NC State Extension Publications

Career Exploration for Teens

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“Who am I?” “Where do I fit?” “What is my purpose?” Knowing the answers to these questions becomes increasingly important for teens during their teenage years.

The kinds of careers that appeal to teens is related to their sense of who they are. When teens have explored multiple career options before committing to a career and career pathway, they make better career decisions -- that match their interests, skills, and abilities.

How can parents and caregivers promote teens’ awareness of career options? One of the easiest ways of doing this is by being supportive.

  • Give verbal and emotional encouragement as teens “try on different career hats”. Some teens may be hesitant to try new experiences or consider alternative careers. Others are still developing confidence in their ability to make their own decisions about big things such as choosing a career and career pathway. The more supportive you are, the more engaged your teen will be in exploring which career options might best fit them.

  • Let teens know that they are safe to truly explore careers no matter what. They need to know that you will not be disappointed or pull away your support if they change their career interests or choose a job or career pathway that differs from what you want for them.

  • Share helpful career-relevant resources and assist them in finding opportunities that will let them know if they are heading the right direction. Teens need guidance but they may not know how to ask or know that they should ask for it at all. Don’t worry about knowing all of the answers. Instead, focus on showing your teen multiple career options. Helping your teen find the right career is a journey that you will take together!

  • Whatever you do, try not to do things like change their career decisions, push your own ideas about what they ought to do, or be too busy to show that you care -- these things are related to teens’ difficulties in making career decisions.

Career Exploration Resources and Career Planning

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Help your teen explore career options by sharing career-relevant resources (see list below). Provide additional support by helping them to make realistic plans for achieving their expressed career interests; teens really do need your help on this. Here are some practical things to consider when making an effective plan for achieving your teen’s career goal.

  • Which colleges have the kind of program that will help your teen achieve expressed career goals? Sometimes a specialized program that is not offered at every college is necessary.

  • What are the admission requirements for the colleges that your teen is considering? These may vary across colleges. Common admission requirements include a minimum high school GPA, a personal essay, letters of recommendation, and a minimum SAT/ACT score.

  • What are the deadlines for college and financial aid (including scholarship) applications? Your teen will need to set aside enough time to prepare and submit all application materials.

  • Is college right for your teen? This is a very important question to ask. Sometimes the answer is yes. However, sometimes the answer is no. While college degrees serve great purposes in preparing people for all kinds of careers, they are not the only vehicles for doing so. There are many pathways to satisfying careers. Exploring careers that match your teen’s interests is the first step to figuring out what their career pathway should look like.

Career Exploration and Planning Resources



  • View virtual tours of college campuses across the United States

  • Learn about:

    • the college application process (including how to apply for admission using the Common application)

    • state by state in-state tuition rules

    • standardized tests that are required for college admission

  • Learn about:

    • community college options

    • benefits of attending a community college

    • who should consider attending a community college

    • why it might be a good option before transferring to a 4-year college

  • View:

    • career descriptions

    • employment trends

    • salaries

  • Access:

    • career assessments

    • take interactive quizzes to explore matched careers

  • Career search guide books

  • Apply for financial aid for college

The Importance of Job Shadowing, Service Learning, Apprenticeships, Externships, & Internships

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Researching careers online or taking career exploration tests are great ways for teens to learn about different jobs and what job may fit them; however, they are only part of the whole picture. Job shadowing, service learning, apprenticeships, externships, internships, and volunteering, provide hands-on/interactive opportunities to learn what jobs are really like on a day-to-day basis. The experiences gained from these opportunities help teens to know if they are on the right track to a satisfying career. They also provide space for teens to identify, develop, and apply their skills.

Help your teen find opportunities for hands-on learning in areas your teen has expressed interest in and those that your teen may not have considered. The saying, “you never know until you try” is true.

How to Find Opportunities for Teens to Learn about Careers

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Finding opportunities for teens to learn about careers is something that all families can do! Opportunities for teens to explore careers and test career-fit in real work settings can be found in a variety of ways: online, through your own personal networks, or by asking someone or an organization if they would be willing to create an internship or other experiential learning opportunity for your teen. Here are some suggestions on how to get started:

  • A great starting place in this search is you! Invite your teen to shadow you while at work. If your teen shows great interest in your job, ask your employer about internship opportunities for your teen.

  • What do your friends do? Ask your friends if they would be willing to allow your teen to shadow them at work. Ask your friends about what kinds of opportunities exist or can be created for your teen to learn more about their job if your teen shows great interest in their jobs.

  • Contact your teen’s school guidance counselor. Your teen’s school guidance counselor may have information on hands-on learning experiences that might be available to students through the school or school-community partnerships.

  • If there is an organization that your teen would like to gain hands-on experience with, just ask!

These online resources may be helpful to your teen’s search for internship and apprenticeship opportunities:

Types of Experiential Learning Activities



Job shadowing

Job shadowing involves watching what someone does at their job and usually only lasts a single day. This kind of experience provides teens an idea of what a typical day in that line of work looks like. Teens might also be able to ask the professional being shadowed questions that give them unique perspectives of that particular career.4

Service learning

Service-learning opportunities are designed to help both the student and community through projects that center around real and complex issues. These projects allow your teen to learn more about issues, such as homelessness, poverty, and pollution, by playing an active role in solving them.3


Apprenticeships allow teens to try out a job while being supervised by a trained mentor. The length of time that apprenticeships last varies but generally speaking lasts much longer than other kinds of experiential learning opportunities. Individuals who have completed an apprenticeship typically leave with a formal qualification and skills that will allow for them to gain employment in that area.1, 2


Externships give teens opportunities to learn more about a particular job or field by spending a brief time (up to one week) with professionals while they are working. During externships, teens meet important people and learn about their roles, watch to learn the typical activities associated with that job, attend meetings, and assist with some projects.2


Internships provide opportunities to learn about a career while gaining real work experience over an extended period of time. Note that unpaid internships are not only quite common but they are just as valuable as paid internships. Internships provide teens with real hands-on experiences to explore and test career fit before committing to that career or career pathway.


Volunteering provides teens with opportunities to engage with others while serving a community. You and/or your teen can volunteer on your own, with an organization, or a group of people.1


  1. Experience Learning - The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

  2. Types of Experiential Educations - The University of Texas at San Antonio

  3. Experiential Learning - Northern Illinois University

  4. Externships and Job Shadowing - The University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Skip to References
  • Bryant, B. K., Zvonkovic, A. M., & Reynolds, P. (2006). Parenting in relation to child and adolescent vocational development. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 69, 149-175.
  • Dietrich, J., & Kracke, B. (2009). Career-specific parental behaviors in adolescents’ development. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 75, 109-119.
  • Porfeli, E. J., & Lee, B. (2012). Career development during childhood and adolescence. New Directions for Youth Development, 2012, 11-22.


Assistant Professor & Human Development and Family Science Extension Specialist
Agricultural Education and Human Sciences

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Publication date: Feb. 7, 2022

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