The Importance of Career Exposure in Elementary, Middle, And High School

September 11, 2023

Students’ understanding of possible career choices is often limited by their real-world experiences. Many times, they are primarily only aware of the professions of family members, friends, or those they see on television, in movies, or on social media. In small districts and towns, the overall pool and diversity of businesses and career options is typically even more constrained, and students within these communities are naturally exposed to fewer possible career paths. This fact, combined with the rapidly evolving landscape of a global economy, makes the role of a school counselor in educating students about career options especially critical and valuable. 

As part of a comprehensive and cohesive college and career readiness (CCR) program, it is important for educators and counselors to act with intention to introduce students to a wide swath of possible career options–especially those that do not exist within their own areas–beginning as young as elementary school. Technology-enabled tools can be tremendously useful in showing students different career choices, connecting students with professionals and mentors, and even providing first-hand experiences trying out simulations of different jobs and work environments. 

Use the tips and resources below to broaden students’ sense of what is possible; build connections between students’ strengths and passions and possible career fits; and inspire dreams and plans for the future that are not constrained by geographic location. 

Elementary School

Career exposure that starts in elementary school can help students to connect their interests with possible future career paths and build an awareness of what careers exist, especially those outside of their community. It can foster curiosity in learning, reduce stereotypes in the careers students see themselves being able to do, and build confidence and enthusiasm as students think about their futures with an open mind. Even though a career choice seems so many years away for elementary-aged students, planting seeds and helping students make connections between their strengths and passions and different careers can have a lasting impact. 

Tips & Best Practices

  • Empower teachers with resources that showcase a broad range of careers and are fitting for the grade levels they teach. Advocate for professional learning on jobs and careers; educators can only share information on and make connections to pathways they know about. 
  • Encourage teachers to make connections between activities, interests, play and jobs. Talk about easy tie-ins to career conversations within books or subject matter learning. 
  • Expose students to careers within their community, and make a special effort to talk about and show jobs and careers that are unfamiliar to students. Cover a range of professions to best capture students’ interests and spark curiosity. 

Resources

  • A to Z Career Lab includes short videos and kid-friendly descriptions of a variety of careers, one for each letter of the alphabet. 
  • You Wanna Be a What?! showcases the awe-inspiring careers of National Geographic explorers in short videos. 
  • Stem Career Labs by PBS includes videos highlighting a variety of STEM-related professions such as aerospace engineering, architecture, and biomedical engineering. 
  • We are Teachers put together a list of 40 Amazing Educational Virtual Field Trips –including trips to museums, recycling centers, Amazon Fulfillment Centers, space, and more–that include connections to careers. 
  • SchooLinks members have access to elementary-specific job exploration with career-focused lessons, activities, and videos. 

Middle School

Middle schoolers are at a critical age of exploration and reflection as they more deeply learn about what they like to do. Learning about careers during these formative years can help them to set goals, build motivation for school work, and reduce anxiety as they think about their future. Career exposure in middle school can also be important to inform students’ decisions about electives in high school or extracurricular participation. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Work with school administrators to offer classes or integrate lessons geared at career exposure and engagement. Consider providing students with opportunities for a variety of hands-on learning experiences to help them test out different fields and types of learning. 
  • Introduce the idea of industry certifications to students. Consider finding ways to offer opportunities for students to take courses and earn industry certifications. As part of this coursework or programming, teach students which careers specific certifications are relevant in and how they can utilize the certifications in the future. 
  • Find ways to build excitement by previewing future career and technical education (CTE) programs for students, as well as other career-oriented high school coursework and extracurricular opportunities, that might be available for students in the future. 

Resources

  • Career Explorer by Sokanu offers a career assessment for students to discover connections between their interests and personalities to possible career paths by ranking activities from “hate it” to “love it.”
  • O*Net Interest Profiler helps students to identify their interests and how they relate to jobs and careers by rating their interests on a 5-point scale. 
  • The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) put together a series of podcasts and webinars for educators to learn about the importance of middle school career exploration and the development of employability skills.  

High School

High school coursework and decision-making is fundamentally tied to ensuring students are prepared for college, careers, and life. Career exposure in high school is absolutely critical as the decisions students make about coursework, extracurricular activities, and work-based learning opportunities will, in most cases, determine what postsecondary options are available to them. Without knowledge of what different careers exist and, therefore, require, students risk not being prepared for their next steps. Giving students more detailed information about a variety of career options and finding ways to connect students with role models and mentors can be pivotal in having students align their passions with career choices and building networks of support for students going forward. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Connect students with role models, mentors, or others who can share their lived experiences and lessons learned with students. These individuals can be recent alumni who can provide information on their own experiences or seasoned professionals who have been in a particular field for decades. Having someone for students to bounce ideas off of and help navigate different pathways can be crucial for student postsecondary success. 
  • Utilize a CCR platform such as SchooLinks to provide channels for students to ask professionals from a wide swath of careers questions and hear about their experiences. Providing mechanisms for students to connect with people who are in a field of interest and ask about the nuances of a role can be very helpful in both reinforcing an aspiration or weeding out options that might not be a good fit. 
  • Consider partnering with local colleges or universities to increase the opportunities for coursework for students. Oftentimes a smaller district is not able to provide students the same range of advanced course options to explore subjects in-depth, learn more obscure languages, or work with professional-grade equipment. Sharing resources with university partners can be a great way to expand access to these opportunities. 
  • Find ways for students to participate in work-based learning opportunities such as internships so they can get real-world experiences with different fields and types of work environments. Encourage them to explore remote options so they are able to have experiences that are not limited by their geographic location. 

Resources 

  • The ACE Mentor Program of America (ACE) is a free after-school program for high schoolers that aims to connect students to careers in architecture, construction, engineering, and skilled trades. 
  • U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop provides students with resources and links for career exploration, training, and job searches. 
  • College Board’s Big Future site provides students with career, college, and scholarship quizzes to guide their thinking and planning. 

