Helping Students Determine a Direction

UNH Career and Professional Success working with students regarding career direction

Students often seek the advice of their advisors when they are unsure of their post-graduation futures. An advisor can provide guidance by directing students to appropriate resources, referring to career professionals, and engaging in focused and meaningful conversations. Students may need assistance in identifying their interests, determining the best career path to pursue, or creating an alternative career plan.

Identifying Interests

Conducting an Interest Inventory  BUILD AWARENESS

Suggest a student speak with a career professional to take an appropriate interest assessment. Career professionals in each college are trained to administer and debrief career assessments with students. Concluding an interest assessment appointment, students will have a richer view of their preferred tasks and work environments, as well as, possess suggestions for occupations to further explore and targeted skills to further develop.


Often times students will have an idea of what a career entails but lack details and information that make it necessary to assess their own fit in relation to the profession. Recommend a student speak with individuals working within multiple fields. By engaging in informational interviews, students will gain a greater understanding of the nature of the work in a given industry. Students will be equipped with knowledge of the desired skills, experiences, and potential pathways to each career area of interest. The resulting “career clarity” can provide students with confirmation that a particular path may be right for them, or that a certain career is not what they initially thought. Both of these outcomes are beneficial and important for students to discover as early as possible.


Professional associations can be powerful resources for established professionals and students who have not yet entered the job market. Many times, there are reduced rates and additional benefits for students who join. Not only can students make connections with professionals across the field, but they can gain greater insight into industry trends, knowledge, and employment resources. Share the professional associations you belong to with students and encourage students to join associations that support their passions and interests.

Engaging in Experiential Learning Opportunities  BUILD EXPERIENCE

The best way for students to assess a possible career fit, is to gain hands-on experience. Students can do so by engaging in a variety of different experiential learning opportunities ranging from work experiences, internships, research, study-abroad experiences, and service-learning projects. Frequently students believe taking part in these high impact experiences only benefits students who have determined their career direction. However, exploring an industry hands-on is one of the best ways to discover a suitable and desirable career trajectory.


Encourage students to be prudent when selecting courses, particularly discoveries and electives. Using discoveries and electives to explore topics can be useful to students. In contrast, some students reserve electives until later in their academic career, when they have a clearer vision of their post-graduation direction. Both strategies can work to benefit the student depending on his or her circumstance and both require the student to make thoughtful choices when registering for classes.

Navigating Multiple Interests

Occasionally a student’s internal compass points him or her in multiple different directions and it becomes frustrating for the student to find his or her “true north.” Many of the aforementioned approaches can be used with these students as well, however, there are additional considerations to note.

Career vs. Hobby

A deep self-awareness allows individuals who understand their strengths, skills, and passions to seek meaningful and fulfilling careers. This can become a barrier to some people who have more than one passion they feel compelled to pursue. Helping students understand that simply because they have a strong interest in something, doesn’t mean it has to central to their career. People can pursue their passions through hobbies and volunteer work.

Change is Okay

Some students equate choosing a career path to answering an exam question; they are looking for the right answer. This is particularly true among high achieving students. In reality there very well could be several “right” careers for a single student. The current generation of students will likely have multiple jobs and may even change industries. For students to hear that it is possible to change jobs and shift careers can be extremely reassuring. Additionally, helping students understand that an individual’s journey to their current position is more frequently a windy road rather than that a straight path can also ease a conflicted mind.

External Pressure

Students can pursue paths suggested to them by well-meaning loved ones or peers. This external pressure can create an unnecessary burden on students by causing them to straddle between expectation and passion. Although the student will ultimately need to choose his or her path, advisors can ask thoughtful questions to aid students in determining a future that makes the most sense for him or her.

Discussing Options for Plan B

Providing positive support and encouragement to advisees is certainly an important task of an advisor. However, what do you do when a student has unrealistic or improbable career aspirations?

Stick to the Facts

To emphasize competitiveness, share applicable statistics including admission rates and acceptable minimum G.P.As for graduate and professional schools. Provide insights into past alumni who have successfully obtained employment or graduate admissions into a program.

Suggest a Back-up Plan

Encourage a student to consider an alternative in the event his or her plans do not come to fruition. This could mean working towards increasing competitiveness by gaining additional skills and experiences in the desired field, improving academics, or pursuing a different occupation entirely.

Refer to a Career Professional

Career professionals can assist in providing students with information on targeted careers and specific industries. Career staff in the colleges will work individually with students to develop an appropriate and focused action-oriented plan.