CTE Lets Students Try Out Their Dream Jobs

So your son wants to be a lawyer? Your daughter a doctor? How about an engineer? Do they know what it means to do these jobs? Plenty of students enter college not knowing much about their dream careers. More than 40 percent of college students in public four-year institutions change their major, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Switching to another field can delay graduation, which can cost $9,000 extra a year at a four-year school.

There’s a good way for students in your family to find out if their skills and aspirations match what they want to do: high school career and technical education (CTE) classes cover 16 career clusters, including law, health care, and engineering.

See our companion infographic, The National Career Clusters® Framework, outlining all 16 career clusters and individual professions.

Supported by the federal government through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, CTE is an essential element of college and career readiness. While some middle schools offer CTE, it’s found mostly in high schools. Across the country, CTE students are being prepared for a multitude of college and career possibilities.

In Tennessee, where I directed CTE for the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, law program students are sworn in as officers of the court and hear juvenile court cases, serving as prosecution and defense attorneys, and calling on and cross-examining witnesses. In Bryan, Texas, health science students are visiting colleges to explore professions in nursing, veterinary technology, emergency medical services, and physical therapy. Meanwhile, Pardeeville, Wisconsin STEM students are creating robots, building renewable energy cells and designing drones using computer-aided drafting software applications.

And that’s only a sampling. 

Mississippi high schoolers are getting a glimpse of a careers in marine biology through an aquaculture program. Massachusetts students learn about aviation mechanics by tinkering with donated aircraft. And in Oregon, entrepreneurs-in-the-making are observing how local businesses are designing, producing, and marketing their products.   

CTE teachers are specially trained professionals who, in many cases, have left their industries to be classroom instructors. These professionals help prepare students for success by providing guidance on pathways: Certificate programs. Two- or four-year college. Or immediate entry into the workforce.

Students also get work-based learning opportunities through job shadowing and internships that support college and career exploration and equip students with what they need to confidently choose a field and increase their chances of finishing college in four years.

Another cost-saving perk is dual enrollment. CTE allows students to take college courses and earn credits before graduating from high school. As of the 2010-11 school year, 30 percent all dual enrollment courses taken across the country are in CTE

So if your high schoolers are already pretty sure of their career choice, check to see if their schools offer CTE courses that might provide some practical experience and interaction with professionals in the field. Your students might discover that their choices are not the right fit—and the upside is there will still be plenty of time to discover the real careers of their dreams.