Career Development – Developing an Ed Plan in Degree Works


Do you have everything planned out for your future? Do you know the specific job you’ll have 10 years from now? How will your educational path get you there? Questions like these may feel overwhelming or impossible to answer. The good news is that you don’t need to have everything figured out. This chapter will provide you with information, resources, and activities to help you get started.


Your academic major is the academic discipline you select to pursue as a student. It’s an area you specialize in, such as accounting, chemistry, criminal justice, graphic arts, or music. In United States colleges and universities, roughly 2,000 majors are offered, and within each major is a number of core courses and electives. When you successfully complete the required courses in your major, you qualify for a degree.

Why is your major important? It’s important because it’s a defining and organizing feature of your degree. Ultimately, your major should provide you with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors you need to fulfill your college goals and objectives.


There are few topics about college that create more controversy than “Does your major really matter to your career?” Many people think it does; others think it’s not so important. Who’s right? And who gets to weigh in? Also, how do you measure whether something “matters”—by salary, happiness, personal satisfaction?

While some college majors are a direct path to a selected career field, nursing for example, other majors have an indirect relationship with careers. For example, if you decide to major in psychology, there are various careers this option can lead you to. It may be difficult to say for sure whether your major truly matters to your career. One’s college major and ultimate career are sometimes, but not always, correlated. Review the following statistics as you consider how college majors are connected to careers:

  • 50–70 percent of college students change their major at least once during their time in college.
  • Most majors lead to a wide variety of opportunities rather than to one specific career, although some majors do indeed lead to specific careers.
  • Many students say that the skills they gain in college will be useful on the job no matter what they major in as an undergraduate.
  • Only half of graduating seniors accept a job directly related to their major.
  • Career planning for most undergraduates focuses on developing general, transferrable skills like speaking, writing, critical thinking, computer literacy, problem-solving, and team building, because these are skills that employers want.
  • College graduates often cite the following four factors as being critical to their job and career choices: personal satisfaction, enjoyment, opportunity to use skills and abilities, and personal development.
  • Within ten years of graduation, most people work in careers that aren’t directly related to their majors.
  • Many or most jobs that exist today will be very different five years from now.

It’s also important to talk about financial considerations in choosing a major.

  • Any major you choose will likely benefit you because college graduates earn roughly $1 million more than high school graduates, on average, over an entire career.
  • STEM jobs, though—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—can lead to the thirty highest paying jobs. So if you major in any of these areas, you may be more likely to earn a higher salary.
  • Even though humanities and social sciences students may earn less money right after college, they may earn more by the time they reach their peak salary than students who had STEM majors.
  • Students who major in the humanities and social science are also more likely to get advanced degrees, which increases annual salary by nearly $20,000 at peak salary.

The best guidance on choosing a major and connecting it with a career is to work through the career development process to move towards selecting a major that reflects your greatest interests. If you don’t like law or medicine, but you major in it because of a certain salary expectation, you may later find yourself in an unrelated job that brings you greater satisfaction—even if the salary is lower. If this is the case, will it make more sense, looking back, to spend your time and tuition dollars studying a subject you especially enjoy?

Harper organizes majors and programs of study into groupings that have similar industry backgrounds and functions called Areas of Interest. There are 10 Areas of Interest with many options to explore that will prepare you to go directly into a career field or to transfer to a college or university. Once you have decided on an Area of Interest, you can explore that broad area to help you decide on a more specific major, which will lead towards career options that are connected to that major.

Harper College is unique in that there aren’t specific majors for general Associate’s Degrees like the “Associate in Arts” or “Associate in Science.” These programs are geared more towards transferring to a four year university and meeting general education requirements along with some entry level major courses. Degree programs like the Associate in Applied Sciences are more major focused, all while creating a degree path program. It’s extremely important that you’re discussing your preferences and possible ideas with your Academic Advisor.

You can explore Harper’s Areas of Interest, Associate Degree options, and connecting careers through the Harper College Academics webpage.

Through participating in the career development process, you will learn about and use tools to help you choose an Area of Interest, major, and career path to reach your goals. As the image below represents, these choices are fluid meaning that you may move between the broad and specific levels as you continue to explore your options.


See if you can remember a time in your childhood when you noticed somebody doing professional work. Maybe a nurse or doctor, dressed in a lab coat, was listening to your heartbeat. Maybe a worker at a construction site, decked in a hard hat, was operating noisy machinery. Maybe a cashier at the checkout line in a grocery store was busily scanning bar codes. Each day in your life you could have seen a hundred people doing various jobs. Surely some of the experiences drew your interest and appealed to your imagination.

If you can recall any such times, those are moments from the beginning stage of your career development.

Career development is a lifelong process in which we become aware of, interested in, knowledgeable about, and skilled in a career. It’s a key part of human development as our identity forms and our life unfolds.

The career development process provides a helpful framework for outlining the necessary steps for identifying and planning your career goals. The process is on-going and cyclical, and your goals and motivations may adjust over time as you gain new knowledge and experiences. Following these five steps of the career development process will provide a solid foundation as you plan towards your career, academic, and personal goals, as well as inform your educational planning.

Step 1: Self-Assessment

To make the best career decision possible, it’s essential to know more about who you are through self-assessment and reflection. Through this first step, you’ll have a better understanding of your interests, personality, values, skills, and and what motivates you.