Expand Career Exposure to Families 

Just as it is important to help broaden students’ understanding of available careers and potential options, it is also critical to include families in this process. Parents and caregivers in smaller districts and towns, like their students, often also have more limited experience with a wide range of career options. Involving families in career exposure all throughout school can help foster a more supportive and accepting environment for students and mitigate fear of the unknown for families. 

With a deeper understanding of the variety of careers, fields, and options that exist–and the pathways to achieve those career outcomes–parents and families are better able to provide guidance, encouragement, and identify resources that can help their children achieve their dreams. And, when schools and districts increase the diversity of career options students see as available, there is an infusion of hope and opportunity to match their passions with a long-term job choice. These efforts create an embedded cycle of aspiration and growth for the individual students, families, and entire communities. 

Students’ understanding of possible career choices is often limited by their real-world experiences. Many times, they are primarily only aware of the professions of family members, friends, or those they see on television, in movies, or on social media. In small districts and towns, the overall pool and diversity of businesses and career options is typically even more constrained, and students within these communities are naturally exposed to fewer possible career paths. This fact, combined with the rapidly evolving landscape of a global economy, makes the role of a school counselor in educating students about career options especially critical and valuable. 

As part of a comprehensive and cohesive college and career readiness (CCR) program, it is important for educators and counselors to act with intention to introduce students to a wide swath of possible career options–especially those that do not exist within their own areas–beginning as young as elementary school. Technology-enabled tools can be tremendously useful in showing students different career choices, connecting students with professionals and mentors, and even providing first-hand experiences trying out simulations of different jobs and work environments. 

Use the tips and resources below to broaden students’ sense of what is possible; build connections between students’ strengths and passions and possible career fits; and inspire dreams and plans for the future that are not constrained by geographic location. 

Elementary School

Career exposure that starts in elementary school can help students to connect their interests with possible future career paths and build an awareness of what careers exist, especially those outside of their community. It can foster curiosity in learning, reduce stereotypes in the careers students see themselves being able to do, and build confidence and enthusiasm as students think about their futures with an open mind. Even though a career choice seems so many years away for elementary-aged students, planting seeds and helping students make connections between their strengths and passions and different careers can have a lasting impact. 

Tips & Best Practices

  • Empower teachers with resources that showcase a broad range of careers and are fitting for the grade levels they teach. Advocate for professional learning on jobs and careers; educators can only share information on and make connections to pathways they know about. 
  • Encourage teachers to make connections between activities, interests, play and jobs. Talk about easy tie-ins to career conversations within books or subject matter learning. 
  • Expose students to careers within their community, and make a special effort to talk about and show jobs and careers that are unfamiliar to students. Cover a range of professions to best capture students’ interests and spark curiosity. 

Resources

  • A to Z Career Lab includes short videos and kid-friendly descriptions of a variety of careers, one for each letter of the alphabet. 
  • You Wanna Be a What?! showcases the awe-inspiring careers of National Geographic explorers in short videos. 
  • Stem Career Labs by PBS includes videos highlighting a variety of STEM-related professions such as aerospace engineering, architecture, and biomedical engineering. 
  • We are Teachers put together a list of 40 Amazing Educational Virtual Field Trips –including trips to museums, recycling centers, Amazon Fulfillment Centers, space, and more–that include connections to careers. 
  • SchooLinks members have access to elementary-specific job exploration with career-focused lessons, activities, and videos. 

Middle School

Middle schoolers are at a critical age of exploration and reflection as they more deeply learn about what they like to do. Learning about careers during these formative years can help them to set goals, build motivation for school work, and reduce anxiety as they think about their future. Career exposure in middle school can also be important to inform students’ decisions about electives in high school or extracurricular participation. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Work with school administrators to offer classes or integrate lessons geared at career exposure and engagement. Consider providing students with opportunities for a variety of hands-on learning experiences to help them test out different fields and types of learning. 
  • Introduce the idea of industry certifications to students. Consider finding ways to offer opportunities for students to take courses and earn industry certifications. As part of this coursework or programming, teach students which careers specific certifications are relevant in and how they can utilize the certifications in the future. 
  • Find ways to build excitement by previewing future career and technical education (CTE) programs for students, as well as other career-oriented high school coursework and extracurricular opportunities, that might be available for students in the future. 

Resources

  • Career Explorer by Sokanu offers a career assessment for students to discover connections between their interests and personalities to possible career paths by ranking activities from “hate it” to “love it.”
  • O*Net Interest Profiler helps students to identify their interests and how they relate to jobs and careers by rating their interests on a 5-point scale. 
  • The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) put together a series of podcasts and webinars for educators to learn about the importance of middle school career exploration and the development of employability skills.  

High School

High school coursework and decision-making is fundamentally tied to ensuring students are prepared for college, careers, and life. Career exposure in high school is absolutely critical as the decisions students make about coursework, extracurricular activities, and work-based learning opportunities will, in most cases, determine what postsecondary options are available to them. Without knowledge of what different careers exist and, therefore, require, students risk not being prepared for their next steps. Giving students more detailed information about a variety of career options and finding ways to connect students with role models and mentors can be pivotal in having students align their passions with career choices and building networks of support for students going forward. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Connect students with role models, mentors, or others who can share their lived experiences and lessons learned with students. These individuals can be recent alumni who can provide information on their own experiences or seasoned professionals who have been in a particular field for decades. Having someone for students to bounce ideas off of and help navigate different pathways can be crucial for student postsecondary success. 
  • Utilize a CCR platform such as SchooLinks to provide channels for students to ask professionals from a wide swath of careers questions and hear about their experiences. Providing mechanisms for students to connect with people who are in a field of interest and ask about the nuances of a role can be very helpful in both reinforcing an aspiration or weeding out options that might not be a good fit. 
  • Consider partnering with local colleges or universities to increase the opportunities for coursework for students. Oftentimes a smaller district is not able to provide students the same range of advanced course options to explore subjects in-depth, learn more obscure languages, or work with professional-grade equipment. Sharing resources with university partners can be a great way to expand access to these opportunities. 
  • Find ways for students to participate in work-based learning opportunities such as internships so they can get real-world experiences with different fields and types of work environments. Encourage them to explore remote options so they are able to have experiences that are not limited by their geographic location. 

