A Guide on How to Go Back to College: Part One (Page 3)

What interests do I have?

As you assess your skills, consider the activities you enjoy and do not enjoy as you have performed various tasks at school, on the job, or in your down time. Perhaps you know you are good at fixing things but don’t enjoy doing these activities outside. Or perhaps the opposite is true. Maybe you enjoy building things, but being outside when doing these and other activities made you enjoy them even more. Which classes did you eagerly anticipate in school? Ones with a lot of group project work, or did you more enjoy solitary analysis?

When you list what you liked most in the various activities and jobs you have done, ask yourself if there is a common theme or themes? Did you find that you enjoyed and gained the most satisfaction with certain kinds of activities or experiences? For example, do most of the activities you enjoy involve helping others or did you find more satisfaction spending a lot of time figuring things out and accomplishing and completing a difficult project alone?

Also important when looking at common themes is a similar dislike for certain activities or qualities in an activity. Perhaps you enjoy measuring and making spreadsheets but when asked to make up a story, your mind goes blank.

What work values do I have?

A work value may sound like a simple thing, but it goes beyond making money and earning a paycheck. Consider what kind of work environment and project situations you enjoy. Do you like working outside? Do you prefer to do your work within a group or do you prefer to perform more independently? Do you like the rush of quick decision-making or do you prefer to sit back and analyze a situation slowly to arrive at an outcome? The answers to these questions will help put into context the type of career environment that will best suit you and will help guide your educational pursuits.

Step 2: Career Assessment

As you consider going to college, having a good idea of the type of career you’d like to pursue is essential. After spending time learning about yourself and your needs, you may have a rough idea of the types of work you may enjoy and the skills you are able to bring to that field. Make a list of a few occupations or careers that seem to you, at least on the outside, to be a good fit.

Next, spend time learning more about these careers in depth. An excellent place to begin your research is the US Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook.6 Reading through the various professions on this website, you’ll gain a good understanding of what skills are required in that kind of work, wages, how many people hold jobs in that profession, what the job growth outlook is, as well as typical educational requirements. It’s important to gain a good understanding of the nature of the work you’ll be doing in a field and to match it up to your natural aptitude and interest.

Also, spend time talking with people in these professions. Ask them what their typical day looks like -- this will give you a more specific view into the rigors of a profession. Ask people in your fields of interest what types of post secondary certificates and degrees they have earned or are required. Is there a heavy concentration of one set of required college courses over another, for example math and science labs versus writing papers? Ask yourself whether or not these match your current interests and skills or whether they are gaps you need to fill.

6 United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2010-2011 Edition