One of the things that strikes me most when I speak with students or young workers is to see to what extent their orientation choices are made arbitrarily. This observation raises two major questions: why is career guidance not a priority in schools? Why do young people do not receive career guidance from an early age?
In this article, we will analyse most educational milestones within the French educational system, the years when choices matter the most.
ORIENTATION CHOICES AT THE END OF 9TH GRADE: WHAT WILL HIGH SCHOOL LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
At the end of 9th grade, young Frenchies must already decide among a few options. Staying on a general path (seconde générale in France) and not specialising may seem the best idea. However, in many countries – including Germany the opposite choice is often more valued. This is why it is important to put aside certain French biases regarding career choices. A student who chooses a technical path early on and by vocation will have more chances of succeeding in his professional life in the long term than a student who decides to follow a more general education, just to be like everyone else and without any intrinsic motivation.
I would advice you to start asking yourself what job do you see yourself in within a few years time, even if you are still in middle school. Do you dream of becoming a pastry chef, a maintenance technician, an engineer or a lawyer? Depending on this answer and your educational level, choose the most suitable courses to get where you want to be. When in doubt, use all the resources at your disposal: talk to professionals, ask for your teachers’ help, see a guidance counselor or a professional coach and discuss your choices with your parents and beloved ones.
ORIENTATION CHOICES AT THE END OF TENTH GRADE
More orientation choices await those having chosen the general curriculum later on (including you if you decided to go that way!). At the end of tenth grade, they (or you) will be asked to choose specialised courses to attend during their junior year in high school. These will be added on top of a broad educational foundation including science, languages, history and geography.
This decision must be taken seriously since these options will condition your higher education. If you are considering a career in medicine or science, choosing maths sounds like a good idea. If your eyes are set on becoming an engineer, taking engineering studies seems like a fair bet. Truth is that not many choices are irreversible at this point. However, if you choose wisely, you will be well-prepared to face the selective nature of some higher education paths.
THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE AKA PARCOURSUP
During senior year, French students face one of the moments they dread the most within their entire education: Parcoursup. Are you one of them?
On December of your senior year, you will be able to access Parcoursup, an online platform to find out about your options regarding higher education. Parcoursup operates according to a strict schedule: from mid-January until the end of March, registrations will be open and you will have the opportunity to submit your wishlist. At the end of March/beginnings of April, you will have a few days to complete and upload your file and confirm your options. Admissions take place from the beginning of June until mid-July, this is when you will be able to see if you can attend the schools featured on your wishlist. If necessary, you can add up to 10 new options to your wishlist around mid-September and check if there are still available spots at those schools. Even if the process is structured and includes several distinctive phases, it can seem scary and confusing. Once again, I recommend you to seek support and guidance all throughout your senior year in order to optimise your chances of being admitted to your preferred schools.
You may never find yourself in this situation. Fortunately, many students choose a path and everything runs smoothly until graduation. This may in particular be the case with traditional and selective paths such medical or scientific studies.
Nevertheless, there are many cases of early reorientation after one or two years in higher education. A significant proportion of high school students now obtain their diploma without too much hassle and pursue their studies without considering all their options. Disenchantment sometimes appears after a few months sitting on the university benches. Higher education requires greater work autonomy than that expected in high school. If the first year of higher education was chosen in a hurry or to please one’s parents, the risk of failure is relatively high.
Analysing your work methodology objectively can help you move forward until graduation. If you realise the path you are following was chosen for the wrong reasons, you may look into other options before it is too late. For example, students in French preparatory classes may access the second or third year of a bachelor’s degree. In some cases, it is necessary to start all over again, but it may be worthy to find your true call.
YOUR FIRST INTERNSHIP
In many schools and universities, internships are either compulsory or highly recommended. The stakes are high since your first internship will allow you to fill in the “professional experience” section of your CV. Thanks to your interships, things will be easier later or when looking for permanent job opportunities.
Activating your network is essential at this time. It is often complicated to get an internship since impressing recruiters when all your knowledge is still purely theoretical is not an easy task. For this reason, you must let your contacts know you are open to opportunities when the time comes. Social networks and career services at your school can also be helpful if you want to reach out to professionals.
No internship seems right for you? You can still send out your CV to your favourite companies. It may seem like hard work but it often pays off. Making yourself visible and daring to contact recruiters – using the right strategy and tone – can help you bag your first internship!
YOUR FIRST JOB
There are many points in common between looking for an internship and searching for a job. Sometimes, the only thing that is different is the pressure you put on yourself when doing so. When looking for a job, we often fear making a dramatic mistake and being unable to turn back time. Educate yourself as much as you can on the job and the company culture before applying to any opening and you will minimise the risk. Try to contact professionals who are already working on that company to get an idea of the working environment.
Anyway, the best way to find out more about any company is to be part of it. Sometimes, you will only know if the choice you made is the right one once you have entered the organisation. Some companies offer newbies extra support by matching them with buddies, just to make sure these new talents adjust well to the company. In some companies, it is also possible to rely on an internal mentor, who will help you integrate quickly and be a real catalyst in decoding the corporate culture. You can also contact a professional coach to help you boost your self-confidence and reach your professional goals.
As mentioned above, you will find that orientation is not an easy path. To emerge victorious from all the challenges you will be facing, you must trust yourself and maximise your resources, as well as those of your allies. Just like in the Survivor show, be strong, set your eyes on the prize and remember to seek help when needed.