What are the questions that first-year college students ask?


What are the questions that first-year college students ask?

What major should I choose in college? What career will I pursue?

Some people say, follow your passion. Others, find a good paying job.

For me, I want to know What am I  going to do? But it is important to ask: What do you want to do?

As a first-year college student, when you are looking toward the future, what is your intent?

  • Are you seeking a career?
  • Are you seeking a high-paying job?
  • Do you want career opportunities; meaning, do you want career potential?
  • Do you want a work/life balance?
  • Are you interested in traveling? Not traveling?


Too often, students’ graduate college, which is a huge achievement, with no plan for the next day. They are completely lost. The goal was to graduate college and that is accomplished. Check! Done! Finished! However, the four years in college was intended to prepare you for what happens once you graduate. Somehow, this objective is lost while working to accomplish the one main goal: to graduate. The questions they need to ask, the ones above, are not asked, nor are they answered. That is a problem.

After years of watching this moment of reality, “crash following graduation day,” I decided to put down, a simple clear plan, and a solution to the four-year graduation crash. I wrote Check It Off! Pave Your Way through College to Career. One critical piece seemed to be missing for so many students: a plan.

Without a plan, a lot can happen.
Students drop out of college, move back home, obtain a job unrelated to having a college degree, or fall into a depression. So many come away from their single biggest accomplishment with a feeling of hopelessness. Feelings of being alone to figure next steps with parents wanting to know what your plans are for getting a job are unbearable. For most students, deciding on a career takes time. What it really takes is exploration.

Exploring interests and passions can be done while in college. It should be done in college! Even if a student selects a major and they are not “thrilled” with the decision, they need to take the time to explore options–all their options! And there is good news for that college graduate: Even if they graduate college with an obscure major and no direction for a career, there is hope when you have a plan.

The Real World

I recently met up with a student I had consulted with a few years ago. She came to me as a student who had just graduated college with no plans or direction for the future. She was an excellent student. She worked extremely hard in high school to obtain acceptance to a top-tier university and worked very hard to maintain an excellent GPA while in college. Once she graduated college, depression began to creep in. Her depression was easy to understand. She had fulfilled her goal of getting into and graduating a great college. She had the pride of family and friends posting photos on Facebook, but her college group of friends all began to scatter; they were college graduates now! It all looked good, but inside she did not know what to do next.

Together we sat down to review her accomplishment and also face the gap she had without a plan for her career. We reviewed the questions that went deep into her talents and intentions. How do you navigate job opportunities when you are not sure they are the right fit? In many ways, it is similar to finding your degree path: lots of deep conversation and analysis of the pros and cons. Together we made a list and began to look closer at each opportunity.

While at an informal gathering, I met up with a woman who worked for an educational center similar to the Kaplan centers. She was telling me about her work and the opportunities at her center. I immediately introduced my struggling student to the center even though the opportunity being presented didn’t seem to fit with her new list of ideal job goals. We took the opportunity and began to see how it fit into her talents and her newly created long-term goals. This was a perfect fit for her because although the focus was on education, other aspects of the job would provide valuable experience.

Exploring Your Options


The center was its own “store.” I showed her that this opportunity existed as a possibility for her to gain experience in various areas: marketing, accounting, and business management. In addition, obtaining knowledge of educational policies was a real plus for her. Discussing alternative approaches to educating children to parents was part of the position, and that appealed to her. She decided to take this role and after a few years at the center, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in educational policy.

The experiences she gained in working there began to direct her interests even further; and with her new career plan, she was on track to accomplish even greater things. While attending graduate school, she did an internship at the Department of Education in educational policy, and like so many internships do, a position at the department opened up and she applied and got the position.

This student’s major in college was English Literature with a minor in French. Her interests varied, and it took deep exploration into her skills and interests to see that exposure and experience in multiple career fields would help her to determine where her real passions were. Ultimately, this process and plan would reveal to her a solid career choice

Exploration Takes Time


One of the benefits of working through a career plan while still in college is having a much softer landing once the graduation party is over. When in doubt on a major or career choice, I strongly encourage you not to give up. Find a position where you can experience multiple jobs (just like you did while taking multiple classes.) Yes, it may take time. And yes, your parents and friends are going to keep asking you “what is your plan?” Tell them you have a plan.

Ultimately, navigating through work opportunities is how you will find your passion and the job meant for you.


Vera Teller is a professor at California State University Dominguez Hills. She is a Ph.D., and has written two books to help her students navigate the bumpy road from college to career, Check It Off! and Navigate Your Way to the Career You Want. She lives in Southern California, is an in-demand College-to-Career Speaker, and consults with parents and students on navigating the entire process. www.verateller.com

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