Resources 

  • The ACE Mentor Program of America (ACE) is a free after-school program for high schoolers that aims to connect students to careers in architecture, construction, engineering, and skilled trades. 
  • U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop provides students with resources and links for career exploration, training, and job searches. 
  • College Board’s Big Future site provides students with career, college, and scholarship quizzes to guide their thinking and planning. 

Expand Career Exposure to Families 

Just as it is important to help broaden students’ understanding of available careers and potential options, it is also critical to include families in this process. Parents and caregivers in smaller districts and towns, like their students, often also have more limited experience with a wide range of career options. Involving families in career exposure all throughout school can help foster a more supportive and accepting environment for students and mitigate fear of the unknown for families. 

With a deeper understanding of the variety of careers, fields, and options that exist–and the pathways to achieve those career outcomes–parents and families are better able to provide guidance, encouragement, and identify resources that can help their children achieve their dreams. And, when schools and districts increase the diversity of career options students see as available, there is an infusion of hope and opportunity to match their passions with a long-term job choice. These efforts create an embedded cycle of aspiration and growth for the individual students, families, and entire communities. 

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Students’ understanding of possible career choices is often limited by their real-world experiences. Many times, they are primarily only aware of the professions of family members, friends, or those they see on television, in movies, or on social media. In small districts and towns, the overall pool and diversity of businesses and career options is typically even more constrained, and students within these communities are naturally exposed to fewer possible career paths. This fact, combined with the rapidly evolving landscape of a global economy, makes the role of a school counselor in educating students about career options especially critical and valuable. 

As part of a comprehensive and cohesive college and career readiness (CCR) program, it is important for educators and counselors to act with intention to introduce students to a wide swath of possible career options–especially those that do not exist within their own areas–beginning as young as elementary school. Technology-enabled tools can be tremendously useful in showing students different career choices, connecting students with professionals and mentors, and even providing first-hand experiences trying out simulations of different jobs and work environments. 

Use the tips and resources below to broaden students’ sense of what is possible; build connections between students’ strengths and passions and possible career fits; and inspire dreams and plans for the future that are not constrained by geographic location. 

Elementary School

Career exposure that starts in elementary school can help students to connect their interests with possible future career paths and build an awareness of what careers exist, especially those outside of their community. It can foster curiosity in learning, reduce stereotypes in the careers students see themselves being able to do, and build confidence and enthusiasm as students think about their futures with an open mind. Even though a career choice seems so many years away for elementary-aged students, planting seeds and helping students make connections between their strengths and passions and different careers can have a lasting impact. 

Tips & Best Practices

  • Empower teachers with resources that showcase a broad range of careers and are fitting for the grade levels they teach. Advocate for professional learning on jobs and careers; educators can only share information on and make connections to pathways they know about. 
  • Encourage teachers to make connections between activities, interests, play and jobs. Talk about easy tie-ins to career conversations within books or subject matter learning. 
  • Expose students to careers within their community, and make a special effort to talk about and show jobs and careers that are unfamiliar to students. Cover a range of professions to best capture students’ interests and spark curiosity. 

Resources

  • A to Z Career Lab includes short videos and kid-friendly descriptions of a variety of careers, one for each letter of the alphabet. 
  • You Wanna Be a What?! showcases the awe-inspiring careers of National Geographic explorers in short videos. 
  • Stem Career Labs by PBS includes videos highlighting a variety of STEM-related professions such as aerospace engineering, architecture, and biomedical engineering. 
  • We are Teachers put together a list of 40 Amazing Educational Virtual Field Trips –including trips to museums, recycling centers, Amazon Fulfillment Centers, space, and more–that include connections to careers. 
  • SchooLinks members have access to elementary-specific job exploration with career-focused lessons, activities, and videos. 

Middle School

Middle schoolers are at a critical age of exploration and reflection as they more deeply learn about what they like to do. Learning about careers during these formative years can help them to set goals, build motivation for school work, and reduce anxiety as they think about their future. Career exposure in middle school can also be important to inform students’ decisions about electives in high school or extracurricular participation. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Work with school administrators to offer classes or integrate lessons geared at career exposure and engagement. Consider providing students with opportunities for a variety of hands-on learning experiences to help them test out different fields and types of learning. 
  • Introduce the idea of industry certifications to students. Consider finding ways to offer opportunities for students to take courses and earn industry certifications. As part of this coursework or programming, teach students which careers specific certifications are relevant in and how they can utilize the certifications in the future. 
  • Find ways to build excitement by previewing future career and technical education (CTE) programs for students, as well as other career-oriented high school coursework and extracurricular opportunities, that might be available for students in the future. 

Resources

  • Career Explorer by Sokanu offers a career assessment for students to discover connections between their interests and personalities to possible career paths by ranking activities from “hate it” to “love it.”
  • O*Net Interest Profiler helps students to identify their interests and how they relate to jobs and careers by rating their interests on a 5-point scale. 
  • The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) put together a series of podcasts and webinars for educators to learn about the importance of middle school career exploration and the development of employability skills.  

