By: Alison Hansen, Associate Director of Military Education at Thomas Edison State College
If someone had asked me at age 8, my answer would have been an astronaut. Age 10: “Charlie” from Top Gun (aka, fighter pilot). Age 15: A lawyer. Age 17: An athletic trainer. Age 20: Anything outdoors. Age 22: A ski school director. Age 25: MWR director. Age 35: Something within Higher Education
I followed through with some of my ambitions. I applied for and was accepted into an athletic training program. By my sophomore year of college, I realized that I was never going to be a head trainer for any team without an MD after my name- realistically; I could be working for a high school team or Division 3 college team as an assistant. So, I took a class in Outdoor Recreation as an elective. Who knew you could earn college credit for working at a ropes course during the summer semester (course title: Project Adventure) or planning a canoe trip all semester (course title: Leadership Techniques in Outdoor Recreation)? I spent the last two years of college LOVING my classes- I even spent my last semester out in the Pacific Northwest rock climbing, sailing, and climbing glaciers. I missed the graduation on campus, but celebrated with a “cap” pieced together with a sleeping pad (the thin foam pad used to insulate campers from the rock, roots, and snow they sleep on) earning a Bachelors degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Outdoor Recreation somewhere in the Olympic Mountain range.
And then I did was most outdoor recreation people I knew did- I took some time off. I stayed out on the West coast and snowboarded on glaciers. I lived in Portland with friends. And I looked for job. And evaluated my future (read: my parents convinced me if I could not find a job, to come home and go to Graduate school).
Onto My Next Career Ambition
My Master’s degree is in Recreation (technically, Leisure Service Management). All through grad school, I worked at a ski school as an instructor, trainer, and coach. Initially, I worked as a graduate assistant in the Recreation Department of the College. I absolutely loved everything about Graduate School. As I was getting ready to graduate, I realized that perhaps I should look outside of the ski industry so that, maybe, just maybe, I could have something more than a seasonal profession! My mother, being who she is (always the helpful one- and wanting me OUT OF HER HOUSE), she sent me a job listing for a position with the Navy in the Morale Welfare Recreation (MWR) department. And so began my love/hate relationship with the military.
I worked in MWR for quite a while, and I met my husband while working overseas. I, like so many military spouses, gave up my job in order to marry my husband. At the time, I thought it was just that particular position, but eventually I realized it was my career in MWR. So there I was, similar to many of our peers, in a faraway place, with no job and a few degrees to my name.
And this is where my story takes a turn. My husband brought home a job announcement from the Navy College office looking for someone to work at an office on base. I had no experience in education, no degree in education, but I did have job experience working with the military. Plus, a Bachelor’s degree, which the position required. Now began my “new” career: higher education.
This long story actually does have a point- and that point is that we may NEVER know what we want to do when we “grow up” or where we will end up, so it is important to not get stuck looking too far ahead. Some people just know. Some people have no idea. THAT IS OK! But that does not mean you should not try to move forward with an education. A degree choice is not by any means a life sentence!
Here are some guidelines to think about:
I have no idea what I want to do:
Take some classes and see what you like to do. Take an English class- you may find yourself enjoying those long writing assignments. Take a Science class, you may find yourself always wondering “why” and “how”. Try to see what you enjoy doing and see what professions may line up with those interests (https://www.bls.gov/k12/)
I have an idea of what I want to do:
Do research. A great place to start researching occupations is the Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_stru.htm). Does the information line up with your goals (income, availability, etc.)? See what that profession/field of study requires. Take a look at the job prospects in that area. Is that type of job flexible and portable (if that is a requirement for you)? Talk to people who work in that field, or have completed that area of study (an opportunity to NETWORK? Yes, please!).
I KNOW what I want to do:
Find out the final step FIRST! Recently, I came across a military spouse whose end goal was to become a veterinarian. My recommendation is always to look at the final degree, in this case, a DVM. What is required to be accepted into a DVM program? Will a Bachelor’s degree in any science work? Are there certain courses that are required to be completed prior to admission (in case anyone is wondering, visit: https://www.aavmc.org/Students-Applicants-and-Advisors/Pre-Vet-Student-Resources.aspx). The same questions should be asked for any profession, although a doctorate degree may not be required, a licensure or certification may be needed.
The one thing that I would ask that everyone keep in mind is that education is not the “means to the end,” but should be a process. You may never be finished (no matter how may classes or degrees you have). You may change your mind three times (or more…) and that is ok. Use what you learn in everyday life- (a Developmental Psychology class while raising small kids? Relatable! A Statistics class when your job has “numbers” to run? Awesome!). And know that even those who have a career still don’t know what they want to do when they grow up.