Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The answer to that question might take more imagination than you’d think.
According to the British Council, 65% of today’s students will one day work in jobs that don’t currently exist. In the face of that bewildering statistic, how can parents help their children consider — and prepare for — potential careers? What does success look like when the future of any given specific career is so unstable? How can you engage in career planning for a dream job that hasn’t yet been dreamed?
At Prisma, we believe that a child’s career path starts with core skills that will allow them to flourish in the 21st century economy. We designed our curriculum by asking ourselves, “What skill sets and mindsets will kids need to thrive in a world of unprecedented change?”
Part of our project-based approach means honing those skill sets and mindsets — in a relevant, real-world context that helps them connect to the things they love. That means career exploration is a part of their everyday educational experience, not in a heavy-handed way, but as part of the rationale behind everything they do.
A foundation anchored in mindsets and skill sets, rather than connect-the-dots career planning, will set your child up for countless career options. That’s a great start.
Here’s what else you can do to support your child as they look ahead to their future career.
“Oh, you don’t like blood, you’d never be a good doctor.”
“You’re so argumentative, you should be a lawyer.”
“You sleep too much, you’ll never be on time for an office job.”
“I thought you said you want to be an astronaut; why are you rushing your science homework?”
Know it or not, we are constantly inserting subtle messages about careers into our everyday conversation. We give kids ideas about which careers we value, and which we dismiss; which careers seem ‘fun’ and meaningful, and which seem like a slog; which careers we expect them to pursue and which seem out of their reach (or beneath them).
Watch yourself as you talk about different career fields, and try to replace judgmental language with more factual descriptions. Kids often ask about abstract financial markers (“Do doctors make a lot of money...?” “Are engineers rich?”), when really, what they need to know is whether they are interested in solving the kinds of problems that a certain field tackles, or serving the kinds of people that a certain profession serves.
Then, as they work to brainstorm around those kinds of problems, they’ll start trying on those careers for size. We see this in our classrooms all the time; give kids real problems to solve, and they’ll start to see themselves in the role of the person who solves them. As one parent recently told us, “My son now starts sentences with, ‘As a scientist, I...”
Certain careers have very specific markers: an aspiring doctor starts off in pre-med, goes to medical school, does a residency. There are scheduled exams and boxes to check, on the way to earning the title.
But even within a more regimented field, there’s so much room for tangents, detours and complete 180s. A doctor might end up as a university professor, a corporate consultant, a best-selling author and podcast host, a fieldworker in a remote location — or all of the above.
As your child heads off on a journey of their own, the thing that will serve them best is a North Star: their values. What does it mean for them to live a satisfying life?
Rather than looking to set them on the right career path, encourage them to think about their must-haves and their non-negotiables. (And remind them that these may shift over time, and that’s totally normal.)
Questions to ask:
One thing is for certain: no one finds their true career passion by filling out worksheets.
Instead, when kids get the opportunity to explore in a flexible-yet-structured environment, they end up discovering the unique combination of topics, problems and skills that add up to their passion.
Rooted in interdisciplinary explorations of real-world problems, project-based learning allows kids to try out various career options, without getting too caught up in the nitty gritty of job titles. Prismarians build a business, design a city, or invent a new device. Then, looking back through a portfolio of those self-directed accomplishments, it becomes easy to see patterns: themes they’re passionate about, skills they are excited to hone, and approaches they enjoy exploring.
Young people can only reach for what they can imagine, and so much of that career-related dreaming will center around the adults who are closest to them. It’s great if your child wants to follow in your footsteps, but to paint a more nuanced picture, you need to expose them to plenty of different adults at different phases of their careers.
Careers are also more flexible than ever. Stereotypes like the overworked lawyer, the underpaid teacher and the starving artist are best challenged when they hear it from someone who has been through the experience.
Not all doctors do back-to-back night shifts in crowded hospitals, so if the only doctors they see are the ones on TV, it can be eye-opening to sit down and talk to various medical professionals who have made their own way, teaching, researching, consulting, or going into private practice.
Get curious about the people around you: We bring in guest speakers with interesting careers for workshops, but we also recommend making connections in the community: Ask your dentist if you can have 15 minutes to interview them about their experience, speak to a local business owner you admire, or reach out to someone with a linkedin profile that makes you want to know more.
One of the best ways for young people to understand the ins and outs of different careers is by experiencing various work environments first-hand. We encourage Prisma high school students to take on jobs and internships, and even provide them with credit accordingly.
Summer internships and part time jobs can help you experiment with different industries and kinds of roles (client-facing jobs, desk jobs, sales jobs). Even something you might think of as more of a “fun” job, like a camp counselor, can be an occasion to learn more about how you feel working with younger kids, holding a leadership role, and spending time in nature. The same goes for extracurricular activities: your child may not be headed to a career as a prima ballerina, but maybe they can assist the teacher and discover their passion for working with children.
Whatever areas they end up exploring, if they step out of their comfort zone and work to develop a growth mindset, they’ll be well equipped to take the next step towards finding a meaningful career.