High School

High school coursework and decision-making is fundamentally tied to ensuring students are prepared for college, careers, and life. Career exposure in high school is absolutely critical as the decisions students make about coursework, extracurricular activities, and work-based learning opportunities will, in most cases, determine what postsecondary options are available to them. Without knowledge of what different careers exist and, therefore, require, students risk not being prepared for their next steps. Giving students more detailed information about a variety of career options and finding ways to connect students with role models and mentors can be pivotal in having students align their passions with career choices and building networks of support for students going forward. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Connect students with role models, mentors, or others who can share their lived experiences and lessons learned with students. These individuals can be recent alumni who can provide information on their own experiences or seasoned professionals who have been in a particular field for decades. Having someone for students to bounce ideas off of and help navigate different pathways can be crucial for student postsecondary success. 
  • Utilize a CCR platform such as SchooLinks to provide channels for students to ask professionals from a wide swath of careers questions and hear about their experiences. Providing mechanisms for students to connect with people who are in a field of interest and ask about the nuances of a role can be very helpful in both reinforcing an aspiration or weeding out options that might not be a good fit. 
  • Consider partnering with local colleges or universities to increase the opportunities for coursework for students. Oftentimes a smaller district is not able to provide students the same range of advanced course options to explore subjects in-depth, learn more obscure languages, or work with professional-grade equipment. Sharing resources with university partners can be a great way to expand access to these opportunities. 
  • Find ways for students to participate in work-based learning opportunities such as internships so they can get real-world experiences with different fields and types of work environments. Encourage them to explore remote options so they are able to have experiences that are not limited by their geographic location. 

Resources 

  • The ACE Mentor Program of America (ACE) is a free after-school program for high schoolers that aims to connect students to careers in architecture, construction, engineering, and skilled trades. 
  • U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop provides students with resources and links for career exploration, training, and job searches. 
  • College Board’s Big Future site provides students with career, college, and scholarship quizzes to guide their thinking and planning. 

Expand Career Exposure to Families 

Just as it is important to help broaden students’ understanding of available careers and potential options, it is also critical to include families in this process. Parents and caregivers in smaller districts and towns, like their students, often also have more limited experience with a wide range of career options. Involving families in career exposure all throughout school can help foster a more supportive and accepting environment for students and mitigate fear of the unknown for families. 

With a deeper understanding of the variety of careers, fields, and options that exist–and the pathways to achieve those career outcomes–parents and families are better able to provide guidance, encouragement, and identify resources that can help their children achieve their dreams. And, when schools and districts increase the diversity of career options students see as available, there is an infusion of hope and opportunity to match their passions with a long-term job choice. These efforts create an embedded cycle of aspiration and growth for the individual students, families, and entire communities. 

Students’ understanding of possible career choices is often limited by their real-world experiences. Many times, they are primarily only aware of the professions of family members, friends, or those they see on television, in movies, or on social media. In small districts and towns, the overall pool and diversity of businesses and career options is typically even more constrained, and students within these communities are naturally exposed to fewer possible career paths. This fact, combined with the rapidly evolving landscape of a global economy, makes the role of a school counselor in educating students about career options especially critical and valuable. 

As part of a comprehensive and cohesive college and career readiness (CCR) program, it is important for educators and counselors to act with intention to introduce students to a wide swath of possible career options–especially those that do not exist within their own areas–beginning as young as elementary school. Technology-enabled tools can be tremendously useful in showing students different career choices, connecting students with professionals and mentors, and even providing first-hand experiences trying out simulations of different jobs and work environments. 

Use the tips and resources below to broaden students’ sense of what is possible; build connections between students’ strengths and passions and possible career fits; and inspire dreams and plans for the future that are not constrained by geographic location. 

Elementary School

Career exposure that starts in elementary school can help students to connect their interests with possible future career paths and build an awareness of what careers exist, especially those outside of their community. It can foster curiosity in learning, reduce stereotypes in the careers students see themselves being able to do, and build confidence and enthusiasm as students think about their futures with an open mind. Even though a career choice seems so many years away for elementary-aged students, planting seeds and helping students make connections between their strengths and passions and different careers can have a lasting impact. 

Tips & Best Practices

  • Empower teachers with resources that showcase a broad range of careers and are fitting for the grade levels they teach. Advocate for professional learning on jobs and careers; educators can only share information on and make connections to pathways they know about. 
  • Encourage teachers to make connections between activities, interests, play and jobs. Talk about easy tie-ins to career conversations within books or subject matter learning. 
  • Expose students to careers within their community, and make a special effort to talk about and show jobs and careers that are unfamiliar to students. Cover a range of professions to best capture students’ interests and spark curiosity. 

Resources

  • A to Z Career Lab includes short videos and kid-friendly descriptions of a variety of careers, one for each letter of the alphabet. 
  • You Wanna Be a What?! showcases the awe-inspiring careers of National Geographic explorers in short videos. 
  • Stem Career Labs by PBS includes videos highlighting a variety of STEM-related professions such as aerospace engineering, architecture, and biomedical engineering. 
  • We are Teachers put together a list of 40 Amazing Educational Virtual Field Trips –including trips to museums, recycling centers, Amazon Fulfillment Centers, space, and more–that include connections to careers. 
  • SchooLinks members have access to elementary-specific job exploration with career-focused lessons, activities, and videos. 

Middle School

Middle schoolers are at a critical age of exploration and reflection as they more deeply learn about what they like to do. Learning about careers during these formative years can help them to set goals, build motivation for school work, and reduce anxiety as they think about their future. Career exposure in middle school can also be important to inform students’ decisions about electives in high school or extracurricular participation. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Work with school administrators to offer classes or integrate lessons geared at career exposure and engagement. Consider providing students with opportunities for a variety of hands-on learning experiences to help them test out different fields and types of learning. 
  • Introduce the idea of industry certifications to students. Consider finding ways to offer opportunities for students to take courses and earn industry certifications. As part of this coursework or programming, teach students which careers specific certifications are relevant in and how they can utilize the certifications in the future. 
  • Find ways to build excitement by previewing future career and technical education (CTE) programs for students, as well as other career-oriented high school coursework and extracurricular opportunities, that might be available for students in the future. 

