First Career Steps Survey: Student Career Interests

Report analysis by Jennifer Leonard and Tacara Guice.  Tacara Guice, database intern for The Skills Library, categorized the open-ended responses and prepared the graphics for this report.   Read more about The Skills Library on the “About” page.

The First Career Steps Survey asks students to list up to four career areas that they might be interested in.  Approximately 2,500 students have responded to the survey, identifying a variety of career areas.   The question is open-ended, with students writing in their career interests – some with specific goals such as wildlife photographer, pediatric nurse or sports psychologist; others with broad goals like working with children or starting a business.

We categorized the answers into groups, looking for common answers in order to define groups of similar interests.    Display 1 presents this analysis.  In the graphic, each icon represents approximately 25 students who expressed interest in the career area.

Go to Display 1 (opens in new window)

There were several clusters of common interests.

Students are attracted to fields that are large, highly visible and offering economic growth:

  • Healthcare – a large, highly visible and growing field.
  • Education,  Childcare, Human Services, Social Work and Counseling – large, visible fields offering a chance to “make a difference.”
  • Engineering – with many students mentioning a variety of specific engineering fields as well as engineering in general.
  • Law and Law Enforcement – with many students expressing interest in police work, forensics, FBI, law and other work in law and public safety.
  • Business – with some students expressing interest in business in general, or in specific concentrations.
  • Various science and math interests — especially biology, zoology and wildlife, along with veterinary and animal care occupations.

Many students listed popular fields that offer opportunities for creativity, a bit of glamour, or connections to trends in popular culture:

  • Game Design, Animation and Video Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Cosmetology
  • Graphic Design
  • Performing Arts
  • Sports, Fitness and Recreation

There are some career areas – especially some technology and technical areas – that were mentioned by relatively few students and that probably should get more attention:

  • Information Technology / Computer Programming / Networking
  • Web Design
  • Manufacturing / Skilled Trades
  • Mechanic / Repair / Skilled Trades

This data can be used for:

– Inspiration for lesson plans that apply academic work to career areas that naturally interest students.  Math and fashion design.  Science and forensics.  English Language Arts and journalism.
– Guidance for developing internships and inviting guest speakers to highlight career areas of interest.
– Guidance for increasing awareness in “under-noticed” career areas, in order to let students know about areas they might have overlooked.
– Food for thought for conversations with students about how to choose viable career paths.  What do you do with a passion for sports or acting or animation or fashion design?  Where can these interests lead you?  How do you balance the advice of “pursue your dreams” vs.  “be practical” vs. “seek out unique ways to turn your interests into a career?”

It is important to note that we don’t expect students to identify career interests in proportion to each career area’s share of the labor market.  In fact, other Skills Library surveys show that most adults didn’t know when they were in high school that they would be in their current career area.  Successful careers take shape over time.   Students will naturally be attracted initially to visible, well-known career areas.  These initial career interests are just a starting point.  From the inspiration of earliest career interests, students will gradually shape a career path, with the support of mentors, career information, early career experiences, and inspiring classes and teachers.  These early interests are a great place to start.

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