Your 6th Grader Doesn’t Need to Know Her Future Career

Two stories.

First, a couple of years ago, I went to my daughter’s high school to give a presentation on careers. I put up a slide that listed about 20 of my friends, their college majors, and their careers today. As all these friends were in their 40s, it had been a bit of time since college. Only the accountant as still working in her field of study. So, I told these high school students that what they majored in wasn’t critical and the teacher about had a heart attack. He kept interrupting me and saying, “No! What they study determines their future job!” 

Second, a few weeks ago, I was in Turkey. We visited a carpet shop and began speaking with the salesman who had excellent English. He told us that he had lived in the United States for 20 years and returned to Turkey recently. How did he end up in the US, we asked. He went for graduate school–he and his wife were enrolled in a Ph.D. program in political science, but he had dropped out when he realized it was not for him. We laughed. My husband and I met in a political science Ph.D. program and had both dropped out when we realized it was not for us. So, we had three political science dropouts. I’m an HR person, my husband is a statistician in pharmaceuticals, and this man sold carpets. Our careers couldn’t be more different, even though we all studied the same subject in school.

There is a huge disconnect between what schools teach and what reality looks like. A teacher is a job that generally requires a specific degree and certification, so teachers tend to think that is what all jobs require. And, of course, there are plenty of careers that have similar requirements. If you want to be a lawyer, you need to go to law school. But, what you study as an undergrad doesn’t really matter all that much.

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16 thoughts on “Your 6th Grader Doesn’t Need to Know Her Future Career

  1. In America, the explosive increase in college tuition makes the advice to “don’t take out loans you can’t easily pay back” increasingly unrealistic, unfortunately.

    1. But you can…My wife and I through no assistance from government or our parents both went to school debt free.

    2. Only if you’re utterly committed to having a college degree. There are a lot of blue collar jobs that pay very, very well, and many will pay while they teach you because they’re so desperate to hire people. Americans have a fetish for college degrees that goes well beyond reason.

    3. Getting a college education in the U.S. without loans is not impossible, it just takes hard work. I took out a grand total of $600 in student loans because I was required to take it my first freshman semester. I worked all through college and held multiple jobs in the summers, paying all my tuition as I went without any help. Because of this I probably didn’t do as well as I could and will have to live with a cum laude degree for the rest of my life.

  2. Thank you for putting this out there. I am on my 3rd career and didn’t start in HR until I was 40. The company I work for now has amazing training programs, including one for high school students and I consistently say in my presentations that college isn’t for everyone and you may, and probably will, change your mind at least once about your job path. I also completely agree that college loans are massive and you want to do something you really like if it involves paying back loans for half of your life.

    1. I went to college intending to make my career in the banking industry. Since I graduated, I’ve worked in manufacturing and now healthcare. While it’s good to have a goal, it’s hard to know where life will take you!

      Luckily, I have an MBA so I have flexibility to work in various industries and positions.

  3. There are other fields that require certain degrees. It is not only teaching. Try getting a nursing job without an RN or an engineering job without an engineering degree. Most (if not all) architect jobs require an architect degree. I know in many cases even getting at least a high level accounting job requires an accounting degree.

    While many of the social science fields may not require a specific degree, many of the hard science fields do require a degree in that field.

    1. She’s not saying that only 2-3 jobs require a specific degree, just that it’s not true of the majority of jobs.

      And that you probably don’t need to sign up for that major when you’re 12.

      1. I fully agree with the 12 year old comment. However, there are a number of people who do believe that any degree will work for any job and that is not true.

        1. PS. As I said before for most of the jobs in the Social Sciences fields a specific degree is not needed. However, in the hard sciences often a specific degree is needed. There are of course exceptions on both sides going both ways.

          1. I have a social work master’s and a license. An MSW is not required for many social services jobs, but those of us with them seem to know better what we’re doing. Of course, an advanced degree is a bit different than a bachelor’s degree.

    2. Copied directly from the article.

      “there are plenty of careers that have similar requirements. If you want to be a lawyer, you need to go to law school”

  4. I also wonder if some of the “but but but of course they need to study for that specific degree” is really about wanting to reinforce the idea of studying generally – and thinking CAREER! is the only way to do that. Which is silly,

  5. While I agree that a sixth grader most likely has no idea what they want to in an employment position but they do have interests which will eventually show what skills they have a tendency for that will lead to employment skills. Unfortunately the tendency is to parent and teach children towards areas that the surrounding adults believe are the acceptable norm to achieve. Hence the current dissatisfaction with the current generation with taking employment in a job that pays the bills but doesn’t fall in the “labeled “ cool jobs. College teaching today,unless in a specific geared curriculum like a business or law or pre-med program, don’t teach job skills. They don’t even prepare students to face life as a functioning adult. With college costs being as expensive as they have become ( not referring to state schools with are free or low cost to residents), I highly recommend that college education be made to enhance your skills not as a means to prolong the student life experience which is not helpful for real life experience.

  6. The reason the teacher panicked at the school is because parents would get upset and it might lead to the kids questioning why they need college.

    Usually when a school gets upset, it’s because some annoying parent made a big deal out of something.

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