Resources

  • Career Explorer by Sokanu offers a career assessment for students to discover connections between their interests and personalities to possible career paths by ranking activities from “hate it” to “love it.”
  • O*Net Interest Profiler helps students to identify their interests and how they relate to jobs and careers by rating their interests on a 5-point scale. 
  • The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) put together a series of podcasts and webinars for educators to learn about the importance of middle school career exploration and the development of employability skills.  

High School

High school coursework and decision-making is fundamentally tied to ensuring students are prepared for college, careers, and life. Career exposure in high school is absolutely critical as the decisions students make about coursework, extracurricular activities, and work-based learning opportunities will, in most cases, determine what postsecondary options are available to them. Without knowledge of what different careers exist and, therefore, require, students risk not being prepared for their next steps. Giving students more detailed information about a variety of career options and finding ways to connect students with role models and mentors can be pivotal in having students align their passions with career choices and building networks of support for students going forward. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Connect students with role models, mentors, or others who can share their lived experiences and lessons learned with students. These individuals can be recent alumni who can provide information on their own experiences or seasoned professionals who have been in a particular field for decades. Having someone for students to bounce ideas off of and help navigate different pathways can be crucial for student postsecondary success. 
  • Utilize a CCR platform such as SchooLinks to provide channels for students to ask professionals from a wide swath of careers questions and hear about their experiences. Providing mechanisms for students to connect with people who are in a field of interest and ask about the nuances of a role can be very helpful in both reinforcing an aspiration or weeding out options that might not be a good fit. 
  • Consider partnering with local colleges or universities to increase the opportunities for coursework for students. Oftentimes a smaller district is not able to provide students the same range of advanced course options to explore subjects in-depth, learn more obscure languages, or work with professional-grade equipment. Sharing resources with university partners can be a great way to expand access to these opportunities. 
  • Find ways for students to participate in work-based learning opportunities such as internships so they can get real-world experiences with different fields and types of work environments. Encourage them to explore remote options so they are able to have experiences that are not limited by their geographic location. 

Resources 

  • The ACE Mentor Program of America (ACE) is a free after-school program for high schoolers that aims to connect students to careers in architecture, construction, engineering, and skilled trades. 
  • U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop provides students with resources and links for career exploration, training, and job searches. 
  • College Board’s Big Future site provides students with career, college, and scholarship quizzes to guide their thinking and planning. 

Expand Career Exposure to Families 

Just as it is important to help broaden students’ understanding of available careers and potential options, it is also critical to include families in this process. Parents and caregivers in smaller districts and towns, like their students, often also have more limited experience with a wide range of career options. Involving families in career exposure all throughout school can help foster a more supportive and accepting environment for students and mitigate fear of the unknown for families. 

With a deeper understanding of the variety of careers, fields, and options that exist–and the pathways to achieve those career outcomes–parents and families are better able to provide guidance, encouragement, and identify resources that can help their children achieve their dreams. And, when schools and districts increase the diversity of career options students see as available, there is an infusion of hope and opportunity to match their passions with a long-term job choice. These efforts create an embedded cycle of aspiration and growth for the individual students, families, and entire communities. 

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Students’ understanding of possible career choices is often limited by their real-world experiences. Many times, they are primarily only aware of the professions of family members, friends, or those they see on television, in movies, or on social media. In small districts and towns, the overall pool and diversity of businesses and career options is typically even more constrained, and students within these communities are naturally exposed to fewer possible career paths. This fact, combined with the rapidly evolving landscape of a global economy, makes the role of a school counselor in educating students about career options especially critical and valuable. 

As part of a comprehensive and cohesive college and career readiness (CCR) program, it is important for educators and counselors to act with intention to introduce students to a wide swath of possible career options–especially those that do not exist within their own areas–beginning as young as elementary school. Technology-enabled tools can be tremendously useful in showing students different career choices, connecting students with professionals and mentors, and even providing first-hand experiences trying out simulations of different jobs and work environments. 

Use the tips and resources below to broaden students’ sense of what is possible; build connections between students’ strengths and passions and possible career fits; and inspire dreams and plans for the future that are not constrained by geographic location. 

Elementary School

Career exposure that starts in elementary school can help students to connect their interests with possible future career paths and build an awareness of what careers exist, especially those outside of their community. It can foster curiosity in learning, reduce stereotypes in the careers students see themselves being able to do, and build confidence and enthusiasm as students think about their futures with an open mind. Even though a career choice seems so many years away for elementary-aged students, planting seeds and helping students make connections between their strengths and passions and different careers can have a lasting impact. 

Tips & Best Practices

  • Empower teachers with resources that showcase a broad range of careers and are fitting for the grade levels they teach. Advocate for professional learning on jobs and careers; educators can only share information on and make connections to pathways they know about. 
  • Encourage teachers to make connections between activities, interests, play and jobs. Talk about easy tie-ins to career conversations within books or subject matter learning. 
  • Expose students to careers within their community, and make a special effort to talk about and show jobs and careers that are unfamiliar to students. Cover a range of professions to best capture students’ interests and spark curiosity. 

Resources

  • A to Z Career Lab includes short videos and kid-friendly descriptions of a variety of careers, one for each letter of the alphabet. 
  • You Wanna Be a What?! showcases the awe-inspiring careers of National Geographic explorers in short videos. 
  • Stem Career Labs by PBS includes videos highlighting a variety of STEM-related professions such as aerospace engineering, architecture, and biomedical engineering. 
  • We are Teachers put together a list of 40 Amazing Educational Virtual Field Trips –including trips to museums, recycling centers, Amazon Fulfillment Centers, space, and more–that include connections to careers. 
  • SchooLinks members have access to elementary-specific job exploration with career-focused lessons, activities, and videos. 

