Now that you’ve various criteria, strategies, and tips to narrow your Roster, you may be in a position to identify education and training options that will help you successfully pursue the occupation(s) of your choice.
You are probably in one of five career exploration situations right now. Find the situation from the list below that best describes your current situation. I offer advice for identifying education/training options that is tailored to each specific situation.
Situation A: You Picked a Single Occupation that has Specific Requirements Related to Academic Degrees, Training Certificates, and/or Professional Licenses
Certain occupations require that you earn specific academic degrees, training certificates, and/or professional licenses.
For example, to become a nuclear engineer, you must complete a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering. As another example, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree in social work, 2 years of post-master’s experience in a supervised clinical setting, and a clinical social worker state license. If you picked an occupation like this, then your education and training options are quite clear: you must get the required degree/certificate/license in order to pursue that occupation.
Thus, if you are in Situation A, most of your education and training choices are already made for you by virtue of the occupation that you selected.
Situation B: You Picked a Single Occupation that has Semi-Specific Requirements Related to Academic Degree, Training Certificates, and/or Professional Licenses
Certain occupations have some flexibility when it comes to what specific academic degrees, training certificates, and/or professional licenses are required to enter that occupation.
For example, to become a counseling psychologist, you first do a bachelor’s degree that is at least somewhat applicable to mental health. Many counseling psychologists had psychology as their undergraduate major. However, this is not required. As long as you can convince graduate programs in counseling psychology that you are qualified to enter their program, what particular bachelor’s degree you got is of secondary importance.
After getting the bachelor’s degree, if your résumé is strong enough, you go straight into a doctoral degree program in counseling psychology. This doctoral program can be a PhD program in counseling psychology, a PsyD program in counseling psychology, or an EdD program in counseling psychology, so there is even some flexibility around which type of doctoral degree in counseling psychology you get.
If your résumé is not strong enough, you can do a master’s program in counseling psychology next in order to strengthen your résumé so that you will be more eligible for counseling psychology doctoral programs.
Once you’ve completed your doctoral degree in counseling psychology, if you want to provide health services to clients, you must get licensed as a psychologist in your state. This requires taking a national psychology exam and also a state exam.
Thus, as you can see from my description, occupations like counseling psychology involve a mix of narrow requirements and flexible requirements, at different parts of the education/training process.
Thus, if you are in Situation B, you will have to make some choices about which of the available education/training options are a good fit for you. This requires a bit more research and reflection than those who are in Situation A.
Situation C: You Picked a Single Occupation that has Flexible Requirements Related to Academic Degree, Training Certificates, and/or Professional Licenses
Certain occupations have flexible requirements related to what specific academic degrees, training certificates, and/or professional licenses are required to enter that occupation. This is more common among occupations that are in O*NET’s Job Zones 1, 2, and 3.
For example, fashion models require no formal education or training. Likewise, advertising sales agents and travel agents only require a high school diploma. Getting additional education or training may help facilitate certain aspects of their careers, but it’s not a requirement of their occupations.
Thus, if you are in Situation C, you will a great deal of choice regarding whether or not you seek additional education/training and what that additional preparation would look like. Significant research and reflection will help you make sound education and training decisions.
Situation D: You Have Closely-Related Occupations Remaining on Your Roster
Let’s say that you have narrowed down your Roster to around 4 occupations that are all closely related (e.g., counseling psychologist, clinical social worker, mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist). If this is the case, it’s possible (but you need to double check) that there are some academic degree programs that would help you progress towards entering any of these occupations (e.g., bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, or another mental health field). However, after completing one of these kinds of bachelor’s degree, in order to further progress towards one of these occupations, you would then have to pick a graduate degree program that is specifically geared toward the one chosen occupation. In other words, if you are a high school student currently interested in several mental health occupations, you can safely choose psychology or a related bachelor’s degree program for now. You will have a few years to figure out which specific mental health occupation you want to pursue, which will then dictate what graduate degree and subsequent licenses you will need to get.
As another example, if you were considering medical physician, nurse, biologist, dietitian, and health educator, you could pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology. This degree is proper preparation for any one of these occupations, though each occupation has different requirements for the education/training/licensure experiences that come after the bachelor’s degree.
Thus, if you are in Situation D, you may be able to make some sensible choices regarding education/training that are congruent with all of the closely-related occupations that remain on your Roster. Careful research and reflection will help make sure that the education/training you commit to at this time will help you remain qualified to pursue the occupations you are still considering. Of course, you will want to periodically return to the SCEA to attempt to eliminate some of the remaining occupations from your Roster, as you’ll eventually need to pick one occupation to pursue, though you can always change your mind later in life.
Situation E: You Have Unrelated Occupations Remaining on Your Roster
Let’s say that you have narrowed down your Roster to around 4 occupations that are not all closely related (e.g., counseling psychologist, clinical social worker, mechanical engineer, chiropractor). If this is the case, it may be difficult to identify a single education/training option that would prepare you to enter any and all of these occupations.
If you do not need to make an education/training choice now, that means you have some time to get additional career experiences before you return to the SCEA to continue to narrow your list down. Hopefully the extra time will get out of Situation E and into Situation A, B, C, or D.
If you must make an education/training choice now, you’ll have to engage in some careful research and reflection to determine which of these equally-attractive occupations is worth pursuing education/training for. You will have to make peace with the fact that, by picking one of these occupations and starting to acquire the education/training needed to pursue that occupation, you are necessarily setting aside (at least for now) the opportunity to acquire the education/training needed to pursue the other occupations you were considering. Many people find themselves in this situation; it is normal.
As I noted on the Reasons to be Systematic page, the majority of people end up having to adjust their career path one or more times because they discover the occupation/education/training they thought was a good fit for them is actually a bad fit for them. It can be a hassle to make such adjustments, but the hassle is often worth it. In conclusion, if your life circumstances demand that you commit to an occupation/education/training path now, pick one of those equally-attractive occupations on your Roster and start pursuing the education/training for it. Ideally, you will be able to periodically revisit your chosen career path and make adjustments as needed.
Thankfully, sometimes these adjustments are not that painful to make. For example, let’s say you decided you wanted to become a mechanical engineer, so you enrolled in a mechanical engineering undergraduate program. Then, in your senior year of college, you determine that you don’t like mechanical engineering and would rather pursue counseling psychology. In this case, you could apply for counseling psychology master’s programs the fall of your senior year and, assuming you could make a good case for your qualifications, get accepted into a program, which you’d start the next fall. (See Situation B for a description about the flexible paths to counseling psychologist that you can take). The two-year master’s degree could then give you some time to strengthen your qualifications for entrance into a counseling psychology doctoral program, at which point you are well on your way to becoming a counseling psychologist.
Now that you’ve picked the situation that sounds most like yours and considered my advice for that specific situation, it’s time to share some final thoughts.