- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Starting in kindergarten, children get sorted into groups according to their abilities. Some are enrolled in programs for accelerated learning, while others are assigned extra help to keep up with grade-level demands.

Once children reach the middle and high school years, academic performance begins to dictate the type of career options available. High achievers have a wealth of choices and would seem to be the easiest to counsel about the type of future career to choose.

Someone who is equally good at all subjects, however, may yearn for a clue about which courses to focus on in college, especially if that person has not discovered a special love for any particular subject. Meanwhile, low performers worry about getting accepted into any college and also may find it difficult to find vocational training opportunities.

As with any milestone event, the more information a person has, the easier it is to sort through the options. Ideally, a child will express an interest in something that will lead to a fulfilling career. Here are some suggestions for helping a child identify interests and linking him or her with a potential career:

• Encourage the child to participate in a range of after-school activities and sports to find something that ignites an interest.

• Consider vocational testing. Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation in Rockville is expert in the field; the foundation's tests are an excellent way to pinpoint aptitudes and get advice on ways a person's abilities could translate into a career. A less costly approach is to take standardized personality and learning-style tests, which are offered for free or for a nominal fee at many community career-development centers.

• Hire an educational counselor. These experts can help identify a person's strengths and weaknesses and suggest appropriate colleges and training programs.

• Encourage the child to take a course outside of required school classes to explore an interest. It could be as simple as a cooking class or something more complex such as a course in music composition. Summer camps are a great way to sample academic offerings outside of school.

• Set up interviews with people who work in a career in which the child has expressed an interest. A mature high school student can find it helpful to quiz professionals about their jobs how much education it took and how plentiful the opportunities are. Go over a list of questions before the interview and make sure to have the child offer to buy lunch.

• Look for volunteer or internship possibilities. This can be an excellent way to rule out certain jobs before investing time and money on education in that field.

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