Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the UCAS's online course, Smart Choices: Broadening Your Horizons. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds It can be really daunting to make your final decision on what you want to do with your future. My advice would be to consider all options. There is a right option out there for you, but it might be that you might need to take a little bit of time to think everything through. Do some research, talk to people, get some careers advice. Take some time for yourself. Just think about what environments you thrive in. What’s going to give you the future that you want? Take your time, don’t rush and feel confident in your decision when you do make one. So where do you start? Well, the cornerstone of any good careers choice is self-reflection and self-awareness.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds You need to understand the kind of person you are because without that kind of knowledge, it can be very difficult to put yourself in an environment in which you’re going to thrive. So - before you get caught on job sectors and different careers, if you really haven’t got an idea yet, think about the kind of person you are. Think about those environments that you thrive in, whether it be at school or in college, or outside of those environments, when are you happiest? Are you the kind of person that really gets a buzz from being around other people or are you the kind of person that enjoys problem solving, logistical puzzles, things like that?

Skip to 1 minute and 13 seconds The evidence of what you’re good at is all around everything that you do and we naturally lean into those kind of things. To provide an example, you might find that you’re the kind of person that gravitates to caring roles and you enjoy being around people. You find that within your friendship circle, you’re the one that your friends come to with any problems or if they need any advice or support. You might think nothing of that, but actually that can be a really important clue. That might lead you to think about roles in healthcare or education. You might think about being a social worker, you might think about psychology, counselling, nursing or teaching.

Skip to 1 minute and 50 seconds All these jobs are similar in that they provide care and support for different people of different ages in different situations. If you’re the kind of person who has that strength there is a whole range of career choice for you. Some people will have a really clear idea of what their future holds and what they want to do. For those people it’s all about trying to fill in the gaps, do their research, try and build their commercial awareness of the sector. For other people, maybe they haven’t got a firm idea at all. Maybe there’s not really much of an idea of the jobs that are out there or even what kind of area you’d like to work in.

Skip to 2 minutes and 25 seconds That can feel quite daunting. What I would say is that it’s ok to be like that. The fact that you’re open minded gives you that opportunity to investigate every opportunity. So don’t be put off if you haven’t got a clear idea at the minute, but it is your responsibility to start addressing that, and you can do it in a number of different ways. It can be really difficult to make that final decision on which course you’re going to go on and study at higher education, particularly if you’ve got two or three subjects that you have a love and passion for. The truth is, in that situation, there’s no right or wrong answer.

Skip to 3 minutes and 4 seconds All we can recommend is that you take the time to look at the options available to you at the end of each degree. It might be that it leads to a specific job role. It might be that it leads to an entire sector. Think about the transferable skills that you’ll gain within that degree. Will you be able to take them different places? Will it put you into a position where you’re applying for the kind of jobs that you see yourself doing in the future? Is it that some of those courses are actually linked more with a hobby that might be better keeping totally away from your career choice. Speaking to a careers adviser is a really great idea.

Skip to 3 minutes and 37 seconds They have a really impartial viewpoint of the options that are available to you. Family and friends are also great, but a careers adviser has that comprehensive knowledge of all the opportunities that are available to you. When considering all the ideas that are available to you, don’t be afraid of considering things that you think are really radical or overly ambitious. Don’t dismiss anything. It’s really important when making a decision that you reflect on what that means to you now, and what it could mean to you in the future. The most important thing is that you can change your mind at any time. What’s the worst that can happen?

Skip to 4 minutes and 20 seconds If you are thinking about further study, either an apprenticeship or a traineeship or higher education explore all the options, and you can apply for everything!

Skip to 4 minutes and 31 seconds Just remember: when you are making that final decision, you’ve done the research already so you can be confident that you’ll choose the right thing for you. Don’t forget - it’s not a race against time. Lots of people take years to come to the career of their choice. In careers it can be really difficult to make a decision on what you want to do. We often talk about a “lightbulb” moment, which is when a “lightbulb” suddenly goes off and everything falls into place and we decide “this is exactly what we want to do with our future”. Some people are lucky enough to experience that, but others aren’t and it’s a bit more of a journey to get to that final destination.

Skip to 5 minutes and 5 seconds For those that are still thinking really hard about your options, my advice is quite simple. Do the technical things. Get online. Do some research. Speak to people. If you can get some work experience in a sector you have a vague interest in or even just a passing interest in that could be enough to confirm or deny that it’s something you should be considering in the future. Anything that helps you build that understanding of the sector would be really really great. But remember to listen to your own thoughts and feelings to. Often the first sign that something’s not quite right will happen when we just feel a little bit of a discomfort.

Skip to 5 minutes and 37 seconds Don’t tune that out, because that can be really important.

Skip to 5 minutes and 41 seconds And remember: your personality is absolutely vital to this process. Be confident in your skills and abilities. Say yes to opportunity. If things are difficult, don’t close off options, say “yes” to things. It’s ok to go somewhere and realise it’s not for you. Putting an “x” and ruling something out can be just as helpful as finding something that we love and are passionate about. Keep going, keep positive, and when that moment arrives, you will know. Without a doubt, my top tip regardless of your situation is to be positive, enthusiastic and to have a great attitude whatever you do. It’s a surefire way of being successful in any environment, by being that person who’s friendly, open and says “yes”to opportunity.