Middle School

Middle schoolers are at a critical age of exploration and reflection as they more deeply learn about what they like to do. Learning about careers during these formative years can help them to set goals, build motivation for school work, and reduce anxiety as they think about their future. Career exposure in middle school can also be important to inform students’ decisions about electives in high school or extracurricular participation. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Work with school administrators to offer classes or integrate lessons geared at career exposure and engagement. Consider providing students with opportunities for a variety of hands-on learning experiences to help them test out different fields and types of learning. 
  • Introduce the idea of industry certifications to students. Consider finding ways to offer opportunities for students to take courses and earn industry certifications. As part of this coursework or programming, teach students which careers specific certifications are relevant in and how they can utilize the certifications in the future. 
  • Find ways to build excitement by previewing future career and technical education (CTE) programs for students, as well as other career-oriented high school coursework and extracurricular opportunities, that might be available for students in the future. 

Resources

  • Career Explorer by Sokanu offers a career assessment for students to discover connections between their interests and personalities to possible career paths by ranking activities from “hate it” to “love it.”
  • O*Net Interest Profiler helps students to identify their interests and how they relate to jobs and careers by rating their interests on a 5-point scale. 
  • The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) put together a series of podcasts and webinars for educators to learn about the importance of middle school career exploration and the development of employability skills.  

High School

High school coursework and decision-making is fundamentally tied to ensuring students are prepared for college, careers, and life. Career exposure in high school is absolutely critical as the decisions students make about coursework, extracurricular activities, and work-based learning opportunities will, in most cases, determine what postsecondary options are available to them. Without knowledge of what different careers exist and, therefore, require, students risk not being prepared for their next steps. Giving students more detailed information about a variety of career options and finding ways to connect students with role models and mentors can be pivotal in having students align their passions with career choices and building networks of support for students going forward. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Connect students with role models, mentors, or others who can share their lived experiences and lessons learned with students. These individuals can be recent alumni who can provide information on their own experiences or seasoned professionals who have been in a particular field for decades. Having someone for students to bounce ideas off of and help navigate different pathways can be crucial for student postsecondary success. 
  • Utilize a CCR platform such as SchooLinks to provide channels for students to ask professionals from a wide swath of careers questions and hear about their experiences. Providing mechanisms for students to connect with people who are in a field of interest and ask about the nuances of a role can be very helpful in both reinforcing an aspiration or weeding out options that might not be a good fit. 
  • Consider partnering with local colleges or universities to increase the opportunities for coursework for students. Oftentimes a smaller district is not able to provide students the same range of advanced course options to explore subjects in-depth, learn more obscure languages, or work with professional-grade equipment. Sharing resources with university partners can be a great way to expand access to these opportunities. 
  • Find ways for students to participate in work-based learning opportunities such as internships so they can get real-world experiences with different fields and types of work environments. Encourage them to explore remote options so they are able to have experiences that are not limited by their geographic location. 

Resources 

  • The ACE Mentor Program of America (ACE) is a free after-school program for high schoolers that aims to connect students to careers in architecture, construction, engineering, and skilled trades. 
  • U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop provides students with resources and links for career exploration, training, and job searches. 
  • College Board’s Big Future site provides students with career, college, and scholarship quizzes to guide their thinking and planning. 

Expand Career Exposure to Families 

Just as it is important to help broaden students’ understanding of available careers and potential options, it is also critical to include families in this process. Parents and caregivers in smaller districts and towns, like their students, often also have more limited experience with a wide range of career options. Involving families in career exposure all throughout school can help foster a more supportive and accepting environment for students and mitigate fear of the unknown for families. 

With a deeper understanding of the variety of careers, fields, and options that exist–and the pathways to achieve those career outcomes–parents and families are better able to provide guidance, encouragement, and identify resources that can help their children achieve their dreams. And, when schools and districts increase the diversity of career options students see as available, there is an infusion of hope and opportunity to match their passions with a long-term job choice. These efforts create an embedded cycle of aspiration and growth for the individual students, families, and entire communities. 

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Students’ understanding of possible career choices is often limited by their real-world experiences. Many times, they are primarily only aware of the professions of family members, friends, or those they see on television, in movies, or on social media. In small districts and towns, the overall pool and diversity of businesses and career options is typically even more constrained, and students within these communities are naturally exposed to fewer possible career paths. This fact, combined with the rapidly evolving landscape of a global economy, makes the role of a school counselor in educating students about career options especially critical and valuable. 

As part of a comprehensive and cohesive college and career readiness (CCR) program, it is important for educators and counselors to act with intention to introduce students to a wide swath of possible career options–especially those that do not exist within their own areas–beginning as young as elementary school. Technology-enabled tools can be tremendously useful in showing students different career choices, connecting students with professionals and mentors, and even providing first-hand experiences trying out simulations of different jobs and work environments. 

Use the tips and resources below to broaden students’ sense of what is possible; build connections between students’ strengths and passions and possible career fits; and inspire dreams and plans for the future that are not constrained by geographic location. 

Elementary School

Career exposure that starts in elementary school can help students to connect their interests with possible future career paths and build an awareness of what careers exist, especially those outside of their community. It can foster curiosity in learning, reduce stereotypes in the careers students see themselves being able to do, and build confidence and enthusiasm as students think about their futures with an open mind. Even though a career choice seems so many years away for elementary-aged students, planting seeds and helping students make connections between their strengths and passions and different careers can have a lasting impact. 

