For years, the concept of equity and access has been the focus of college planning. Initiatives have been implemented to help first-generation and underserved students prepare for rigorous postsecondary coursework and find best-fit institutions as they work toward their first year of college.

But when discussing career readiness, the playing field does not yet seem to be leveled. The topic can easily be pushed aside and the focus often remains on college preparation. With more than 1/3 of high school graduates not attending college, this leaves a large number of students – many of them from first-generation and underserved backgrounds – without the tools to develop a comprehensive career plan for their future.

By focusing on a few key areas, schools and districts can begin to change the narrative for students and bring a culture of equity into the college and career readiness programming that they provide. Through additional and equitable access to opportunities, students from all backgrounds can construct a best-fit career pathway that includes the training and education they need to achieve an interest-connected career experience.


The concept of “you can only see what you can be” is heavily dependent on access. Students from underserved populations often have a different perspective of the world of work than students who come from second- or third-generation college-going families. The exposure to multiple careers in diverse industries is not something that every student is accustomed to.

For that reason, schools and organizations need to be extra cognizant in helping students understand various career opportunities, industries, and career progression. This can be done through:


There are several assumptions that take place when families have not engaged in the college or career development process. It may be assumed that education and training costs too much, that opportunities are not available, or that pathways to a certain career are too difficult to navigate. Schools, districts, and organizations should take care to work with families to help them understand the steps needed in career paths and beyond.

Steps to help families create reasonable assumptions about the college and career planning process include:


Schools, districts, organizations, and families should work together to set high expectations for their students, regardless of their background. It is often difficult to measure outcomes when it comes to career readiness. Schools and districts understand their college-going rate, but they struggle to measure success in helping students reach their career goals.

Creating long-term relationships and support cycles between districts and organizations is critical. Both parties must work together to make sure that their expectations are met, and that the work they are putting in to drive excellence in access and equity is paying off. Helping to set expectations and measurements includes:

With a deliberate focus on leveling the playing field, all students can have the opportunity to build a pathway to their best-fit career regardless of their background. Schools and districts must utilize the tools, relationships, and resources around them to provide extra attention to those who need the extra exposure and knowledge to create accurate assumptions and expectations to achieve long-term career success.

About the Author

Kim Oppelt, Ed.D is the Vice President of Career Readiness and Development at Kuder. Dr. Oppelt has over 20 years of experience in career and college readiness, both as a licensed school counselor and in educational technology. Throughout her career, Dr. Oppelt has worked with districts and state systems throughout the country to design and implement successful pathway planning processes, developed products and programming for K-12 students, and has conducted research on the experience of students as they develop their own career pathways. Dr. Oppelt has a B.A.S. in Health Education from the University of Minnesota Duluth, a M.S. in counseling from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and a Doctor of Education from St. Mary’s University.