Worrying seems like part of the job description for parents. Little kids, little problems; bigger kids …

As your child begins to grow and, later, spread their wings to take flight into adulthood, parenting takes a tricky turn. You want what’s best for your child and, more often than not, what’s best seems so obvious (to you, at least)! Yet in their quest for independence, yours is the input they most often dismiss, disregard and discredit.

Enter career coaching for students. For many parents, it’s a foreign concept — one that may appear frivolous, especially when most high schools are staffed with their own college and career counselors, and most colleges boast career centers. Both are designed to help your student focus on the next step. But do they?

Even when parents become familiar with the myriad benefits that a one-on-one certified career coach can offer their high school or college student, other “what-ifs” and worries enter the equation: Is it worth the cost? … Will my child get anything out of it? … What if it opens doors we’d rather keep closed?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a question we ask our young children as they dress up as cowboys and princesses. We playfully wince when they “operate” on us as doctors and raise our hands as students in their make-believe classrooms. But do we really prepare them to answer it when the time comes to make real-life decisions?

Apparently, not very well. Per the National Center for Education Statistics, one in three high school students choose a college major that isn’t aligned with their interests: Twenty-four percent of college students changed majors once within the first six years of attending college; eight percent changed majors two or more times.

Once in the workforce, they don’t fare much better. Only one-third of adults are engaged at work, according to the 2017 Gallup State of the American Workplace report. Choosing a career that is misaligned with one’s interests, abilities and values can lead to challenges ranging from boredom to frustration and despair. The stakes are too high to merely hope for the best. Career coaching can benefit students in a variety of phases and circumstances throughout their educational journey.

    • Identify their unique skills/strengths
    • Highlight their passions, values and interests
    • Uncover expectations placed upon them by self and others
    • Develop the language to more accurately communicate what they’re good at and what they like to do
    • Strategize to develop concrete steps that can be taken to further their understanding of careers and jobs in various industries (e.g., how to set up informational interviews with professors or professionals in field of interest)
    • Increase self-confidence and self-efficacy

It’s never too early — or too late — for career exploration. By their junior or senior year of high school, students will have taken more rigorous classes and gained broader academic experiences, according to Anna Bray, a career and executive coach in Jody Michael Associates’ Chicago office. “They’ll likely be more earnest about the process once they see that their next steps will create the path to ‘real life.’” While that path begins in high school, it extends through college — and beyond.


From high school through career launch, students face a variety of what Anna refers to as “decision points.” As she explains, the process isn’t necessarily linear. Furthermore, as they mature, students gain deeper insights into who they are — and who they want to become in adulthood. Students frequently consider the following questions at various stages during their high school and college years; these are questions that a career coach can help them explore.

High school

  • What do I want to be when I grow up — and how do I get from here to there?
  • What am I good at? What do I like to do?
  • Is college right for me? Are there other options?
  • How should I frame my college search? What factors top my list of criteria?

Early college

  • What major should I choose?
  • What classes should I take?
  • Should I sign up for clubs or participate in other non-academic activities?

Mid college

  • Help! How do I know if I chose the wrong major — and is it too late to change?
  • Should I start applying for internships? Where do I begin?
  • What can I do with my major?

Late college

  • What can I do with my major? (again or still)
  • I know what I want … how do I get there?
  • Is grad school the next best step?

After dropping/failing out of college

  • What steps can I take to regain control of my future?
  • How can I get over feeling like a failure?
  • Should I consider returning to college?
  • What career options are available to me without a college degree?

During time off (e.g., gap year, unexpected emergency, medical leave)

  • Is college/returning to college the right choice for me? If so, when?
  • Have I learned something important about myself during this time off that impacts my major or intended career?

Career launch

  • What’s the right job for me?
  • How can I use my major to find the right job?
  • Should I wait for “the right job” or take any job?
  • How can I prepare for a successful job search?

As Anna notes, the career coaching process is the same — yet different — for students, depending on their age, level of school and circumstances.


We often hear parents express concerns that their student is already knee-deep in their major, and that exploring career options at this point would open too many doors, a can of worms they’d rather keep closed.

Dan, the father of 20-year-old Meghan, recently reached out to us with concerns that his daughter had chosen the wrong major. “Meghan has always wanted to be a lawyer, but her grades aren’t up to snuff. I worry that she won’t get into a decent law school, that she’ll struggle to keep up if she does and, worse yet, that she won’t like the reality of law as a profession.”

Meghan had begun to voice her own doubts about her professional path. At the same time, Dan felt like both he and Meghan had invested resources (time and energy on Meghan’s part, dollars on Dan’s) in her political science undergrad degree. One of his biggest fears in bringing her in for career coaching was that she’d choose something altogether different and that the majority of her college credits would be “wasted.”

Career coaching can help students in this predicament by identifying how their college credits, as well as accumulated skills and experiences, can be applied in a variety of ways, Anna explains. “It may be true that a different profession is what emerges out of the process; however, in many cases, the student develops a new orientation, and switching majors may not be necessary. While career coaching does open options, it’s not just about job options. It also opens one’s perspectives on what is possible/achievable.”

Meghan’s career coaching experience helped her realize that her political science degree didn’t have to mean just one thing: law school. Through the coaching process, she gained deeper self-awareness that she was able to consider as she researched other ways to use this degree. Meghan emerged confident in her decision to pursue a career in public relations, with hopes to work for a state or local government entity.

Anna says, “While it may be true that a ‘can of worms’ can be opened, I’ve had clients who are in their 30s — and have cycled through a couple of jobs — express how they wish they would have looked more closely/deliberately at their choice of major while in college, when they first had that gut feeling that something wasn’t quite right. They recognize that it would have saved them a decade or so of frustration and feeling lost.”


On the flip side, some parents tell us that they worry about “spending money for nothing” if, at the end of the engagement, their student finds that they are already on track to do what they are best suited for.

“There is no price tag on peace of mind,” Anna says.

Patrick’s parents, Ed and Donna, can attest to that. Patrick began experiencing anxiety during his junior year of college. His parents hadn’t seen it coming. A straight-A student all through high school, Patrick seemed to take all of his academic responsibilities in stride.

They were taken aback when, over fall break, he announced that he was thinking about dropping out of school, citing an inability to deal with the pressure of his college coursework. “I’m not even sure that I want to be an accountant anymore,” he told them.

Ed and Donna offered him an early holiday gift: career coaching. If he still felt strongly about leaving school after completing career coaching, they told him, they would respect his decision.

Patrick stayed in school — and continued in the accounting program. While no outward change was apparent in Patrick — or in his plans — he experienced a significant shift in his mindset as a result of the career coaching process.

After addressing and dealing with his doubts, Patrick solidified his decision to pursue a career in accounting, and was ready to move forward with confidence. Coaching paved the way to a clearer understanding of his interests, abilities, skills and values — and provided Patrick with the tools to deftly deal with future decision points.


Ignorance is rarely bliss. And it’s particularly true when it comes to making choices around college and career. During the years leading up to — and through — college, you and your child have a unique opportunity to partner together to conduct research, explore options and make informed decisions. “Work is a space we inhabit for a large portion of our time — in minutes, days and years,” Anna explains. “It is often how we define ourselves and it can be the place where we are given chances to grow and develop.

“Equipping your child with the tools of self-knowledge can empower them to purposely obtain work roles that allow them to contribute in a meaningful way — and lead to a deeply rewarding and satisfying career path.” While, as with any type of uncharted journey, career exploration carries a certain level of risk, it pales in comparison to the risk of leaving your child’s career decision to chance.

Client names and certain identifying details have been changed to respect their privacy and maintain confidentiality.