Tips & Best Practices

  • Empower teachers with resources that showcase a broad range of careers and are fitting for the grade levels they teach. Advocate for professional learning on jobs and careers; educators can only share information on and make connections to pathways they know about. 
  • Encourage teachers to make connections between activities, interests, play and jobs. Talk about easy tie-ins to career conversations within books or subject matter learning. 
  • Expose students to careers within their community, and make a special effort to talk about and show jobs and careers that are unfamiliar to students. Cover a range of professions to best capture students’ interests and spark curiosity. 

Resources

  • A to Z Career Lab includes short videos and kid-friendly descriptions of a variety of careers, one for each letter of the alphabet. 
  • You Wanna Be a What?! showcases the awe-inspiring careers of National Geographic explorers in short videos. 
  • Stem Career Labs by PBS includes videos highlighting a variety of STEM-related professions such as aerospace engineering, architecture, and biomedical engineering. 
  • We are Teachers put together a list of 40 Amazing Educational Virtual Field Trips –including trips to museums, recycling centers, Amazon Fulfillment Centers, space, and more–that include connections to careers. 
  • SchooLinks members have access to elementary-specific job exploration with career-focused lessons, activities, and videos. 

Middle School

Middle schoolers are at a critical age of exploration and reflection as they more deeply learn about what they like to do. Learning about careers during these formative years can help them to set goals, build motivation for school work, and reduce anxiety as they think about their future. Career exposure in middle school can also be important to inform students’ decisions about electives in high school or extracurricular participation. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Work with school administrators to offer classes or integrate lessons geared at career exposure and engagement. Consider providing students with opportunities for a variety of hands-on learning experiences to help them test out different fields and types of learning. 
  • Introduce the idea of industry certifications to students. Consider finding ways to offer opportunities for students to take courses and earn industry certifications. As part of this coursework or programming, teach students which careers specific certifications are relevant in and how they can utilize the certifications in the future. 
  • Find ways to build excitement by previewing future career and technical education (CTE) programs for students, as well as other career-oriented high school coursework and extracurricular opportunities, that might be available for students in the future. 

Resources

  • Career Explorer by Sokanu offers a career assessment for students to discover connections between their interests and personalities to possible career paths by ranking activities from “hate it” to “love it.”
  • O*Net Interest Profiler helps students to identify their interests and how they relate to jobs and careers by rating their interests on a 5-point scale. 
  • The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) put together a series of podcasts and webinars for educators to learn about the importance of middle school career exploration and the development of employability skills.  

High School

High school coursework and decision-making is fundamentally tied to ensuring students are prepared for college, careers, and life. Career exposure in high school is absolutely critical as the decisions students make about coursework, extracurricular activities, and work-based learning opportunities will, in most cases, determine what postsecondary options are available to them. Without knowledge of what different careers exist and, therefore, require, students risk not being prepared for their next steps. Giving students more detailed information about a variety of career options and finding ways to connect students with role models and mentors can be pivotal in having students align their passions with career choices and building networks of support for students going forward. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Connect students with role models, mentors, or others who can share their lived experiences and lessons learned with students. These individuals can be recent alumni who can provide information on their own experiences or seasoned professionals who have been in a particular field for decades. Having someone for students to bounce ideas off of and help navigate different pathways can be crucial for student postsecondary success. 
  • Utilize a CCR platform such as SchooLinks to provide channels for students to ask professionals from a wide swath of careers questions and hear about their experiences. Providing mechanisms for students to connect with people who are in a field of interest and ask about the nuances of a role can be very helpful in both reinforcing an aspiration or weeding out options that might not be a good fit. 
  • Consider partnering with local colleges or universities to increase the opportunities for coursework for students. Oftentimes a smaller district is not able to provide students the same range of advanced course options to explore subjects in-depth, learn more obscure languages, or work with professional-grade equipment. Sharing resources with university partners can be a great way to expand access to these opportunities. 
  • Find ways for students to participate in work-based learning opportunities such as internships so they can get real-world experiences with different fields and types of work environments. Encourage them to explore remote options so they are able to have experiences that are not limited by their geographic location. 

Resources 

  • The ACE Mentor Program of America (ACE) is a free after-school program for high schoolers that aims to connect students to careers in architecture, construction, engineering, and skilled trades. 
  • U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop provides students with resources and links for career exploration, training, and job searches. 
  • College Board’s Big Future site provides students with career, college, and scholarship quizzes to guide their thinking and planning. 

Expand Career Exposure to Families 

Just as it is important to help broaden students’ understanding of available careers and potential options, it is also critical to include families in this process. Parents and caregivers in smaller districts and towns, like their students, often also have more limited experience with a wide range of career options. Involving families in career exposure all throughout school can help foster a more supportive and accepting environment for students and mitigate fear of the unknown for families. 

With a deeper understanding of the variety of careers, fields, and options that exist–and the pathways to achieve those career outcomes–parents and families are better able to provide guidance, encouragement, and identify resources that can help their children achieve their dreams. And, when schools and districts increase the diversity of career options students see as available, there is an infusion of hope and opportunity to match their passions with a long-term job choice. These efforts create an embedded cycle of aspiration and growth for the individual students, families, and entire communities. 

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Students’ understanding of possible career choices is often limited by their real-world experiences. Many times, they are primarily only aware of the professions of family members, friends, or those they see on television, in movies, or on social media. In small districts and towns, the overall pool and diversity of businesses and career options is typically even more constrained, and students within these communities are naturally exposed to fewer possible career paths. This fact, combined with the rapidly evolving landscape of a global economy, makes the role of a school counselor in educating students about career options especially critical and valuable. 

As part of a comprehensive and cohesive college and career readiness (CCR) program, it is important for educators and counselors to act with intention to introduce students to a wide swath of possible career options–especially those that do not exist within their own areas–beginning as young as elementary school. Technology-enabled tools can be tremendously useful in showing students different career choices, connecting students with professionals and mentors, and even providing first-hand experiences trying out simulations of different jobs and work environments. 

