Our Thoughts

Get Students Excited About Career Planning

November 30, 2023

Intellispark is pleased to partner with Xello, a leading provider of college-and-career readiness software for schools and districts that helps students define their future goals and turn their aspirations into plans. Intellispark and Xello offer an integration that makes it easy to see key Intellispark indicators in Xello while allowing Intellispark users greater insight into students’ future plans. For more information on the integration, contact Intellispark or, if you’re an existing Xello user, please reach out to your Xello account manager.

What if we could help the next generation avoid the sometimes painful process of choosing their life’s work? Imagine a world where students graduate from high school with confidence in their strengths, a strong sense of purpose, and a clear pathway to a meaningful career that’s especially suited to them.

Educators and counselors have already begun to sow the seeds of future fulfillment in their students by embedding career exploration into their lessons for children as young as elementary.

Let’s look at some ways you can introduce career exploration into your classroom at any grade level.

What Is Career Exploration and Why is it Important for Students?

Meaningful career exploration for students is two-pronged. It involves:

  • Reflecting on an individual’s own interests, strengths, skills, values, and preferences.
  • Learning about fields of study, industries, and specific occupations.

When we make career exploration part of the framework for every student’s education, they learn to connect the dots between what they are learning and how they might apply it in the future.

This often leads to improved engagement, higher achievement levels, reduced absenteeism, and increased graduation rates.

Best of all, students who participate in career exploration activities often develop a stronger sense of self-esteem and self-knowledge. They naturally begin to build social-emotional learning skills such as organization, communication, problem-solving, and even financial literacy because they’re focused on achieving a goal.

Well-being and Career Exploration

It’s no surprise that the pandemic caused a stir in engagement and well-being for students. They had limited access to friends and social circles. The learning gap widened and the future seemed bleak.

One way to improve a student’s outlook is to help them create a vision for the future. Some studies show other positives, “…imagining a successful future can help students overcome everyday difficulties.”

Therefore, career exploration can improve student outlook and make them more positive and confident. Consider a student who can imagine themselves in the future in a career that suits them. They can answer questions such as:

  • Where do I fit in?
  • How will I contribute to society?
  • Will I be able to support myself?

Clear answers to these questions ease some concerns that young people have about the future.

Getting to this stage involves students receiving support from their mentors, educators, parents, etc. The adults can help guide and encourage young people so the future seems less scary and unclear.

Another way is by having a strong career development program in place—one that can create career curiosity and boost engagement, while also helping students identify opportunities to improve their level of “readiness.” For instance, Intellispark integrates with college and career readiness program Xello to help districts provide a more comprehensive level of care for students by linking well-being indicators and college and career readiness information.

Career Exploration Activities for Elementary Students

The Forest Hills School District in Cincinnati has students as young as third grade participating in career exploration using college and career readiness software Xello.

They start by playing ‘Career Town’, a game that underlines the variety of work and workers in a community and the importance of every worker in a community. School Counselor Kate McKenzie also has students in Grades 3-5 log their interests and achievements in Xello. “I want to get them thinking about, ‘What am I good at?’, ‘What do I like to do?’

Other tried-and-true career exploration activities for primary students include:

  • Bringing in parents and community members to share what it’s like to do their jobs.
  • Asking students to reflect on what they enjoy and what they’re good at and then connecting that to a career.
  • On field trips, taking special note of the careers at the museum, zoo, art gallery, or theater presentation. Ask hosts to share a little about their job as part of their presentations.

Career Exploration Activities for Middle School Students

Grades 6-8 are often considered the prime beneficiaries of career exploration activities. They are at an age when they are especially receptive to “cool” jobs, and they understand the connection between careers, salaries, and the kind of lifestyle they want.

This is also a time when they will need to choose their high school courses, some of which are specialized pathways to a particular area of post-secondary study.

Career exploration activities for this group include:

  • Interviewing a family, friend, or community figure to learn about their job.
  • Having students consider how they prefer to be engaged in work. Create a list of statements about careers and working conditions and have them choose which is most appealing to them.

Then have them pick three careers based on what they’ve chosen. Tools like Xello will help them narrow it down.

  • Once they have highlighted three possible careers, have them chart the path to get there. What type of courses should they take in high school? Are there extracurricular activities that would give them experience? What kind of post-secondary education would lead them to that career?

Career Exploration Activities for High School Students

By this point, students should have some idea of their strengths, challenges, and passions. This is a time to double down on career exploration activities in as many classes as possible.

Activities include:

  • Assigning take-home assignments focused on helping students define career options that are a good fit for them.
  • Asking students to consider and present non-degree post-secondary pathways, i.e., apprenticeship programs.
  • Having students uncover five “hidden” jobs each, i.e., not teacher, engineer, baker, or mechanic. Ask them to find roles like HR specialist, content marketing strategist, forensic science technician, or computer network architect and present them to the class.

A generation of purposeful adults who set and achieve the right career goals for them? When career exploration is integrated into education, it’s not only possible; it’s probable.

About Xello

Xello is an engaging, online program that helps K-12 students define their future goals and transform their aspirations into actionable plans for success. The program puts students at the center of their college and career planning experience. It helps them build self-knowledge, explore their options, create a plan, and develop the 21st-century skills needed to thrive in the world of work. With over 20 years of experience in EdTech, our team has helped educators across America implement Xello to prepare students for college and career success.

Patricia A. Gagnon
Chief Experience Officer