When is it too soon to begin thinking about careers?

Pat Rose, director of Career Services

This blog is directed at colleagues more than students.  When should you start thinking about your career goals?  Some career services leaders (and their bosses) have urged freshmen to begin their personal career planning almost at matriculation.  Is this too soon?  I suppose it depends on the student.  Some come to Penn (which is really the only institution I can speak about) with a vague notion to become a doctor, a lawyer, a financier, an engineer, a nurse.  

That’s fine.  It’s actually comforting to be able to say, when asked, I think I’d like to go to law school.  But those of us who actually engage students in conversation know that they really have little idea what it means to be a lawyer, and frankly, they haven’t got a clue what they would like to do.   

I think those of us in Career Services at Penn embrace that indecision.  Students should throw themselves into their coursework and their new academic community as freshmen.  They may find an area of study previously unknown to them, something that will lead them in new directions.  They may discover, through extra or co-curricular involvements, that they have skills they didn’t think they had.  These revelations are important to incorporate into their thinking about the future.  Sophomore year is plenty of time for a Penn student to begin the process of exploring possible careers.   

Of course there are some Penn students who begin focusing on the future in high school, and that’s fine; they may be developmentally ready.  But our students are fortunate that they have the luxury to explore academically and personally in an environment that provides so many rich opportunities.  If students are wise, they will delve deeply into an academic discipline (it doesn’t really matter which one), and will take responsibility for developing skills that can serve them in the series of jobs and careers they are most likely to have.  We are here to help them, as are faculty members, administrative colleagues, alumni, parents and others.  So let’s not start pushing freshmen.  Let’s give them the gift of time to explore; they’ll be better able to face the future and the career discovery process later.


Author: Patricia Rose

Patricia Rose is the Director of Career Services at the University of Pennsylvania.