Skip to 6 minutes and 23 seconds It’s a really good idea to put together a simple action plan when looking at your strengths. Something that’s realistic but ambitious, and something aspirational too. So - when thinking about your strengths, think about things like - are you a good communicator? Do you like working in a team? Think about the qualities that are really important to you too. Things like - are you flexible? Are you punctual? Or do you turn up late quite a lot? Be realistic about what your personal qualities are and this will really help shape the kind of opportunities that you want to research in a bit more detail. What if you’ve got a plan for the future already?

Skip to 7 minutes and 8 seconds What if you think “this is the job I want to do”? What can you be doing now to ensure that happens? My advice would be set a date in the future when you envisage that plan coming together. When will you be in that particular job role? Once you’ve set the date, and that particular role, out work backwards. Go back in timeframes. For example - set a medium term goal so in 18 months to 2 years, where will you be? What will be a sign that you’re successfully meeting that plan? What will you need to do to ensure it?

Skip to 7 minutes and 38 seconds Then go even shorter, and think “what can I do in the next week, month - six months at the longest” to make sure I achieve my medium term goal, and in turn achieve my long-term goal. If you’re not too sure about what you want to do, and that long-term goal is actually a bit daunting, start from the other side. Don’t worry about where you’re going to be in five years, think about what you can do in the next month to help give you a bit more understanding. You might find that once you start making those small steps you might find the medium and even the long term goals become more apparent.

Skip to 8 minutes and 12 seconds Sometimes, there may be a time when you feel under pressure to make a decision. Your friends may have got to that point, or your parents and teachers might be asking you if you know what your next steps are going to be. Just remember it’s your decision, and it’s your future. It’s in your hands. So don’t feel pressured to make a quick decision. Think about longer term - think about talking to people, and then you’ll be really positive about the choices you make. As you make these decisions, you’ll find that there won’t be a shortage of people willing to help you and offer you advice and guidance and that can be really really valuable support.

Skip to 8 minutes and 58 seconds Teachers, family members, friends, those around you can all give you some valuable insights into the future choices that you can make. My advice is though - remember that it’s you that is the most important person in this process, it’s going to be you who is turning up to that job in the morning, getting out of bed to go to those lectures, whatever it is that you decide to do. If you allow external influences to have too strong a role, it can push you into a decision that isn’t right for you. Always check everything. When you think you’re arriving at a decision, go back, revisit it, think is this what I want to do?

Skip to 9 minutes and 31 seconds Do I feel 100% confident in this decision here? Once you’ve done that, you can feel a lot happier with the decision you’ve made.

Turning the spotlight on yourself

Making decisions can be challenging – especially when there’s a lot to choose from and you know whatever you decide could have a lasting impact.

Building on some of the points you may have noted from the previous step, we will now look at some practical steps you can take to really get to grips with your decision-making.

First, watch the video to hear more from the careers advisers, then read the article below.

So, how do you turn the spotlight on yourself?

We all approach decision-making in different ways, and this can be influenced by various factors such as our personality, how those around us make decisions, how confident we feel, how independent we are, our level of anxiety or the pressure we’re feeling, and the extent to which we may feel destiny plays a part in life.

Whatever approaches you use, here are some steps you can take to help you clarify what’s important to you and your future.

Quizzes and questionnaires can be a good starting point to get you going. Why not try the UCAS Buzz quiz here.

We’ve provided some resources in the links section below. You might want to print and use the ‘Turning the spotlight on yourself’ resource to get your thoughts and ideas down as you apply the steps below.

1. Where are you now?

This is a good starting point – it’s about you, so think carefully and identify the following:

  • What are you interested in? (This could be hobbies, activities, or subjects.)

  • What are your skills? (The sorts of things you’re good at.)

  • Do you have any particular strengths? (Things you feel others recognise in you - if you’re stuck, you could ask trusted friends and family what they think your strengths are).

  • What do you value? (The things that are always important to you, that matter in your social and study life.)

  • What motivates you? (The things that get you enthusiastic, or move you to action and to get involved.)

2. Where do you want to get to?

You may have a clear picture of what you want to do next or what career you’re aiming for, or you may feel you haven’t got a clue yet. Chances are, you’re somewhere in between, so what ideas do you have?

  • Are there job roles or career areas you’re interested in?
  • Is there a subject you love?
  • Do you have hobbies or interests you’d like to take further?

If you’re still unsure, think about the subjects or careers you definitely don’t want to consider. This will help you narrow down the options even further.

Whilst you’re doing your research, you may come across careers you’re unsure about, so note them down, and research them in a bit more detail before dismissing them completely.

3. How are you going to get there?

This is where you need to focus on what choices you have made. You can consider and compare the post-18 options we’ve been looking at in light of the points you identify about yourself.

Have a look at the resources we’ve provided about each of the options – you can download them from the bottom of this page. When you’re familiar with what each option offers, you can compare them by asking the following questions:

  1. What do you feel the potential advantages and disadvantages would be for you? Look at the pros and cons of each.
  2. What is the potential impact of each option? Try to consider the impact each option would have for you short term (over the next year), medium term (the next five years), and longer term. Think about what it would mean for you.
  3. Which one do you most prefer? Try to rank the different options in order of preference – of most interest to least interest.

In the next step…

We will look at how you can research and refine your choices and where you can find the information you need.

It’s important to talk through your options and the choices your’re considering with parents/carers, teachers, and a careers adviser. If you’re at school or college, you may be able to speak with someone in their careers department. Alternatively, you could contact one of the national helplines that provide free impartial advice and guidance across the UK (contact details are in the ‘I don’t know what to do’ resource in the links section below).

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Smart Choices: Broadening Your Horizons