How to Help a Teenager Decide What Career to Choose?

Updated on September 12, 2011
K.M. asks from Los Gatos, CA
14 answers

Hello, I'm trying to help my teenage little nephew decide what career path to choose. He is 16 and has been raised by my aunt and uncle (instead of his own parents) and they didn't complete any higher education. They are great hard-working people and want him to get prepared. In our culture that is pretty much the inheritance that parents or caregivers give you. My aunt/ uncle are working super hard to help him go to college without having to get into too much debt.
He is in a charter school, his grades are very good, he is good at math and computers, but again his subjects overall are good grades, he is not inclined into anything specific so far

Now, he is not sure what to choose, we don't have a lot of people with careers in our family (one lawyer and an engineer) How do I help him? What resources can I provide him? I know that his school has a career orientation but I'm hoping I can supplement him with information? Books? websites? I did ended up choosing the wrong career and didn't figure it out until I was half way done so I sucked it up and finsihed it but I really don't want him to have the same experience.
Thanks for any ideas your are using choosing your own career or helping your own kids choose one.

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for the very useful ideas and feedback. I have actually made a copy of these posts for him to read. I'm not sure about couselor at school or if he has made an appointment yet. This information is very helpful so I really appreciate you taking the time to respond!

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answers from Dallas on

Honestly, careers change a lot. My husband was pre-med, but became a computer animation specialist; he's now going back to school at 39 to become a doctor. The best thing to do is for him to find out what he loves and excels at, and see what careers fit that. Once he gets to college, his direction may change based on the reality of the classes, etc. School counselors should help, and taking advantage of the college counselors would be good. I wish I had, as I had no clue in college.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Minneapolis on

I work as a career consultant. There are two assessments that I would recommend for a teenager to help them make college major and career decisions. The first is StrengthsQuest by Gallup:

This assessment will identify where his natural talents lie, and give suggestions as to how to use this information in college and in a career. You will need to buy the book sold on this site (do not buy one used, since the code included in the book can only be used once to take the online assessment). The online assessment takes only 20-30 minutes and then he will get detailed feedback about himself and his strengths. The feedback is easy to read and to understand.

The other is called the Strong Interest Inventory. This assessment has been used in career counseling for decades. It doesn't measure skills or strengths, so it doesn't tell him what he is good at, just where he would likely fit in best in the career world based on his personal traits.

Here is a site that offers the assessment free:

I would recommend reviewing the sample report first to get an idea what you will see after taking the assessment.

PM me if you have questions about my suggestions.

The other side of a major/career choice is job opportunity. I have been researching career demand trends, and almost half of the top ten career areas that are predicted to have a high demand into the future are Information Technology (IT) related. If he has an interest and aptitude in computers/math, this field is an excellent choice and will continue to be for the forseeable (over 10 years) future.

Again, PM me if you have more questions!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

Honestly, at 16 I thought I'd become a travel agent. It wasn't until I looked at a college catalog that I discovered the government major and thought every class sounded interesting to me. Then, I started college and took a journalism class for GE credit and loved it. Ended up changing my major and ultimately went into public relations.

At 16, it's going to be hard to narrow a career path. You might have him look online at a college course catalog and see if anything interests him. But otherwise, I wouldn't push it. He'll figure it out over time.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

What does he enjoy? Science, math? Engineering jobs, accountants... are high earners and in demand for the next several years. Is he more creative oriented? I would ask him to talk to a school counselor. For one thing, he can go to to look at jobs, their growth rate, education requirements, salary medians, daily tasks here at's outlook handbook.

He can also take a meyers briggs test to help him define his personality and strengths and what career wise, would be a good fit.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

The good news is he does not have to declare his major until the end of his Sophomore Year or beginning of his junior year in College. It is not like when we went to college. This will allow him to take some different courses ad find out what his interest are.

There are also places that can give him a test to find out his preferences and his strengths.. This will then give him a guide as to things he might want to consider.

We are fortunate that here in Austin in the public schools, they give this test 2 times during a students studies.. Once in middle school and again in high school. Very interesting to see some of the careers that pop up.

Ask the Academic counselor at his Charter school if they will be giving this test or if they can recommend an organization that may give this test for free or for a low cost.
Good luck to him! It is an exciting time.

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answers from Dallas on

He's 16, why does he have to choose a career path now? I would encourage him to keep doing well at school and to take some classes, if offered, in things he enjoys. Also, he doesn't need to pick his major the minute he enters college. Have him take his prerequisites and again take classes that interest him to see what he likes. I know at my school, I didn't have to declare a major until my junior year of college. I took all my prerequisites and some classes that I thought were interesting, and when I picked my majors (English and Justice Studies), I took those classes my last two years, and still graduated with 2 degrees, cum laude, in 4 years. Just let him know that you will support his decisions, and will be there for him if he needs you, that is the best help you can give.

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answers from Houston on

With my son he likes to build so he started in maintnance. without hvac most maintance jobs won't hire him so he is in hvac school now. What does he like to do. He doesn't necessarily go to college. a trade school is a very good possibily. Ex if he likes to work on cars a mechanic. If he likes to build construction or maitnance. If he likes animals a vet. If he loves math accounting. If he likes to argue a lawyer. Go with his natural personality and natural likes. Ask him what he likes to do and go from there.

