What is Career Readiness?


By Julie Sweitzer


Why should an adolescent have thought about careers before going to college? Isn’t college the time for exploration? Doesn’t college count as part of their preparation, so how can they be career ready in high school? All good questions. Career Readiness means a student has explored fields of interest and has an idea, or several ideas, about what careers could be good fit. The student knows whether a two or four year college or a technical program is needed to prepare for a particular career, and uses the information to select a college to attend. 

For some students a two or four year college is a great opportunity for exploration. All of the majors I considered were easily completed in four years, and I took the introductory classes my freshman year as a way of sorting out the options. My daughter, on the other hand, started in a liberal arts college with no idea about a major, so she took an excellent “So You’re Undecided?” one credit option. What it helped her identify was a major in a different college that required four years of sequential studios that only started in fall. She was on the five year plan by October of her freshman year, headed into a career in a field she had never considered. She made it work and is quite happy, but a little exploration in high school might have saved a full year’s tuition (and a few headaches).

For some technical fields there are limited numbers of programs, and popular ones often have waiting lists. Generally you can’t walk into the local tech college and sign up for next month’s welding program (if it has one). There are placement tests and maybe a year’s wait. Using time well before the program starts is another planning step.

Exploring careers can help adolescents understand the importance of postsecondary, and of the middle and high school preparation needed. Without some intentional attention to careers, students are unlikely to have conversations about how one becomes a computer programmer or writer or mechanic. They may not understand that jobs are changing so quickly that they need to be prepared to learn new skills throughout their lives. 

While postsecondary education helps build knowledge and develop skills that serve us well as citizens and family members, the job possibilities and increased salary potential that a degree opens up are important. On average, a four year degree can provide around a million dollars’ worth of additional income over a lifetime, as compared to a high school degree. That fact usually gets an adolescent’s attention, especially since they tend to think of it as coming in one big lump (don’t we wish!) Improved health, voting participation, and civic engagement are associated with more education as well. 

If nothing else, it helps answer the why question in most students’ minds – Why should I pay for (and perhaps endure) even more education? Because it will help you achieve your dreams, whether those be about career, family, or personal life goals. That’s how you get students engaged in their education.

We have been curious how students around the country are experiencing our Ramp-Up to Readiness program, which kickstarts college and career readiness for students in grades 6 – 12.  So, we asked CAREI to survey the students and the results were promising! 85% of respondents said that they better understood which careers pay a good wage and 81% reported they had a better understanding of the careers that will be in demand in the future. Do you know students who would benefit from college and career readiness? If so, please visit our website

About the author: Julie Sweitzer is Executive Director of the College Readiness Consortium and Ramp-Up to Readiness. Previously she directed the Minnesota Principals Academy and helped create Youth Central, a website that makes it easy to find the University of Minnesota programs and activities that serve K12 students and families. Julie was an elected board member of the St. Louis Park Public Schools for 12 years.

She holds a Masters of Public Affairs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota’s Law School.

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