Some notes to get ahead at the crossroads

Although it should be remembered that no decision is irreparable and that there are always new opportunities, choosing a university degree is an important moment in our lives, a crossroads that arises when you are only 18 years old.

Some notes to get ahead at the crossroads

Although it should be remembered that no decision is irreparable and that there are always new opportunities, choosing a university degree is an important moment in our lives, a crossroads that arises when you are only 18 years old. We are starting to become adults and we have to face the complex question of what we want to do during our future and what are the professional challenges that we would like to face. Numerous factors come into play such as employability, personal interests, skills and tastes, the 'pressure' and expectations of family and group of friends, the proximity or prestige of a particular educational center, the willingness to move outside of your town...

Beatriz Malik, president of the Spanish Association of Guidance and Psychopedagogy (AEOP), is clear that the starting point is that the studies respond to and coincide with the values ​​and professional interests or hobbies of the student.

The expert also recommends weighing the professional opportunities that the career has, in addition to matching it with a field that is attractive to the student.

Appreciations in which Jimena Fernández, head of the admissions office of the Miguel de Cervantes European University, also agrees. "This decision does not only consist in choosing which degree the student is going to study, but in choosing something that they really like in order to unleash their full potential in a degree that suits their interests and that will be a life project," she says. . Fernández explains that, in the case of his university, they recommend that students take the necessary time to find what studies they would like to take. "A good piece of advice is to write down on a list what skills, abilities, subjects and hobbies they are good at," says this expert.

"This is a set of decisions that we must try to align with each other," says Juan José Juárez, senior project manager of the Bertelsmann Foundation, who agrees with the other two experts on several of the tips, but who also recommends students wonder if the studies are current and if they are aimed at meeting the needs of the near future.

“You have to do an exercise in introspection. How do you see yourself in four years, working at what, doing what and from there looking for suitable titles, ”says Gema Quintero, professor of labor and Social Security law at Carlos III University. Advice like the ones previously described by the experts, explains Juárez, are essential to have clear criteria when navigating between a training offer as wide as the one that exists today. "We currently have more than 3,700 university degrees and 170 vocational training (VET) degrees to choose from," she says.

For students who are not sure what to choose, Malik advises them to ask themselves questions such as what motivates me, what I am passionate about, do I prioritize the prestige of a profession, its possible financial remuneration, travel opportunities and what skills I would like to develop. , among other. Juárez considers that there are three basic sources of information: self-knowledge, the world of work and the training offer. These three keys are essential so that after high school we can know what kind of subjects interest us, what professions will mark the world of work in the future and what studies fit these two questions.

The choice of higher education is a key decision, as we have mentioned. This situation makes many young people feel great pressure and that they cannot fail in their choice. In fact, it is common for people who were very clear about what to study to realize that it does not motivate them. For this type of person, Fernández, from the Miguel de Cervantes European University, advises that at the time of choosing they be consistent with their feelings, but that there is no problem in changing careers if they realize that it does not suit them. «Studying something that does not fulfill you, disconnects you from your goals and, in the end, you lose focus. What is supposed to be your passion becomes an empty routine », he comments.

Ideally, young people would arrive at this crucial moment with a good part of their homework done, or at least with some clear ideas of what their path could be and which paths could end up becoming real byways. In this task, the professional guidance tasks that you may receive during the years of secondary education and high school are of special importance. However, Juárez, from the Bertelsmann Foundation, explains that in Spain we have a shortage of guidance counselors which means that young people do not receive enough guidance and support to know what to do with their studies. "The OECD recommends having one counselor for every 250 students and in our country we have 1 for every 750 on average," he says.

The result of this lack of orientation, added to other factors, is that approximately 1 in 4 students who start university studies in Spain drop out in the first or second year, explains the expert. "This failure in the career choice process entails a high cost for students, their families and society as a whole", comments the senior project manager of the Bertelsmann Foundation, who affirms that it is necessary to invest more in guidance in order to have a structured, continuous and quality process that reduces these levels of abandonment.

From the Spanish Association of Orientation and Psychopedagogy, Beatriz Malik points out that there is a great difference in the way of approaching counseling from one institute to another, which leads to very different results. "Aspects such as students' self-knowledge, exploration of the environment and the world of work, emerging professions, decision-making and career planning are usually worked on," says the professional. In this aspect, the support that the student receives depends on the resources of each educational institution, the counselor/student ratio and the situations that occur in the specific institute or in its environment.

«Many times the counselors have to spend their time 'putting out fires', helping to solve problems that arise on a day-to-day basis and dealing with other issues, taking away time to work on more specific aspects related to professional orientation or development of skills. the career throughout life”, says Beatriz Malik about some of the problems that institutes face on a daily basis.

For Juárez, the Spanish guidance system could learn a lot from Germany, where Vocational Training is seen as a very positive option, or from Finland, where there is a system that is supported by a clear and stable legal framework that allows teachers, students , families and companies know what to expect. “In the first place we need a comprehensive and stable framework, currently we do not have a rule or decree that establishes in a concrete and understandable way for all what must be done at the orientation level in each of the 4 years of ESO, in high school and in FP”, says Juárez, who explains that the resolution of this situation is being tackled by Xcelence, a proposal from the Bertelsmann Foundation for quality orientation.

From the Spanish Association of Orientation and Psychopedagogy, Beatriz Malik does not recommend replicating the model of another country, but would be in favor of analyzing the proposals that exist abroad and trying to adapt them to the Spanish context. For the time being, the expert considers that part of the solution is to provide more guidance professionals to the institutes, in addition to linking guidance with the content of the subjects, among other proposals. “It is necessary to increase the number of staff trained in guidance. And in the long term, create professionalized, multilevel but interconnected guidance structures », recommends Gema Quintero, professor of Labor Law and Social Security at the Carlos III University. Strategies to improve essential services and keys to not start from scratch when the student faces his great crossroads of university studies.