Realistic Career Decision Making: It’s More Than Passion

Welcome to this online course about informed career decision making and the tools that are available to you for helping your students or clients make their career and educational decisions with the best information.

Whether you’re a private practitioner, a college or university professional, whether you are employed in workforce development or in our elementary or secondary education systems, it is important that you help clients understand the consequences of their decisions.

View the following intro video to get an idea about the various aspects involved in this process and some of the confusing context within which people have to make career decision. (3.5 minutes)

As noted, the learning objectives for this course are to:

  • Review what is involved in the career decision making process (Part 1)
  • Identify the association between career, education and training levels, and future wages (Part 2)
  • Learn how educational choices influence future careers and lifestyles (Part 3)
  • Give you some tools by which you can help people make an informed career decision (Part 4)

This course has four major parts with each part related to the learning objectives stated above. As you move through each part, you will be asked to read information, view videos, and answer questions on your worksheet.

Download the worksheet now on your computer and complete the items as you go through the course.

***** Specific directions to view a video, read an article, or answer questions are listed in red.*****

You will be asked to complete an evaluation at the end of the course. One of the questions relates to the time it took you to complete the course requirements. Please be sure and keep track of the time so that we have an accurate reflection of the workload.

Completion of this course will earn you 5 clock hours for your professional development. You have 30 days to complete the requirements. The best way to assure completion is to set aside 1-3 blocks of time when you can fully concentrate on the course requirements.

Just as a reminder, the materials in this course are copyrighted and are available for your use in the course only.

Most importantly, you’ll learn about some exciting information to offer your clientele to help them enter the world of work with a solid knowledge base that can lead them to a career that offers the best combination of factors for them — a career with fewer surprises because they have been researched more thoroughly.

Now, if you are ready, go to Part 1 to start the course.

Factors to Consider in Career Decision Making

Career decision-making involves all sorts of information much of it resulting from various career assessments such as interest inventories, abilities inventories, skills checklists, achievement tests, values prioritization, and personality tests. These aspects are important in career decision making because they deal with the characteristics, needs, and desires of the person trying to decide on a career. We want to find careers that are compatible with the characteristics of that person.

So many people base their career decisions solely on what they like, their interests and passions. Nice work if you can get it, but it’s important to be smart about career opportunities and consider the context within which career decisions are made. It is also critical to reflect on the future career opportunities so that people who are preparing for a future career will not end up in dead end or less useful job areas.

View this video  below to better understand the various components to consider in career decision making and why it is important to be realistic about the various choices and selections of careers. (4 minutes)

Read this article on why following your passion is not always a good idea.

Answer questions 1, 2 on your worksheet.

Important Information on Careers, Occupations, and Education Level

When making a career decision, clients and students are making decisions about their quality of life. When they choose an occupation to pursue, they are automatically deciding how much education and training they will need, whether there will be jobs for them after their training, whether there will be jobs in that  field in the future, how much salary they will earn, and what kind of life style they will have.

There are several places one can go to get a handle on what experts believe are important career, education, salary and job considerations in the future. For example, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce has published a study that shows why it is important to focus on postsecondary education and training to help people obtain jobs that will be available in the future. For example, look at the following figure from one of their reports. Check out the difference in availability in the number of jobs available with and without postsecondary education, and also the categories in which those jobs exist.

Jobs by Education Level


Linked with Permission

You should note that postsecondary education in this context does not necessarily mean a Bachelor’s degree or more. Answer questions 3 and 4 on your worksheet.

More detailed information can be found in the Executive SummaryRead pages 1-4 in this report. (Report linked with permission.) Answer question 5 on your worksheet.

Education Level and Earnings

So many people believe that all that is needed is a college education and you will be set for life. It is true that there are many benefits to having a degree as we have already noted. Certainly there is, when you look at the averages, a direct relationship between amount of education and wages and unemployment. Take a look at this chart below.

More education means more salary and less unemployment — on average.

Lifetime Earnings

When you think about what this means over a lifetime of working, here is what happens.

From the  Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce, College Payoff, figure 1. collegepayoff-complete.pdf Used and linked with permission.