Use the tips and resources below to broaden students’ sense of what is possible; build connections between students’ strengths and passions and possible career fits; and inspire dreams and plans for the future that are not constrained by geographic location. 

Elementary School

Career exposure that starts in elementary school can help students to connect their interests with possible future career paths and build an awareness of what careers exist, especially those outside of their community. It can foster curiosity in learning, reduce stereotypes in the careers students see themselves being able to do, and build confidence and enthusiasm as students think about their futures with an open mind. Even though a career choice seems so many years away for elementary-aged students, planting seeds and helping students make connections between their strengths and passions and different careers can have a lasting impact. 

Tips & Best Practices

  • Empower teachers with resources that showcase a broad range of careers and are fitting for the grade levels they teach. Advocate for professional learning on jobs and careers; educators can only share information on and make connections to pathways they know about. 
  • Encourage teachers to make connections between activities, interests, play and jobs. Talk about easy tie-ins to career conversations within books or subject matter learning. 
  • Expose students to careers within their community, and make a special effort to talk about and show jobs and careers that are unfamiliar to students. Cover a range of professions to best capture students’ interests and spark curiosity. 

Resources

  • A to Z Career Lab includes short videos and kid-friendly descriptions of a variety of careers, one for each letter of the alphabet. 
  • You Wanna Be a What?! showcases the awe-inspiring careers of National Geographic explorers in short videos. 
  • Stem Career Labs by PBS includes videos highlighting a variety of STEM-related professions such as aerospace engineering, architecture, and biomedical engineering. 
  • We are Teachers put together a list of 40 Amazing Educational Virtual Field Trips –including trips to museums, recycling centers, Amazon Fulfillment Centers, space, and more–that include connections to careers. 
  • SchooLinks members have access to elementary-specific job exploration with career-focused lessons, activities, and videos. 

Middle School

Middle schoolers are at a critical age of exploration and reflection as they more deeply learn about what they like to do. Learning about careers during these formative years can help them to set goals, build motivation for school work, and reduce anxiety as they think about their future. Career exposure in middle school can also be important to inform students’ decisions about electives in high school or extracurricular participation. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Work with school administrators to offer classes or integrate lessons geared at career exposure and engagement. Consider providing students with opportunities for a variety of hands-on learning experiences to help them test out different fields and types of learning. 
  • Introduce the idea of industry certifications to students. Consider finding ways to offer opportunities for students to take courses and earn industry certifications. As part of this coursework or programming, teach students which careers specific certifications are relevant in and how they can utilize the certifications in the future. 
  • Find ways to build excitement by previewing future career and technical education (CTE) programs for students, as well as other career-oriented high school coursework and extracurricular opportunities, that might be available for students in the future. 

Resources

  • Career Explorer by Sokanu offers a career assessment for students to discover connections between their interests and personalities to possible career paths by ranking activities from “hate it” to “love it.”
  • O*Net Interest Profiler helps students to identify their interests and how they relate to jobs and careers by rating their interests on a 5-point scale. 
  • The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) put together a series of podcasts and webinars for educators to learn about the importance of middle school career exploration and the development of employability skills.  

High School

High school coursework and decision-making is fundamentally tied to ensuring students are prepared for college, careers, and life. Career exposure in high school is absolutely critical as the decisions students make about coursework, extracurricular activities, and work-based learning opportunities will, in most cases, determine what postsecondary options are available to them. Without knowledge of what different careers exist and, therefore, require, students risk not being prepared for their next steps. Giving students more detailed information about a variety of career options and finding ways to connect students with role models and mentors can be pivotal in having students align their passions with career choices and building networks of support for students going forward. 

Tips & Best Practices 

  • Connect students with role models, mentors, or others who can share their lived experiences and lessons learned with students. These individuals can be recent alumni who can provide information on their own experiences or seasoned professionals who have been in a particular field for decades. Having someone for students to bounce ideas off of and help navigate different pathways can be crucial for student postsecondary success. 
  • Utilize a CCR platform such as SchooLinks to provide channels for students to ask professionals from a wide swath of careers questions and hear about their experiences. Providing mechanisms for students to connect with people who are in a field of interest and ask about the nuances of a role can be very helpful in both reinforcing an aspiration or weeding out options that might not be a good fit. 
  • Consider partnering with local colleges or universities to increase the opportunities for coursework for students. Oftentimes a smaller district is not able to provide students the same range of advanced course options to explore subjects in-depth, learn more obscure languages, or work with professional-grade equipment. Sharing resources with university partners can be a great way to expand access to these opportunities. 
  • Find ways for students to participate in work-based learning opportunities such as internships so they can get real-world experiences with different fields and types of work environments. Encourage them to explore remote options so they are able to have experiences that are not limited by their geographic location. 

Resources 

  • The ACE Mentor Program of America (ACE) is a free after-school program for high schoolers that aims to connect students to careers in architecture, construction, engineering, and skilled trades. 
  • U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop provides students with resources and links for career exploration, training, and job searches. 
  • College Board’s Big Future site provides students with career, college, and scholarship quizzes to guide their thinking and planning. 

Expand Career Exposure to Families 

Just as it is important to help broaden students’ understanding of available careers and potential options, it is also critical to include families in this process. Parents and caregivers in smaller districts and towns, like their students, often also have more limited experience with a wide range of career options. Involving families in career exposure all throughout school can help foster a more supportive and accepting environment for students and mitigate fear of the unknown for families. 

With a deeper understanding of the variety of careers, fields, and options that exist–and the pathways to achieve those career outcomes–parents and families are better able to provide guidance, encouragement, and identify resources that can help their children achieve their dreams. And, when schools and districts increase the diversity of career options students see as available, there is an infusion of hope and opportunity to match their passions with a long-term job choice. These efforts create an embedded cycle of aspiration and growth for the individual students, families, and entire communities.