Occupational Outlook Handbook Helps Students Explore Careers

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Editor’s note: A version of this post was originally published on Admitted in December 2015.

For Gail Grand’s students, the college search process is about more than just picking a campus.

Teens complete an aptitude and interest test and explore careers before ever submitting applications. The strategy is a smart one.

Fewer than four in 10 college students graduate in four years, federal data show. And as tuition rates continue to grow, extra years in school can often mean additional debt.

Tapping into resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) helps teens make wise college choices, said Grand, an independent college counselor based in California’s Westlake Village. It also increases students’ likelihood of graduating on time, she noted.

“It’s a great jumping off point,” said Grand, a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). “I use it to go more in-depth with students. We look at what the career entails, and which fields really appeal to them.”

Each OOH occupation profile includes on-the-job duties and entry-level education requirements. Students can see if the number of jobs in the profession is projected to grow or shrink over the next decade, and check out the median salary.

Teens who access that data while making college decisions “become more informed consumers,” said Dana Ponsky, co-director of college counseling at Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland.

The OOH can also help students learn more about careers they might have otherwise written off. Ponsky, another NACAC member, recalls counseling a student at her previous school. The teen had completed an online assessment that showed he would be well-suited to a career in floral design.

“He was very clear about saying: That’s not me. I’m not going to be a florist,” Ponsky said.

But by using the OOH, Ponsky was able to get the student to reflect on other occupations that might be of interest.

“I asked him to think about the fact that the flower business in the United States is one of the biggest export/import businesses in world,” she recalled. “That shifted the conversation. He used the handbook to investigate options in international business. Ultimately, that was what he pursued for undergrad.”

Ponsky and Grand agree: Not every high school student can (or should) select an occupation prior to college admission.

Nonetheless, OOH and other career exploration resources are an invaluable part of the college application process.

One of the OOH features that Grand finds most helpful is the “More Info” tab, which commonly includes links to professional groups associated with each occupation. She encourages her students to use those resources to pursue mentorships or job shadow opportunities.

“Lots of times kids are going to change majors, but I think when they have an idea of what they want before they go they’re more likely to finish in four years ” said Grand, who worked as a school-based counselor for 22 years before founding her company, The College Advisor, Inc. “They have a purpose. They have a passion.”

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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