Listen to the audio about postsecondary education. It is a bit dated, but the facts  and issues remain current. It’s pretty obvious that it seems better to have more education. Right? Answer question 6 on your worksheet.

Earnings Overlap

As with all statistics and averages, the devil is in the details. Let’s have a look at some of those details, particularly when it comes to earning a college degree. Take a look at the chart below which shows the general earnings by education category. You can see that there are people who earn more at lower education levels than those in higher education levels, but the general trend holds true — more education means higher earnings.

Source: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, (The College Payoff).

Answer question 7 on your worksheet.

Earnings by Occupational Area

I wonder if you knew and do you convey to your students and clients that the career field you pick makes a real difference. There is evidence that there are many occupations without a Bachelor’s where the average salary is higher than many occupations that do require a Bachelor’s degree or more. For example, the chart below shows that there are a small percentage of jobs for people with a high school diploma that have higher earnings than some jobs that require a Master’s degree. The lifetime earning differs by education area.

 Source: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, (The College Payoff).

Question: Look at the chart and name the occupational areas where a person with less than a high school diploma typically earns more than a person with a Bachelor’s degree. 

Here is another way to look at this information.

This video offers another another point of view.

Here is a BLS slide deck that you can use that gives an overview of education and work/occupations.

Go to Part 3.

Educational Choices Matter – Selecting a Major and a School

Well we have looked at various education levels and how that influences salary and wages, but Let’s now let’s consider various college majors at the Bachelor’s and beyond. I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that the major you choose matters. Do you know how much?

Earnings by Major

Referring again the Georgetown Center for Education and Workforce, I want to refer you to the following report — What It’s Worth.

Read this report and answer questions 9, 10, 11, and 12 on your worksheet.


Listen to this audio about the consequences of various occupations and majors.


Listen to this audio from NPR’s Planet Money about how some individuals are leaving money on the table because of their major selection and the job they are working in.

To add a little humor to this course, yet keeping in mind the reality of the major you pick, please view this video on useless college majors. (6 minutes). View it below.


View this next video to see how the kind of advice the presenter is giving to millennials who are anticipating attending college.

Answer question 13 on your worksheet.

Question: How does the speakers’s  comments strike you as a career counselor/coach/practitioner? Think about it and then answer question 14.

Watch this 60 Minutes video on other thoughts on going to college.

What about jobs for the future? Check out this video to see. (15 minutes)

Also, read this article about the worst jobs for the future. 

Answer question 15 on your worksheet.

Earnings by Institution

Earlier we learned that the field you go into matters and the amount of education and training you receive matters in terms of your earnings, debt, and contentment. Sure, you may look at the numbers and say, the decision is easy, some fields pay more than others. If you want a higher salary, you know the fields to enter.

Let me say that there is even further research that shows that for the same major, the institution one attends is important for your future salary. Have look at the following article.  Even the institution matters. Do you know what the situation is in your state or institution? Something to think about – yes?

Check out this chart below which shows that the type of institution a person attends does in deed matter with regard to the payoff.  Note in particular the comment that one in five institutions are associated with a negative return on investment.


The institution you select for postsecondary education matters greatly. Go to this url and see the typical starting and mid-career salaries for various institutions. Note that you can find information on 2-year institutions as well. Check out this page on majors with the most meaning.

This information was gathered from 1.4 million graduates.

Where you go to school matters. Take a look at the following set of information about schools in the US.    It may take a little while for the information to load. If you create the list to include all schools, the basic premise is that the schools at the top of the list provide a greater return on investment both annually and over a 20-year period as compared to other schools.

Check out two columns. First the cost. This is the total cost of attending college, tuition, books, room and board, etc. Next look at the 20 year ROI. You can search for this at the top of the page. This is the additional amount of $ you earn by having attended this school as compared to not having attended. The higher the number, the larger the benefit to the person. This is across all majors in the school and takes into consideration the graduation rate as well.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the list you will see that there are some schools with negative numbers meaning that it actually hurts individuals financially to attend the school when they could have been working.

While you are on that page, check out the school or schools you attended.

It should be noted that these results are general and do not take into consideration the different majors, gender, and other specific characteristics of an individual. But read this article to get a view on the majors, gender and school selection issues. 

The calculations are complex and the definitions are important, but if you want to know the details, go to Definitions: (optional).

