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Setting Goals and Planning Your Education and Career Path

There are three ways that first-years tend to enter university:

  • You know what you want to be when you grow up. You have a pretty clear idea of the steps you need to take to be a lawyer, doctor, dentist, teacher, nurse, professor, social worker, or acrobat. You know where you’re going, what you’re going to be, and how long it will take for you to get there.
  • You’re pretty sure that having a university degree is a good idea. Your family expected it, you’ve been working for a few years and you think it’s time to do something new, a teacher or mentor said you had a lot of potential and shouldn’t waste it. You’re taking a few classes—English, because you’ll need it for just about any degree, Biology, because it seems less scary than Physics, and Psychology, because you hear that social sciences are a thing but you don’t understand what Sociology is. You don’t really know what you’re doing yet, and that’s stressful, because this ish is expensive.
  • You need university to advance. You’ve been working for a while, and you realize that you need some schooling to move forward in your career.

Now, one of these might describe you perfectly, or you might fall in between two categories. That’s just fine. There are a lot of different ways to enter university, and a lot of different paths to success. You will find your way through. It will be easier, though, and much less stressful if you take time to think about what you’re doing, and why.

Finding Meaning and Happiness

Understanding Vocation

Theologian Frederick Buechner wrote: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This place — the spot you find where you have a fulfilling life that meets important needs — is called your vocation.

In Catholic terms, we sometimes limit vocation to its historical meaning: becoming a priest, monk, or nun, getting married, or remaining single throughout your life. That’s certainly a part of your vocation, but it doesn’t communicate its fullness. Vocation is about the life you choose in its many facets: job (or not), spouse (or not), kids (or not), volunteer work (or not).

At STM, we’re not just interested in helping you build a career. We’re interested in helping you build a life. We’re interested in helping you find your vocation.

Finding Your Vocation

For those of you who fit into the first or third category above, you may be thinking “great, I’m done. I know what I want to do.” For those of you who fit into the second category, you may be panicking slightly. But hold up. Vocation is something you discern over time, and it’s broader than simply which professional college you’re planning on attending. It’s about asking yourself some questions, even if you don’t have the answers to them yet:

  • Where do I want to live when I’m done university?
Do you want to stay in Saskatoon? If you’re not from Saskatoon, do you want to move back home? Do you want to travel? Do you want to move away for a while? Do you want to move away permanently? Would you be okay moving a lot to follow your job? Do you want to live in a small town? In the country? In a big city? In a house? In an apartment?
  • What kind of lifestyle do I want my job to give me?
Do you want to work long hours at an intense job that you love? Do you want to have lots of time for a life outside of your work? Do you want to make your own schedule? Do you want to make a lot of money?
  • What kind of family do I want to have?
Do you want to get married? Do you want to enter holy orders? Do you want to have kids? Do you want to have a lot of kids?
  • What kind of person am I?
Are you an introvert? Are you an extrovert? Are you high strung? Are you laid back? Are you organized? Are you disorganized?
  • What kind of good do I want to do in the world?
It wouldn’t be STM if we didn’t stick this one in, too. But it’s an important thing to consider! Do you want to work for an organization that actively does outreach, justice, or charity work? Do you want to be able to donate to worthy causes as you move into your career? Do you want to form young minds? Do you want to be able to take time to do volunteer work outside of your job?
  • If I have an idea of what I’d like to do: Why do I want to do this work?
What draws you to the career you’re considering? Are you the one who is interested in this career, or are you feeling pressured by someone else? What do you hope to get out of that career? Is that a reasonable expectation?

How these questions can help

You don’t need to know the answer to all or even any of these questions at this exact moment. They’re designed to help you think critically about the life and career that you want, so that you can make the most of your time at STM.
The fact of the matter is that sometimes what we think we want and what will actually give us joy are not the same thing. For example, you may really love physiology, have an incredible mind for memorization, and be absolutely positive that you want to be a surgeon. But you may not want to be in a hyper-competitive high-stress environment for the next ten years, move across the country for a residency, and spend your career cutting short vacations so that you can perform emergency surgeries in the middle of the night. Maybe, then, you don’t want to be a surgeon. In which case, what other careers might use your talents and fulfill your interests?

Seeking Advice on Your Vocation

  • If you want to talk through these questions informally, you can always get in touch with Campus Ministry. They’re here to help you talk through the big life questions.
  • If you’ve got an idea of what sort of work you want to do, you can talk to Academic Advising about your professional ambitions, what sort of degree you need to succeed, and how to plan your schooling going forward.
  • If you’d like to get hands on experience, get in touch with Engaged Learning to see if you can get connected with a community organization, volunteer experience, or program that does work related to your interests.

Choosing Your Career Path

There are two ways you can approach your career path: choose your degree, and see where that takes you, or choose your profession, and figure out how to get there.

When you know what degree you want, but you have no idea what kind of job that gets you

Fun fact about the Academic Advisors at STM: one of them has an Agriculture degree, one of them has an English degree, and one of them has a Sociology degree. They all work in the same field now.

Although their education backgrounds are quite different from one another, each of them learned a set of skills that are transferable across professions. An undergraduate degree teaches you how to do research, how to read critically, how to reason through things, and how to communicate effectively.

