College can be a very expensive place to “find yourself.” When young people enter school without clarity about what to study, that can cause them to switch majors, and that can delay their graduation. In fact, fewer than 40% of college students complete a bachelor’s degree within four years. And with today’s sticker prices topping $25,000 per year at a four-year public school (the total for in-state tuition, room & board, and fees before scholarships or grants are subtracted) and nearly $51,000 at a private school, the cost of delay can add up quickly.
It behooves parents to do all they can to help their teens consider what type of career to pursue. Fortunately, there are resources that can help, including CliftonStrengths for Students and Career Direct.
CliftonStrengths for Students
In the 1950s, psychologist Don Clifton helped pioneer a new approach within his field. Instead of studying the causes of mental illness, he and a handful of others focused on the causes of mental wellness. In particular, Clifton was interested in what made some people more successful than others. After many years spent developing various assessments, and at first applying his learnings toward helping companies recruit high-potential employees, his company merged with Gallup, the famous polling firm. Clifton, who died in 2003, is known as the father of strengths-based psychology.
“The idea of strengths-based development is that there are certain patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior you have that come really, really naturally to you,” according to Maika Leibbrandt, Gallup senior workplace strategist. “So, it’s not just describing your personality, or your likes, or your hobbies, or your skills, but what’s under that…. So, who you are, who you can’t help but be.”
Today, some 27 million people worldwide have completed the CliftonStrengths assessment, including a version designed for young people (ages 16 or older), CliftonStrengths for Students.
The assessment contains nearly 200 paired statements (“which one best describes you?”) and can be completed in about 30 minutes. The output identifies a young person’s top 10 out of 34 “themes of talent” — from Activator (an impatience for action) to Focus (you need a clear destination), and from Positivity (you’re generous with praise) to Strategic (you see patterns where others see complexity).
Leibbrandt explained that themes of talent are raw ingredients. When “productively applied,” they become strengths, and the report received after completing the assessment guides them in turning talents into strengths. With the CliftonStrengths for Students version of the assessment, parents receive guidance as well, so they can help their children take those next steps.
For families trying to help point their teen toward career options, and therefore, a course of study in college, the assessment can help. For example, Leibbrandt said hers told her to “consider a career that allows you to stay active, have short deadlines, and be involved with a lot of people like teaching or journalism.” It purposefully doesn’t get overly specific because, Leibbrandt pointed out, “chances are good that the jobs our kids will do one day don’t exist yet.” But understanding what gives a person energy and drive, what makes “you uniquely you,” can help not only suggest good career options but also what sort of college would be a good fit and how to get the most out of college.
The CliftonStrengths for Students assessment costs $19.99 to $49.99, depending on the level of detail you want in the report. There’s also a StrengthsExplorer assessment available that’s designed for younger students.
For many years, Crown Financial Ministries has helped older teens and young adults discover how their unique God-given mix of personality, skills, values, and interests could suggest certain career options. Crown’s Career Direct assessment was created 30 years ago because ministry co-founder Larry Burkett had encountered so many people who were unhappy in their jobs. Since then, more than 325,000 students and adults have completed the process.
The online assessment, designed for people as young as 16, contains 550 questions, covering four dimensions of a person’s design: their interests, personality, values, and skills. The section on interests is the largest, with 200 questions helping users gauge their interest in a wide variety of subjects, activities, and occupations. The personality section examines 16 aspects of personality, helping people thoroughly understand how they think, interact, and react to people and situations.
The report generated after completing the assessment helps clarify strengths and weaknesses, skills and abilities, interests and values — all helping to point toward potential areas of study in school and careers to consider.
The Career Direct assessment costs $25 to $80, depending on the level of detail desired. There’s an option to meet with a consultant as well.
Modern tools for a timeless quest
Ephesians 2:10 says “We are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Each and every person has been uniquely designed by God and has a purpose to pursue through their work.
Some people understand that from a very early age, but most would benefit from some help, and that’s where assessments like CliftonStrengths for Students and Career Direct come in.
Both can give young people much greater self-awareness, helping them find the intersection between their God-given talents and passions and career options where they can put those talents and passions to their most productive, satisfying, God-glorifying use.