Assessment tools aid career search for back-to-schoolers

So you’re done — so done — with this job, and you’re thinking it’s time to move along to a new career.

But what career should you choose? And how will you get there from here?

Life-changing questions, to be sure, but they’re manageable if you take a methodical approach and use the abundant academic and personal support systems that in place.

Start at the beginning: What do you want to be when you grow up?

A good start to answering that question is available through the Nevada Career Information Systems ( It’s a free service provided by the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to help residents identify their strengths and identify careers that match those strengths.

As you begin to understand some of your career options, you can visit with an academic counselor at Truckee Meadows Community College or Western Nevada College.

“They can discuss different careers. They can discuss the classes you need for the career. And they can help you learn about financial aid,” says Sherry Black, academic director for career and technical education at WNC.

The schools have additional career-assessment tools available to help fine-tune your career search. (There’s generally a modest cost — something along the lines of $25 — for non-students who use the tools.)

From there, the logical next step is applying to the school of your choice. You’ll be asked fairly early in the process whether you want to pursue a degree or a non-degree program, and the steps are different depending on the goal you have set.

You’ll also be encouraged to apply for financial aid — every little bit helps during times of a career transition — and WNC and TMCC will require that you take placement tests to determine if you are ready for college-level work in math, reading and writing.

Yes, math.

“A lot of times, people will take the math placement test cold,” says Joan Steinman, director of retention and support programs at Truckee Meadows Community College. “But if you haven’t done math for a while, you forget.”

A variety of online and traditional instructional books are available to help you bone up in advance of the math placement test.

Black says the testing and class placement really is for your own good.

“We want to put you in a strong position to succeed,” she says.

Because much of education today is conducted online — many papers are submitted online as Word documents, for instance — it’s also important to have computer skills before you start classes.

Lots of support is available once you return to school.

Academic advisors will help plot your course toward completion of your studies. Career and personal counselors are an important resource, too.

“Most of the students they see are struggling with the balance of life and studies,” says Steinman. “Any transition is exciting. It’s also stressful.”

For students with specialized needs, disability-resource specialists, veterans’ centers, single-parent resources and re-entry programs provide assistance.

Black notes that the staffers at college libraries are skilled at providing help in research. And she says free tutoring services are widely available to help students over a rough patch.

Some other thoughts to keep in mind as you plan a new career and a return to school:

• Think about the lifestyle you want, and make sure that the career you’re considering fits with that lifestyle. If you’re thinking about launching a surfboard business but your lifestyle favors central Nevada, rethink things.

• Honestly appraise the time that it will take to return to school. People successfully manage school, jobs and families all the time, but it takes conscious management. And don’t forget, Steinman says, that homework and reading assignments take time, too. Counselors say you’ll need an hour outside of class for each hour you spend in class.

• Family support is critically important, and it’s better to talk about this upfront than later, when a crisis erupts over the time and energy that you’re putting into school.

• If you’re eager for the knowledge provided by a class but don’t want the pressure of working for a grade, Black suggests auditing the course. Just remember that an audited course won’t count toward graduation or certification if that’s your goal.

• If you’re nervous about starting school, try one of the community education classes scheduled by both TMCC and WNC. They’re fun, usually fairly short and get you back into the flow.

• Don’t worry that you’ll stick out. “Not all students are 18,” says Black. “We have students from 18 to 80.”


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