The beginning of the academic year is fast approaching and already I am meeting with a few students to sign them into certain classes and to talk about their career intentions upon graduating. The typical responses I get are usually "to get a job," "go to [insert professional school]," and "I don't know." At least for me and many of the students we serve (relatively rural area and community college transfers) I find that they really have a very limited exposure to what they can really do based on their actual interests.
Some of the bitter sweet discussions are from those who want to go to medical school. When I engage them further about why they want to or how they will do it, most don't really know why or how. But they do "know" that being a physician is something folks who are smart or like science can do. They see a medical doctor as a pillar in the community for science even though in reality that isn't really the case.
Or I get the student who wants to be in a particular field they believe they can do it because 'So and So' (albeit a counselor, advisor, faculty, family member, etc.) said they can as long as they just believe it will happen.
As a faculty and also a career mentor, I believe we need to be encouraging but also realistic with students that come to us for guidance. It is important that we lay out what a student needs/should do to make themselves competitive for their intended career and part of that is to help the student acknowledge areas they are deficient in early on so that the student can work to remedy that. Or maybe the student can have the tools to change their career goals based on where they actually are.
I've seen many students become unneccessarily frustrated because they have great difficulty trying to cope with their "dream job" not being attained. They never looked into alternative plans or really assessed what they are good at or actually like to do.
The next time a student is in your office, or between classes, or perhaps you set aside some classroom time, ask them some questions about what they want to do. Be curious about how they will do it. Ask them what happens if they don't accomplish said choice. See what other options they have considered. This may lead into what I call 'The Talk'- a frank discussion between you and the student about their career choices. Hopefully it will lead to multiple talks with a given student that will essentially become an unofficial dissertation defense of sorts about their future plans- something where they can adequately support their decision(s), they have considered viable alternatives, have at least one or bertter yet a couple backup plans, and are ready to handle potential variables that life throws their way.