Aligning Student Strengths with Future Careers

By Justin Edwards
YSU Director of Career Exploration & Development

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The old saying –  find something you love doing, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life – is easier said than done.

Discovering that “something” can be particularly difficult and stressful for high school graduates entering college. We are told to follow our passion. But, what if we have multiple passions? How do we choose?

This is a challenge that many people coming to college don’t consider. At Youngstown State University, we are committed to not only ensuring student success in earning a degree on time, with little to no debt, but also giving students the chance to understand how their strengths align with a fulfilling career.

At YSU, students can begin their college experience in what we call an Exploratory Program. These are individuals who come to us without yet deciding on a major.

Many young people begin their time in college with established goals to find work making a high salary, helping people in the community, or building plans for graduate college education. But probe a little deeper and you’ll find a lot of ambiguity, uncertainty and indecision. Many young people attend college in the hopes of discovering what gets them excited, or what aptitudes they possess.

As students explore academic pathways and careers, we believe in an approach that puts them at the center of the process. Self-awareness is an essential first step in career and major decision-making.

To help students build self-awareness, we help them identify their VIPS – Values, Interests, Personality and Strengths. Once we build an understanding of who a student is as an individual, we help gather important information about possible majors and career paths. This includes learning about attributes needed to be successful in the job market, occupational outlook in the region and world, as well as gathering salary data and lifestyle strategies associated with the chosen field.

One of the most asked questions is, “How can I still plan for four-year graduation if I start as an Exploratory student?”

We strive to make sure that Exploratory students are never wasting their time, energy or money on classes that do not count toward graduation. All majors at YSU require a selection of general education classes that are a great place to start exploring interests.

This gives students a little over a year to engage with general education courses and exploratory activities before declaring a major and staying on track for four-year graduation. We find that students who take this time to invest in themselves throughout the first year are more likely to stay in the majors they declare and align their passions with their future careers.

From there, YSU provides a wide range of experiential learning opportunities, including internships, clinical and field work, student teaching, research for credit and more. Our twice-a-year YSU Career Exploration Fair draws dozens of employers and hundreds of students looking for hands-on experience and full-time jobs. The Williamson College of Business Administration hosts its Meet the Employers Day, and the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics holds its STEM Expo.

These intentional employer connections help students to interact directly with businesses and organizations, get their “foot in the door” with employers and add clarity to their chosen career paths. Since most employers prefer to hire candidates with experience, internships and hands-on learning, the opportunities that YSU offers provide an enormous advantage for our graduates.

All of these employment opportunities create a platform for students to learn about how they fit into the workforce. When combined with scholarships, grants and clear career goals, students are given a vehicle to make a debt-free education within reach at YSU.