Career Planning in College: How to Use a Career Map

“Where do you see yourself five years from now?” Some college students dread the question, some have all the answers, and some shrug it off. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re definitely not on that journey alone. Even if you know where you want to go, you might not know how to get there. If you’re struggling to get started with a goal or a game plan, a career map might be the tool for you. Here are some tips on using a career map to navigate the next five years, and beyond.

1. Identify the Final Destination

The first step to drawing your career map should be the end point, just like routing a GPS to an end destination. Set aside your logical thinking for a moment; forget the obstacles, limitations, and negative thinking. When you route a GPS, you don’t consider driving a different address if there will be traffic. Instead, let your strengths, values, desires, etc. inspire your vision. Check out this resource from UC Berkeley for developing a career vision.

2. Fill up the Gas

Now it’s time to get practical. Once you have a destination in mind, what fuel do you need to get there? This might be an undergraduate degree, professional school, or trade school. You might need more than just a diploma. Plan to develop skills or connections that will advance you to your end goal. Use your career map to set smaller goals or timelines for networking, skill development, etc. This resource is a great template for a networking timeline that you could include in your career map.

3. Plan Time for Pitstops

You might hit a pothole or some traffic along the way. Make a plan for challenges that you anticipate on your career map. For example, you might have a backup plan if you aren’t admitted to a particular school or program. Check out these tips for students that are waitlisted, denied, or face a delay getting into college. Don’t let mistakes or events out of your control derail your route. Often, there are many paths to the same destination.

4. Re-Route if You Miss a Turn

Your career vision might change. You might discover a new passion, develop new strengths, or find a new opportunity. This might require you to change your major, your plans for higher education, or even your location. You can change your plans and reroute—that’s the beauty of your career map. Here are some tips for college students considering changing majors.

Following your career path can be overwhelming, but don’t do it on autopilot. Creating a career map is a great tool for finding your way to success. Many college students have a hard time answering where they want to be in five years because it’s too scary to make a “final” decision. But a career map isn’t a set-in-stone plan for the next five years—it’s a way to envision all of the different challenges and opportunities for your five-year plan.