know people who have taken gap years to travel before going to university and said it was the best choice they ever made, and I know people who did back-to-back schooling and are happy and stable. 

I also know it can be scary — I was in the same boat myself no too long ago. I also spent months agonizing over the career path I wanted and did hours of research. Now, I’m happily studying my major and working jobs relevant to my future career. Even if I change my mind in a few years, I know that my degree provides me with the foundation that I need to continue thriving and achieve my version of success.

Remember that there’s no one way to start your journey, and people arrive at their field of interest via different, unique paths. Your distinctive background, skills, and experiences are the tools that will ultimately lead you to success. It might not always be the easiest process, but big decisions take time, and the work you put into this choice is going to pay off in the long run. Regardless of where you are in your decision-making process, you’re going to figure it out and pick the right career for you.


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