University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) for Families: Importance of Career Exploration

College and career readiness have become a trending focus in many school systems, often starting exposure to college and career options in elementary school. While school systems are beginning this focus earlier and more often through their formal and informal opportunities with students, it’s also important for caretakers to understand the importance of introducing college and career readiness options to youth.

 As children grow, they risk becoming less engaged in school. Making school less about jumping through academic hoops and more about what life will look like after high school can help kids feel more invested in what’s being asked of them. Gallup polls indicate student engagement falls dramatically from elementary to high school. As engagement falls, so do academic outcomes and even career prospects.

One route to engagement is through career exploration because it makes a connection between a child’s interests and skills and how they can contribute to the world.

Basic conversations about the importance of what happens after high school, the option of going to college and the reason of going is linked to learning skills and knowledge to prepare youth for a future career. While college may be daunting or intimidating, particularly if no one else in the family has attended, it is important to explain that college can mean different things for different people. Consider using the word “college” to be an easy way to explain that some people can go to college for a short term to do a certification program or a two-year college or longer for a four-year college and beyond. Explaining the general options is a good way to make college seem more achievable to youth unsure if they have what it takes to be successful in higher education and future careers.

Ways to introduce youth to college and career options could include:

  • Enroll your youth in out of school time organizations such as 4-H. They typically incorporate career exposure through skill development or activity base learning.
  • Knowing a youth’s interest areas early can enable career discussions to encourage students to focus on doing well and understanding concepts learned in school.
  • Intentionally attempt to match youth interests to a specific career field. 
  • If age appropriate and accessible, arrange for a tour of a local business that focuses on the career field the youth is interested in.
  • Youth can learn a lot about potential future careers through volunteering, apprenticeships and internships.
  • Explore Nebraska Department of Education Model and Career Clusters found at

Career exploration can become a purposeful conversation with youth as early as elementary school. Encouraging youth to think about future career paths and what challenges they want to solve in their future will be time well spent!

To learn about opportunities through Nebraska Extension to prepare youth for the future, contact your local Nebraska Extension Office.