The absolute latest information on Return on Investment comes again from the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce. Here you can apply filters to see how various colleges rank.

Read this summary of the Georgetown research.   

Answer item #16 on your worksheet.

View this video to get a quick summary of the issues as stated by Dr. Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce. This video lays it all out in simple terms.

I realize that there is a lot of information, even conflicting information, that it is difficult to give someone clear, definitive, and prescriptive advice on what people should do might do or should consider, but I can give you some tools to rely on, that could help you help your students of clients make an informed decision. Go to Part 4 for some interactive tools that you can put in your toolkit so that you can access the latest information.

Some Sources and Resources for Finding Occupation and Salary Information

In additional to the information and tools offered in Part Three, there are some resources that you can use with students and clients that can help them better understand the consequences of their decisions such as how much education and training to receive beyond high school, what career field to enter, how much salary they will earn, and how much they will like their careers.

Perhaps the most comprehensive set of information is with O*NET.


To find general information on occupations and their requirements and characteristics, O*NET is the chief source. It is easily accessible by you and any of your students, clients, and customers by going to This set of information is compiled by asking job incumbents to provide information about the work that they do. The database supporting this tool is updated in part every year, with a total update of all aspects of O*NET occurring about every 5 years.

As job requirements change, new important occupations appear on the scene, O*NET staff incorporate that information. When you look at O*NET in its full detail, you will see that this resource is in constant evolution, with new information appearing regularly.

View this video (24 minutes) to see the general layout and kind of information included in this resource.

How You Can Use O*NET for Informed Career Decision Making

Let me count the ways! For a person just trying to determine a career area, they can better understand what a person in a particular occupation does, what tasks they complete, the skills they employ, what interest areas the occupations tends to satisfy, what abilities are engaged, etc. Other than actually job shadowing or interning in a career field, this is the most enlightening set of information about various occupations and jobs in the US economy.

You can use O*NET to find bright outlook occupations which are those that are new and emerging, have the largest employment or are growing the fastest. You can see what the interest areas are for an occupation; you can also see the typical education level of people working in an occupation. This is great information as you work with persons who are deciding on an initial career and for those in career transition.

So now you know where to find occupational information, but all occupations are not equal when it comes to pay, availability of jobs, and a positive outlook for the future.

Here are some other tools that you can use that will make you and your students and clients smarter about the best career choice for them.

Jobs By Education Level – Employment Projections

The ultimate resource for various trends and projections in the world of work is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Visit this site and bookmark it if you want to have the latest information available to you.

View this video which helps you identify occupations by various education levels. (3.5 minutes)

Fastest Growing

If your students and clients want to get into the careers that are starting to take off in the US economy, the so called “hot jobs”, you can find out which ones they are by visiting Career One Stop.

Watch this short video below to see how you can find the fastest growing jobs nationally and for your state.  Having this kind of information can help you provide more accurate guidance to individuals. (4 minutes)

Most Job Openings 

Certainly when people finish their education and training, they want to be able to find a job in their field of choice. Finding the occupations that have the most job openings is easy using the tool from Career One Stop. (5 minutes)

Largest Number of Workers/Largest Employment

Many individuals seek occupational areas where there are many workers, presuming that there is a great need for many people to do the work.

View the video below to determine the 50 career fields or industries where there are the largest number of workers. (3 minutes)

Highest Paying Occupations

For students or clients who wish for high paying jobs Career One Stop has another tool. But often pay is correlated to earnings, so this is an opportunity to teach that education matters.

View the video below to learn how to find the highest paying occupations at the national and state levels. (5 minutes)

Local Wages

You may have students or clients that want to make decisions on selecting an occupation by knowing the wages for an occupation at the state and local levels. There is a tool that you can use that will help them understand the difference in wages and salary at the local level. 

View the video to see how this tool works. (6 minutes)

Complete this course by viewing the following video about following your passion. 

and by viewing the first 13 minutes of this video on integrating career and academic advising.


You have completed the requirements of this course. Please send your worksheet to Dr. Janet Wall for her review.

Be sure you complete the evaluation form.

When your worksheet has been reviewed, you will be sent a certificate of completion. Thank you for your interest in this course.