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What Learners and Workers Can Do Next

June 5, 2024

At a glance

Education combined with a career focus can lead to a successful future, but choosing the right path can be confusing. The Pathfinder Guide and Checklist empowers learners to navigate postsecondary education and training pathways with confidence.

Practices & Centers

Postsecondary education and training are musts for young people today.

Research reveals that combining postsecondary educational attainment with a focus on career has the power to substantially improve lifetime earnings, job security, and other important life outcomes. Yet determining which type of educational or training journey to choose—and there are so many—can feel overwhelming to learners. Deciding to pursue a career or occupation is a significant step that requires careful consideration. Our Pathfinder Guide and Checklist is designed to help learners gain those crucial insights, progressing from “I know what career I want to pursue, but I don’t know how to get there or the path to take” to “I am confident I know what it will take to pursue a pathway that works best for me.”

Why Use the Pathfinder Guide and Checklist?

True education and career exploration go beyond merely researching job facts, which are critical but alone may provide an incomplete sense of whether a particular workforce area is a good fit. Meaningful exploration, goes beyond the facts to help determine the essentials—does an occupation connect directly with the passions, purpose, needs, and skills learners have or want to gain? It involves honest self-reflection about where they are today and a fact-based assessment of tomorrow’s possibilities. It also means understanding that if an initial pathway exploration points to a path that doesn’t seem right or doesn’t work out, the learner can continue to explore opportunities until finding one that fits best.

How to Use This Guide and Checklist

An individual learner is ready to use the Pathfinder Guide and Checklist, ideally with the assistance of a trusted adult, when they have identified a targeted career/occupation and a postsecondary program that initial research shows could be a good fit. The tool will assist the learner in determining whether it is. If it is, they can proceed with confidence. If not, this allows the learner to explore other options.

Diverse group of women are nursing or medical students at local university

Passion and Purpose Meet Preferences and Needs

Knowing the logistics of a career pathway is vital, but again, the less-tangible stuff is every bit as important and can help young people decide on a career. Will the work benefit them as a person, and can it help them contribute to society in a way that is meaningful to them? To what extent can someone grow in this field, and does the learner think they will enjoy the career in both the short and long term? These are some of the essential considerations, but the tool also provides reflection questions to help learners think about their learning preferences and what type of support services they may need to thrive in a program.

Anyone using the tool shouldn’t skip areas of reflection. While everyone is capable of vast personal growth, it’s wise to reflect honestly about the commitment it will take to succeed in a particular career. Can the learner commit to the time required by the postsecondary option they’re exploring to learn and sharpen important skills like communication and problem solving, as well as specific technical skills? The tool will help learners gain valuable insight into their abilities and perceived limitations. This kind of candid self-reflection will help in the long run.


Money is among the biggest barriers to postsecondary attainment. All too often, the cost becomes overwhelming because young people don’t have or aren’t given a full picture of the financial obligations involved. This tool asks these specific questions to provide learners with clear direction before committing: What is the total cost of the program? Is that amount manageable for the learner and their family? What, if any, financial aid is available? What hidden costs—around commuting, for example—might be involved?

Diverse group of women are nursing or medical students at local university

Program Structure and Support

People often overestimate their capacity to manage various commitments and the time available to them. Rather than assuming they can handle it all, the learner should assess the details meticulously when selecting the most suitable pathway. Considerations should include the duration and frequency of program classes and commute times and how those align with other commitments, such as work schedules or other obligations. Also, factors such as the instruction format (online, in-person, hybrid) and class sizes should be considered. Furthermore, it’s essential to inquire about available support services, such as tech assistance, child care, counseling, or tutoring. A robust program will incorporate strong support systems to assist those who require them.

Success Metrics and Return on Investment

As important as it is to think about a learner’s ability to complete a postsecondary program, it’s also every bit as critical to think about the program’s ability to set them up for the kind of success they wish to achieve. Is the program’s completion rate at least 55% (for an associate’s degree) or 65% (for a certificate or training program)? Do at least 75% of graduates find jobs in a related field? What kind of—and how many—jobs are available in this field in the area where the learner lives or desires to live? Are local employers hiring from the program? Are their credentials industry-recognized and/or stackable with other credentials? Once employment is obtained, will the entry-level wages be enough to pay bills, begin to repay any loans, and still meet the learner’s financial goals?

Get Ahead of the Game

The Pathfinder Guide and Checklist will put learners several steps ahead in the postsecondary pathway search. It will offer vetted resources and answers to critical questions and provide a confidence boost based on facts, research, and a lot of soul-searching.

Using this tool to find the ideal career pathway may require multiple iterations of inputting various options and evaluating them against the checklist. It will probably take several, if not numerous, attempts to identify the option that aligns best with one’s preferences, needs, and goals. Though it is time-consuming, this process is valuable, serving as a crucial step toward achieving success in one’s career.

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