The career choice crisis

Photo by Nithya Jameshenry Student Publications

The day has finally come: eighth-grade graduation. 

Students walk across the stage, receiving awards for good grades, excited applause fills the air and the principal steps up to give final remarks for the ceremony. 

“College is right around the corner,” she says. 

Dread creeps into the room replacing the happiness and joy present moments before. College? College seems so far out of the way. 

College is like the edge of the horizon; it will never arrive! We have to worry about all of high school first.

But it does arrive, more like a tidal wave than a horizon. In the American public school system, the second we enter high school, we are bombarded by the reality of the future of our careers. 

We don’t have an eternity to ponder what we would like to be when we grow up. High school is not the road to college, but the bridge we have to build ourselves. Some schools require students to join class programs geared toward specific career paths. 

As admissions become more and more competitive, students are forced to push themselves further and further. 

They start to build their resumes from the beginning of high school in order to hone their skills to appeal to their dream schools. 

To cater to this necessity, young adolescents are squeezed into a very dangerous mindset: deciding what career they want very early in their lives. 14-year-olds are deciding what they want to pursue for the entirety of their career, with little room for adjustment in the years to come.

Even once we enter college, we are incessantly fear-mongered into staying in our lanes, not changing majors and just finishing our degrees. 

The process of switching majors alone is a daunting and tiresome process, which often sets students back a year or more from graduation. 

The nature of the American education system isn’t alone at fault in perpetuating this issue of career rigidity. In the modern job market, individuals are often motivated by high earnings and prestigious jobs, as opposed to fulfillment and passion. 

People coming from middle-class or lower socioeconomic backgrounds do not always have the luxury of pursuing their dream career, especially if those careers are not lucrative. 

Contrarily, societal pressures encourage enjoyment and love for a job; we are told that success in our careers is when we are doing something meaningful to us as individuals. 

But this is not always possible, depending on varying lifestyles and backgrounds. 

It is hard to consider ways of remedying these roadblocks given that these issues are very deeply rooted in existing political and economic systems. 

We as individuals have little control over how these expectations for success, affluence and career path strictness impact us throughout our lives. 

Some individuals are predisposed to a more creative and anti-corporate lifestyle and can live without the constraints of material want and capitalist structures. 

Others thrive under rigid, stuffier atmospheres with pre-drawn career paths and the opportunity for earning well. 

We could try to improve these conditions starting with the youth. 

College admissions could expect fewer specified extracurriculars and courses. Additionally, schools can remove programs pushing students into certain fields of study, such as STEM pathways or humanities pathways. 

At the college level, universities could make major exploration and switching more accessible and simpler for their constituents. Students should be able to truly look at alternative career paths without having to jump over hurdle after hurdle. 

Later in life, there should be ways for us to live stably while working at a job we love, while still sustaining a comfortable lifestyle. 

The way we look at our career journeys is deeply flawed, and these issues are perpetuated in a cycle of confusion, pressure and concern. 

With some attention to individual achievement and happiness, at least some of these issues could surely be alleviated.