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Career Education

Vassar College

A Parents' Guide to Career Development 

Adapted from article by Thomas J. Denham (courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers)

One of the most valuable things that parents can do to help a student with career planning is to listen: be open to ideas, try to help your student find information, and be nonjudgmental. Here are 10 other ways you can help:

1. Encourage your student to visit the Center for Career Education

Many students use their first semester to “settle into” college life, and so the spring semester of the first year is the optimal time to start using the Center for Career Education’s services. Ask your student (in an off-handed way), “Have you visited the CCE?” If you hear, “You only go there when you are a senior,” then it’s time to reassure him/her that meeting with a career counselor can take place at any point—and should take place frequently—throughout a college career.

Anytime your son or daughter is feeling anxious about his/her future, suggest that they visit the office and speak with a career counselor. The CCE is not just for seniors, and meetings with career counselors can take place at any point during their college career. The sooner a student becomes familiar with the staff, resources, and programs, the better prepared he or she will be to make wise career decisions.

The CCE supports students’ career development process through services that:

  • Enhance self-awareness of interests, values and talents
  • Encourage exploration of future paths
  • Provide opportunities to acquire knowledge and experience
  • Develop skills for effective self-presentation

2. Advise your student to write a resume

Writing a resume can be a “reality test” and can help a student identify weak areas that require improvement. Suggest that your student view sample resumes in our Resume Guide (2MB) prior to drafting their own resume. You can even review resume drafts for grammar, spelling, and content, but recommend that the final product be critiqued by a career counselor or one of our trained peer Career Assistants.

3. Challenge your student to become “occupationally literate.”

Ask: “Do you have any ideas about what you might want to do when you graduate?” If your student seems unsure, you can talk about personal qualities you see as talents and strengths. A career decision should be a process and not a one-time, last-minute event: Discourage putting this decision off until the senior year. You can also recommend they utilize CCE Assessment tools, talk to favorite faculty members about opportunities, get an internship or job shadow a professional in a field they are interested in learning more about, and research a variety of career fields and employers of interest to them.

4. Allow your student to make career decisions

Even though it is helpful to ask about career plans or choice of major, too much prodding can sometimes backfire. It is okay to make suggestions about majors and careers, but let your student be the ultimate judge of what is best. Career development can be stressful and this may be one of the first really big decisions your son or daughter has had to make. Be patient, sympathetic and understanding, even if you do not agree with your son or daughter's decisions.

Myth: A student must major in something “practical” or marketable.
Truth: Students should follow their own interests and passions.
Myth: Picking your major means picking the career you will have forever.
Truth: That’s not true anymore. “Major” does not necessarily mean “career”, and it is not unusual for a student to change majors and careers multiple times. Many students change majors after getting more information about specific fields of study and career fields of interest. Many students end up doing something very different than originally planned. Chances are, their plans will develop and change. It is okay to change majors and careers!

5. Emphasize the importance of internships

The CCE does not “place” students in a job at graduation. Having relevant experience in this competitive job market is critical. Your son or daughter can sample career options by completing internships and experimenting with summer employment opportunities or volunteer work.

Employers are most interested in an applicant’s communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership, interpersonal, and administrative skills, which can be developed through internships. They also look for relevant experience on a student's resume and often hire from within their own internship programs.

Students can find and apply to internships through Handshake, our curated database of Vassar-relevant opportunities.

6. Encourage extracurricular involvement

Part of experiencing college life is to be involved and active outside the classroom. Interpersonal and leadership skills—qualities valued by future employers—are often developed in extracurricular activities, and through on campus employment and community service. Encourage your student to visit the Vassar Student Association website to learn more about on-campus student organizations and to browse the Student Employment website for on-campus employment opportunities available during the year and every summer.

7. Persuade your student to stay up-to-date with current events

Employers will expect students to know what is happening around them. Encourage your student to read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or other applicable journals and publications. When they are home on break, try to discuss major world issues with them. There are also a number of presentations, performances, and events on campus that you should encourage your son or daughter to attend.

8. Expose your student to the world of work

Most students have a stereotypical view of the workplace. Engage your student in conversations about work. Explain to your student what you do for a living. Take your student to your workplace. Show them the value of networking by interacting with your own colleagues. Help your student identify potential employers and internship sites.

9. Teach the value of networking

Introduce your student to people who have the careers/jobs that may be of interest. Suggest your student contact people in your personal and professional networks for information on summer jobs, internships, volunteer opportunities, or even for a simple informational interview to learn more about the work that they do. Encourage your son or daughter to “shadow” someone in the workplace to increase awareness of interesting career fields.

10. Help the CCE

There are many ways you can partner with the CCE:

  • If your company has job or internship openings, make them accessible to Vassar students! You can easily promote opportunities to by creating an employer account on our online job/internship database, Handshake, and posting your openings there. Encourage other businesses to create accounts as well!
  • Use your experience to offer advice to students about their career options by participating in a career panel or workshop. Contact the CCE if you’re interested in either hosting or participating in an upcoming event.
  • Consider offering short-term housing when students accept unpaid internships in locations other than their hometown.