The Focus 2 career assessment and exploration tool will guide you through self-assessment to learn about how careers relate to your personality, interests, skills and majors at Harper College. You can access Focus 2 on the Academic Advising and Counseling page of the MyHarper Portal.

The following video outlines how to access this important first step:

Step 2: Exploring Major and Career Options

Now that you’ve completed the Focus 2 career assessment, you can use that information to begin exploring various major and career options. Focus 2 allows you to use your assessment information to create a filtered list of majors within Harper’s Areas of Interest, and occupations that align with your assessment results. If there is more than one area that you are interested in, know that you can continue exploring and make adjustments along the way.

When considering your options, be sure not only to consider your career assessment results (interests, personality, values, and skills), but also take into account labor market information such as salary, job outlook, and other occupational data. Know that deciding between two different areas of interest is normal, that’s why speaking with your Academic Advisor is crucial to your success (Step 4).

Step 3: Making Decisions and Goal Setting

Now that you’ve gathered self-assessment and career research information, you’re ready to move towards making a preliminary decision about your major and career, and engage in setting goals. Once you have an idea of a career path, set some SMART goals to help you stay accountable and motivated. Refer to Chapter 2: College Learning- Strategies for Student Engagement and Success to review how to develop SMART goals.

Step 4: Creating an Educational Plan

Now that you have at least a few ideas for your major or career path, you can schedule a meeting with your Academic Advisor to set your educational plan in motion. Your Academic Advisor will discuss the best degree type based on your goal of transferring, working when completing your credential at Harper, or whatever your path may be. Academic Advisors are assigned to every enrolled student at Harper. They are there to guide you through decisions such as classes to take, recommended transfer courses, and answer specific questions about Areas of Interest.

Know that your educational plan and career path may look different than your peers for various reasons including prior credit you may have or the type of credential you’ve selected. Your educational plan is meant for YOU, and no one else. So, meeting with your Advisor, at least once a semester, is important to keep you on track to reaching your specific goals you’ve set for yourself.

Learn more about advising at Harper on the advising web page including how to schedule your advising appointment. You can also prepare to meet with your Advisor by learning more about your major and program requirements through the Academic Areas of Interest web page. If your Advisor reaches out to you via your Harper email, it’s always a good practice to respond within 48 business hours, so they know you saw their message.

Step 5: Career and Job Search Preparation

In this step, you’re ready to transition from college student to employee. However, finding a job may be harder than it seems. There’s a lot that goes into preparation for a job search: Writing a Resume, constructing a Cover Letter, contacting your References, and then beginning to prepare for interviews. The Job Placement Resource Center can assist you every step of the way.


Being career ready is an important next step in the job search process. The National Association for Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveyed many employers and with the help of university staff members, compiled a list of 8 skills college students will need to have acquired in order to be successful in the workforce. (1) Open the image below in a new tab or the link to download the core competencies.

NACE – Career Readiness Competencies 2021 Poster[1]


The Job Placement Resource Center (JRPC) is your hub to learn all about the amazing ways you can incorporate NACE’s competencies into your resume. Whether you’ve never had a paid position or you’ve tried a variety of different careers, the JPRC can help you narrow your focus and create resumes and cover letters you’ll be proud to share with potential employers.


A resume is your marketing tool to show potential employers who YOU are. A company wants to know your most authentic self, and a resume can help showcase what you are passionate about, but more importantly what skills you can bring to their organization or company. What you want to remember about writing a resume is being Clear, Concise, and Consistent! Keeping the 3-Cs in mind will help you focus your information.

Cover Letter

The answer to “should you write a cover letter” is a simple yes. An employer doesn’t know you, and one way to showcase all the skills you’ll bring to a team is by writing a cover letter. This is your chance to tailor your previous experiences into a concise document that parallels the job description and how you stand out from the other applicants.


There is a common misconception that references should go on a resume. Truthfully, your references should be a separate document and should be at least 3 up-to-date contacts of people who can speak to your great skills. You want to consider asking Professors, former supervisors, colleagues, classmates, or even your current supervisor (if they know you’re looking for a job) if they would consider being a reference for you. It’s always important to ask your references first, before you list them as a reference. It also would be a good idea to send your references your updated resume and the job description you are applying to, so they know these pieces and can tailor their feedback to your strengths.


Once you have your documents (resume, cover letter, and references) completed, and have begun the job search process, preparing for an interview is the next step. Not only can the JPRC help you feel more comfortable by sharing tips and tricks about interviewing, but they can also do practice interviews to help you feel relaxed and prepared. In addition to meeting with the JPRC individually, Big Interview is a free online tool to help you polish your interviewing skills that allows for hours of additional practice before your big day! Head to the JPRC website to register today.



As we learned from Chapter 1: College Life- Navigating the System and Campus Resources, Harper has free Career Counseling if you’re unsure of your path or are having a hard time making a decision about a possible career. You can sit with one of Harper’s experienced professionals, where they can help you dive deeper into your Focus 2 and ask you critical questions about your goals. They can also help you process questions you are asking yourself, normalize if you are unsure of what your path should be, and guide you through the unknown.

If you need more guidance, you can take the CDV 110 Career Development course, that is 2 credits and allows students at least 8 weeks in the system to wrestle with these concepts. It’s a learning environment designed with the undecided student in mind!


This chapter is an adaption of:

College Success Skills, by tnccsdv100 (Thomas Nelson Community College), used under a CC-SA 4.0 License.

  1. National Association of Colleges and Employers. Competencies for a Career-Ready Workforce. Mar. 2021,


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