Certain degrees will definitely point you in certain directions, but the fact of the matter is that having an undergraduate degree is an asset, no matter where you end up. It makes you more employable, and it gives you the tools to succeed once you do find employment.

When you’ve chosen a field of study, but you’re not sure what kind of career it might lead to, or what kind of career you might want, there are a couple of ways to explore your options:

  • Talk to some experts. This is a good time to chat with SECC about your options. It’s also a good idea to talk to Academic Advising, as well as some people in your chosen department. Where have STM graduates ended up? What have people from your department gone on to do after graduation?
  • Online research. A website like is a good spot to do some basic research about different professions. Since it’s American, there are certain parts that won’t be relevant to you. However, their database explaining the reality of different professions, from charting a “day in the life” to salary and job stressors, is a great place to explore careers you might not have considered.
  • Volunteer work. Gaining hands on experience is a great way to figure out what you do and don’t want out of a career, and volunteer work means that you can do some good while you work on that. The Engaged Learning Office can connect you with community organizations and programs that help you explore your options.
  • Job shadowing. If you have some idea of what you want to do, see if you can spend some time at work with someone who has a job in that field. It’s a great opportunity to see what your life might look like if you choose that career.

When you know what career you want

Okay, so you figured out where you’re headed. That’s great! Now it’s time to break down the steps you need to take to get from here to there.

Step 1: Research

Find out how people who already have the career you want got there. There are a couple of different ways to do those things:

  • Online research. Look up prominent people in the field you want to enter. What was their career path? Even looking at the employment history of people on LinkedIn can give you an idea of what to plan for as you move forward.
  • Find a mentor. If you know someone, or know of someone, who is in the profession you want to pursue, see if you can sit down with them for an hour to ask them questions about how they got to where they are. If you don’t know anyone personally, get in touch with SECC to see if they can connect you with a U of S alum in that profession.

Step 2: Plot Your Path

Once you have a basic idea of the education and experience you will need to succeed in a given career, it’s time to plot out the path. If you’ll need to do an internship or get volunteer experience in order to move into this profession, do some research on what that looks like.

With some professions, it may be that you’ll have to be out in the workforce for a while before you get the exact position you want. For example, many professionals (e.g., doctors, nurses, teachers) don’t start their careers working in the city of their choice, especially if they want to live in a particularly desirable location, like Montreal or Vancouver. Be prepared for that and figure out what a reasonable timeline is to get where you want to be.

Step 3: Plot Your Education

This is the time to get in touch with STM’s Academic Advisors. They’ll help you work out what degree(s) you’ll need, whether or not you’ll need to go on to a different university or college in order to get those degrees, what your marks will have to be to get into the right places, and what classes you need to take this year in order to get where you’re going.

Step 4: Set Goals

The journey from here (undergraduate student) to there (successful professional) is a multi-year prospect no matter where you are headed, and it’s easy to lose sight of things along the way. If you’ve done steps 2 and 3 in this list, you have a lot of your prospective path worked out. Now it’s time to break that path down into short-term goals. What do you need to do this week, this month, or this year to make sure you’re going in the right direction?

Say, for example, you want to be a human rights lawyer. If you’re in first year, that’s 7 years away at the absolute minimum. In order to be a human rights lawyer, though, you need to have a law degree. In order to have a law degree, you need to go to law school, and preferably a school known for human rights law. That’s a much closer goal. Once you’ve figured out which law schools are ideal, figure out what marks you’ll need, what degree is ideal, and what extracurricular activities will help you get into those law schools. From there, you can figure out what you need to do in the short term in order to meet your long-term goals.

This is not something you have to do on your own. When it comes to setting education goals, our Academic Advisors have your back. When it comes to figuring out your work experience or internships, the Engaged Learning Office is the place to go.

Check out this article to learn more about setting SMART goals.

Step 5: Reassess Regularly

The short-term goals you set in Step 4 should be very specific. However, when it comes to your long-term goals, be more general. None of us knows exactly what the future holds, so having a life plan that’s plotted down to the minute is more likely to stress you out than it is to motivate you. Being locked into a particular path means that you may miss important opportunities because they “don’t fit into your plan.” Check in with yourself at regular intervals to make sure that you’re still headed in the direction you want to go.

Step 6: Be Willing to Let it Go

Maybe a family crisis will prevent you from going to graduate school. Maybe you’ll find that your volunteer work makes you happier than law school ever could, and you’ll take a job at a non-profit. Maybe a global pandemic will end your hopes for that international internship you had your eye on.

There is no one career path that will make you happy; there is no one life you need to lead. If you don’t end up where you thought you would end up, it doesn’t make you a failure. It means things went in a different direction than you expected. That’s more than okay. Remember, you’re not just building a career. You’re building a life.

Through all of this, remember it’s okay if…

  • You don’t know what you want to do with your life.
  • You do know what you want to do.
  • You change your mind about what you want to do.
  • You have a 7-year plan.
  • Your 7-year plan falls apart in year 3.

You don’t have unlimited amounts of time or money to spend on university, but you do have a support system at STM to help you manage the ups and downs of your degree, walk you through your uncertainties, and find a career path that will bring you joy.