Helping Students Find a Purpose for Their Education
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Helping Students Find a Purpose for Their Education
It has been my observation that many of my best students became intrinsically motivated to put more effort into their education after they have decided on a career purpose. A work or career purpose or mission answers the following question: How do I want my career to benefit others? It is also important to identify who (the population) we want to benefit.
An example of a work purpose statement is, I want to help those who are sick or injured to heal and rehabilitate. This statement does not contain a career title, but it provides guidance for exploring a variety of careers that can fulfill this purpose. For example a student with this purpose could explore a variety of careers such as nurse, doctor, physical therapist, nutritionist, athletic trainer, fitness trainer, engineer or inventor of products for persons with disabilities, etc. The career that they choose will depend on their capability and willingness to acquire the necessary skills, education, training and credentials. Ideally the career choice will be one that uses their best talents and is one they will enjoy doing.

Do you ever share with students why you chose to work in the field of education? Students need to learn about different careers from adults who work in different career fields and to hear what motivated them to make their career choices.
I teach college success courses and I used to wait until the end of my courses to get into career development, exploration and planning. Students did not think about a career purpose until the last week or two of my courses. Recently I started covering these ideas in the second week of my courses so that students would have a clear direction for their education much sooner. Having a career purpose can make their education relevant and is likely to generate the intrinsic motivation to study and learn. Students need to be provided with opportunities for career guidance from counselors, teachers and professors in high school and college. You do not need to be teaching college or career success courses to do this, but can weave in a few questions and ideas into other courses.

Here are a few questions you can ask your students so that they can begin a process of self-reflection about their career purpose:
•    What purpose do you want to accomplish in your career?
•    What benefits do you want others to receive as a result of the work you do?
•    What specific populations of people do you want to help?
•    How do you want to contribute and make a positive difference for others?
•    If you were wealthy and chose to work what would you do?
•    What problem or need in the world would you most like to fill or solve?
•    If you knew you could not fail what type of work would you do?
•    What are some natural talents you would like to develop and use in a career to fulfill your work purpose?
 When we expect students who lack self-knowledge and a work purpose to choose a major and career, we are putting the cart before the horse. Identifying a purpose first will guide students into better career choices. If we help students to determine an appropriate career goal then they will also have a purpose for pursuing a good education.