Career Confusion: Should 18 Year Olds Be Expected To Pick A Career Path?


Ali Chesley, Opinion Editor

High School isn’t going to last forever. The next step for many of us will be to go to college or to
start our careers. To some this may sound overwhelming. But don’t worry, it’s as scary as it sounds!
In America we have a pervasive culture of independence and fulfillment seeking. It only makes
sense that these values would transfer over into education and picking a career. Many young people are
excited to start a career, and after years of being asked about what you want to do, who wouldn’t be? But
there’s a common occurence behind the pressure to pick a career path at eighteen, that makes many
question its validity.
The teenage brain is already predisposed to higher risk of anxiety, because the human brain isn’t
fully developed until the age of twenty-five. High school students are expected to have a plan. You should
go to college, find a major, if you haven’t already, graduate, and find a job. When it comes to the future,
high school Juniors and Seniors are feeling the pressure. Despite the stress, there are advantages to
picking a career path early. The sooner you start, the sooner you start to succeed and make money. The
only issue with this is that most teens don’t have a true understanding of what they are getting themselves
into. For every student with a “plan,” there’s another that’s lost. According to a national student survey
by Youth Truth, 45.7% of students agree that their school has helped them find careers that match their
interests/abilities. 44.8% of students feel positively about their overall college/career readiness. The
American High School system excels at teaching students to memorise information and to focus on letter
grades, but is it preparing us for picking a career path? This stress and anxiety during high school, that is
perpetuated by American culture, won’t likely amount to a decisive career path.
The average college student changes their major at least three times during their college career.
According to a study done by the U.S. Department of Education, about one-third of students enrolled in
bachelor’s degree programs changed majors. A study done by the Student Research Foundation showed
that, “52% of math majors switched to another major, 40% of natural sciences majors switched, 37% of
education majors switched, 36% of humanities majors switched, 35% of all STEM majors switched, 32%
of engineering majors switched, 32% of general studies majors switched, 31% of social science majors
switched, 31% of business majors switched, 28% of computer and information sciences majors switched,
26% of healthcare field majors switched.”
The reasons for these switches are usually because the programs weren’t what they were
expecting. Maybe a student went into the program already knowing a lot about the subject, or not
anticipating the initial classes would be to a certain degree of difficulty. Even after students settle on a
major, there are still issues. According to the Mcgraw hill Education’s Work Readiness survey: Only 40%
of college seniors feel their college experience has been very helpful in preparing them for a career. Also
according to the survey, “Men are more likely than women to feel ‘very prepared’ for their careers; Arts
& Humanities majors are three times as likely as other students to feel ‘not at all prepared.’” College is an
investment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Unpreparedness, misunderstanding, societal pressure, and and
the expectation to decide on a career path at a young age are complicating the process. Besides these
reasons, there are countless other complications in picking a career path at eighteen. Students may feel
pressure from their families or may just not know what they want.
What do these statistics mean for high school students today? In lieu of the frightening statistics,
students shouldn’t be afraid to do research and use resources like the College and Career Center to
improve their understanding of their career options. An increasing number of students are choosing to go into college as undeclared, which is a great option. JC’s, gap years, and vocational schools are often
disregarded for being a lesser option compared to a four year school. This is not true. Internships and the
internet are a valuable way to increase your overall comprehension. Students may feel the pressure, but
the culture around picking a career doesn’t have to stump you.