Here’s What a Recent Graduate Wants You to Know about Careers Education

10 Nov, 2023 | Content for Educators

As we’ve been working to devise new careers resources and tools to support students and educators, our Project Executive, Izzy, has been reflecting on her own experiences of careers support and education at school.

I recently graduated from the University of Oxford, where I studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).

I wasn’t always sure that I wanted to study PPE. I hadn’t studied Philosophy or Politics at school, and was unsure if it was the right course for me. Unlike many PPE applicants, I didn’t want to be Prime Minister, and didn’t know what (if any!) career paths PPE could offer outside politics.

I flicked between a lot of different course ideas: Law, Business, English, and even Maths. I tried to read around these subjects, but just couldn’t picture myself studying any of them at university. With a diverse range of interests, I wanted a course that would allow me to explore as many of them as possible!

At 17, I attended a summer school in Oxford, specifically for those interested in PPE. It was on this course that I realised PPE was the perfect course for me. The opportunity to attend lectures on a diverse range of subjects, from climate economics to the politics of China, as well as the chance to engage in discussions with like-minded people my age, showed me that PPE is more than a Prime Minister production line. I spent the remainder of my year 12 summer delving deeper into some of the topics we’d discussed, ready to write my university application in the coming autumn. 

Even when I was applying to university, confident in the degree I had chosen, I was unsure of the career path I wanted to pursue, and didn’t feel that school careers education had prepared me particularly well.

What Careers Support Did I Receive at School?

My careers education began in 2015, while I was in UK year 9. During a form tutor session, we were given a simple careers questionnaire that claimed to be able to achieve the impossible: it would determine our “perfect” career choices.

The quiz asked simple questions: Are you a people person? Are you creative? Are you good at maths? Within a few clicks, I had unlocked the path to my so-called “perfect” future.

I vividly recall the disappointment I felt as my top three appeared on screen:

  • Bartender
  • Binman
  • Aircraft Marshall

Whilst these options reflected my desire to work in a team in a social job, and accounted for my strong organisational skills, the quiz had made no attempt to consider my motivations. My interest in charity work and social impact had gone unnoticed. My love of academia and hopes of going to a competitive university were rendered unnecessary and irrelevant. I was left with roles that I may have been a good fit for, but were not a good fit for me. 

We were then encouraged to research the best higher education options for the careers that resulted from the quiz, and make a full career plan. It became evident early on that my careers lessons were focused on identifying a specific path and following it.

Group of OxBright students smiling and posing for a photo

Does the “one career” model work for Gen Z?

It’s now commonly accepted that Millennials, Gen Z and likely the generations that follow will not choose a single career and stick to it for their whole lives. As well as increased job-hopping between companies, research also shows that the days of Baby Boomers working for one company their whole professional lives, climbing the career ladder within one role or department, are firmly behind us.

So, if the careers education I received is outmoded, what can we change to support today’s secondary school students?

Here’s What I Wish I’d Known about Careers at High School

1. I wish I had been told that it’s okay to be uncertain

Early careers education should be about discovering options and pursuing curiosities. Fixating on a specific career path doesn’t equip you with the skills or flexibility needed to thrive in a constantly changing work environment.

2. I wish I’d known that your degree doesn’t have to dictate your career path

Studying Law doesn’t mean you have to be a lawyer. Studying Medicine doesn’t mean you have to be a doctor, and studying PPE definitely does not mean that you have to be Prime Minister. 

Whilst a small number of careers do require a particular degree, there really are no degrees that pigeonhole you into just one job from 21 through to retirement.

It’s important to choose a course based on subjects that you enjoy, and topics that you really want to spend three (or more!) years studying, rather than solely fixating on the career you might begin at the end of it.

3. There’s a whole world of careers out there!

There are so many different career paths beyond the traditional choices that young people are often presented with. My 15-year-old self was certainly not planning to become a Project Executive, and had probably never heard of such a role.

Be open-minded, seek and embrace opportunities, and be ready to learn. I suggest that most people’s perfect role is not the one that they’ve had their mind set on since birth, but one that they discover through research and learning.

Instead of a search for the “perfect career”, I suggest that careers education should be an opportunity for students to explore sectors that they’re genuinely interested in and passionate about. It should be a chance to uncover the multitude of different roles and options that are available to them, and an opportunity to reflect on what they enjoy doing, and what they’re curious about.

Izzy

By Izzy Mencattelli

Izzy is a graduate of Oxford University, where she read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Whilst studying, she developed a particular interest in ethics, and wrote her undergraduate thesis on the ethics of the family. Alongside her studies, she volunteered on numerous charity projects, and spent a year as President of Oxford RAG. Izzy now works as Project Executive at OxBright, supporting the delivery of a range of projects to help students get the edge for their futures.

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