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answers from San Francisco on

First, you're an awesome aunt for wanting to help! Second, I totally agree with the others who said make sure he's taking full advantage of his school guidance/career counselor, and make sure he does both an aptitude assessment AND a personality assessment. In my own case, I had good grades in everything, so got an engineering degree and a business degree and thought it would be fun to do product management of a technical product. BUT, my personality does not mesh with the chaos of product management -- it completely stressed me out and I was pretty unhappy without even realizing it. So a good fit with your personality is really important, too. And while he doesn't have to get super-specific until the 2nd-3rd year of college for a lot of things, he DOES have to get specific if he wants to do engineering or a discipline like that with a ton of very specific requirements. You've got to carefully plan out every semester/quarter as an engineer to even graduate in four years, let alone decide that a year or two into the process. So you're smart to have him try to make a high-level decision (technical/engineering or not) before he starts college. Plus, it's good to have a general idea of a career choice so that he picks a college with a good program for what he likes. Ideally, he'd choose a school with good programs for several things he likes so he does have a backup if he changes his mind. Hope that helps and best of luck to you and to him!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Hi K.,
My daughter is also 16, but she has known since age 7 that she wants to study veterinary medicine. First, I think your almost grown nephew would appreciate not being called your "little nephew" :) This really is what his school counselor is for. They should offer aptitude testing, job fair days, etc. If he has a particular subject in school that he enjoys, he might look into careers in that field, or perhaps something related to his personal interests. I'm not sure how What Color Is Your Parachute would work for a teen, but that's a book that helps you determine your areas of career interest. He can also visit college websites and see what majors they offer. Majoring in math or in the sciences or technology can provide various opportunities for jobs, or furthering his education after that when he has a better idea of what he would like to do. I know that some people have said that you don't have to declare a major til the end of your sophomore year, but really that depends on what you want to do! My daughter, for instance, would not be able to fulfill all the requirements that she'd need to be admitted to veterinary school in those final two years.
Good luck in helping this young man. I would strongly suggest that he work with his school counselor. That is what their job is for. If he hasn't made an appointment with guidance, he should do that at this time (it's not something for parents or family to be involved in, it's an independent thing for the soon to be young adult)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

my husband works at a nuclear power plant....he said there are a lot of guys that serve in the navy for 4 years & get a job there making six figures.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Spokane on

The best job is one you love to what are his interests, hobbies, passions in life? Start there, then do some research as to which careers he can pursue based on those criteria.

Example: If he loves books, reading and/or writing then there are careers in editing, publishing, journalism, sales - you get the idea?

I would also stress to him that just because it's his *first* job, doesn't mean it has to be his job for LIFE! There are many different directions a degree in Communications can take you (for another example).

Find his passion!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Amarillo on

Have your nephew "shadow" some people in fields of interest. He can get an idea by going to the job and doing some work. Have him sit down and think of things that he likes to do with his hands/brains and go from there.

Math and science are great fields and there are many other fields that use these areas as basic blocks to further their fields. Since he is just 16, have him visit a few local colleges/universities to see if this a good fit for him. He may want to go to a vocational program (heating/air conditioning, welding, plumbing or such).

Are there any math clubs, science clubs/fairs that he could join or visit to see if it sparks an interest. Otherewise let him start college and get the gen eds out the way and perhaps the field of interest will come while doing this.

Good luck to the family.

The other S.

PS I am still trying to figure out what I want to do. But I did have some large bumps in the way like military wife and mom.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Eugene on

He's got good grades. There are thousands of scholarships written specifically for teens whose parent or guardian works in a certain type of job or in a single firm. There are huge scholarship books in the public library and in college libraries.
Does he know if he wants to go into the health field or if he is interested in technology or the arts?
If he's not ready to go far from home he could go to San Jose State or to Santa Cruz which is an excellent school with a beautiful campus.
Take him on a tour of campuses he could go to. Male nurses make very good money and are often promoted much more quickly than women.
He could go into teaching as a starter profession and use it to expand into something he finds fascinating. Or he might be a great teacher.
He should look into talking with college recruiters and talk to all kinds of professional people and people in the trades to learn about different careers.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

he needs to work with his school counselor & they'll hook him up with the screening he needs to complete to find a good, strong career for him. That's all a part of their job.

& as a head's up, many kids today change gears niece changed her field from physical a basic biology degree. Couldn't find a job for 6 is now pursuing a Master's in Education. She is planning on teaching secondary sciences.

My son went to a technical college for the business end of engineering. Had to drop out after the 1st semester due to medical/disability issues. We're now 1 year since his hip replacement & he's completely moved into other fields: he thought about radiology tech.....but has decided to pursue air traffic control. Wow....diverse thoughts!

In the case of my son, he went thru extensive screenings to find his 1st choice. Air traffic control came about when our aunt sent us "insider info" (she worked for the federal govt). Start pooling your friends....something might pop up!

1 mom found this helpful
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