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Career Planning

In 2023, US News and World Report ranked Iowa seventh overall in the US and third for opportunity - based on affordability, economic opportunity and equality, proving there are endless opportunities for students looking for their future career. Iowa has a robust mix of industries, providing diverse choices for Iowa students as they plan their future.

Career Planning in Four Easy Steps

  • Career Exploration and Assessment - Determine what career pathways to explore and what careers are right for you
  • Discover Your Pathway- Based on your career assessment results, determine the education or training needed for your potential career pathway
  • Explore Your Options - Find training programs or colleges that offer the education or training needed - visit and learn about costs
  • Create a Budget - Determine your budget for education and training based on your starting salary

Career Exploration and Assessment

Your future career will provide more than just a paycheck. The average person spends an average of 35-40 years in the workforce - making sure you find the right career that fits not just your monetary needs, but also your interests, values, and talents is important. When you find a career that fits your passions, you will find greater success and more opportunities.

Assess Yourself

Interest assessments, such as the ACT career assessment, are a  great way to find the career that best suits you by discovering what really interests you and what you value most. Assessments:

  • Identify your strengths, skills, and areas of interest
  • Match your results to career pathways or industries
  • Link career pathways to specific careers and salary expectations
  • Link careers to education and training requirements
  • List education requirements that will lead to potential college majors
  • Help narrow your list of potential colleges to those that fit your interest area and price range

The ACT career assessment is a free and easy tool featuring three short interest inventories that identify potential career pathways that fit your interests and values. The three inventories take about 15 minutes and provide instant results through the creation of a Career Map and Major Map. Visit to get started, or go through the assessment and the results with an ICAN advisor - schedule a Career Assessment appointment at

Next Steps

Find your passion, or just an area of interest through assessments and then ask questions. Research your future so you can reach your full potential and have every opportunity for the success-filled life you envision.

If you think research tends to be boring, it might be because you haven't been excited about the topic. Discovering what you will do for the rest of your life is an interesting process that will help you do well in high school. The only way to find out if a career is for you is to learn all about it.

Use your career assessment results to answer important questions like the ones below. You assessment should help you dive in and provide all the information requested in the following questions.

  • How much education or training beyond high school do you need? See education levels (PDF) for the fastest-growing jobs in Iowa.
  • What, if any, majors will prepare you for this career?
  • What types of high school classes relate to this occupation?
  • Will you need any ongoing training or education?
Money and Outlook
  • What is the average starting pay? Starting salary and average salary are different. When you are just starting out, you need to look at average starting salary.
  • What is the median salary, or the amount of money you can make with a few years' experience?
  • What is the outlook (how many jobs will be available in the future) for this career? See fast-growing jobs in Iowa (PDF) and in the United States.
Responsibilities and Skills
  • What are the daily responsibilities?
  • What are the required basic skills?
  • What are the working conditions?
  • What are the travel requirements?
  • What are the physical demands?

Discover Your Pathway

Exploring careers before you select an education or training path enables you to find the best option that fits your career interests and goals. Your career assessment results will guide you toward a career pathway that aligns with your interests. Opportunities in high school can help you explore your pathways and rule out careers and majors that don't fit long before you reach college - saving  you time and money. Career pathways can help you identify classes that expand your experiences and explore areas of interest you may, or may not, be familiar with. Once you've narrowed down your assessment results to a pathway or career field, try them on for size. These activities can help you experiment with different careers and learn if the day in and day out activities of a career is truly of interest.

  • Enroll in a class in a particular area of interest to help you decide if you like the subject and if you have or can learn the skills needed.
  • Attend a career and college fair such as Golden Circle or ICR Future and explore the connections between the job you want and the education required to get there.
  • Participate in career days and mentoring programs sponsored by your school.
  • Check with local organizations and businesses for volunteer and job-shadowing opportunities.
  • Search for internships at local businesses or organizations.
  • Choose part-time jobs that allow you to gain experience and help you build skills in your chosen career.
  • Participate in extracurricular activities and take advantage of leadership opportunities.
  • Join clubs that relate to your chosen field.
  • Talk to professionals in the field or call a college and ask to speak with faculty members to find out more information.

There are six career clusters which organize all of the job opportunities in the United States. The 16 national career pathways are organized within these clusters.

 Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources

Learn about career paths in agriculture, natural resources, horticulture, food production, and the environment. Learn more.

 Applied Sciences, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics

Learn about career paths in

 Business, Finance, Marketing, & Management

Learn about career paths in

 Health Sciences

Learn about career paths in nursing, medicine, pharmacy, nutrition, physical therapy, and health science. Learn more.

 Human Services

Learn about career paths in

 Information Solutions

Learn about career paths in

Explore Your Options After High School

Many people believe that “college” means four more years; in reality college means any additional education or training after high school. Education and training beyond high school is an important step toward getting the career you've always wanted. And since 70% of jobs out there require some form of education and training after high school it's a good idea to get familiar with your options. 


A paid job that provides on-the-job training in a highly skilled career. Typically someone new to the field learns the skills needed through training by a master craftsman, who is an expert in their field. They share skills and knowledge to help the apprentice become an expert too.

Learn about careers in the building trades

Nine Month Certificate/One Year Diploma

Full-time programs designed to provide core skills and knowledge needed to work in a specific professional field or enhance a current profession. Certification and diploma programs can be found at community colleges, as well as through private apprenticeship or training programs.

Explore career training programs that require a certificate or diploma.

Two Year Degree (Associate’s degree)

Generally earned at a community college, a two year degree can focus on liberal arts (general education) as a step towards transferring to a four year college OR a two year degree can focus on specific career training that leads directly into employment.

Associate of Arts Degree

An Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree is one of the most common types of associate degrees available. Most A.A. programs require students to complete 60 hours of coursework, including general education courses and courses associated with a major. Students often apply the credits earned in an A.A. program towards a bachelor's degree program. A.A. degrees are typically awarded in the liberal arts, such as English, history, music, economics, elementary education, psychology and sociology.

Associate of Science Degree

The Associate of Science (A.S.) degree is also a popular type of associate degree. Most A.S. degree programs focus on science but also require students to complete several hours of general education courses. This degree is very similar to the A.A. because it prepares students to enter a bachelor's degree program and usually requires 60 hours. Common A.S. degree programs include chemistry and biology. Students can also pursue A.S. degrees in engineering, business administration and computer science, to name a few.

Associate of Applied Science Degree

Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree programs are designed to prepare students to enter the workforce. Working professionals looking for a raise or promotion may also pursue an A.A.S. degree. These programs generally require students to complete fewer hours of general education coursework. There are many types of A.A.S. degrees, including programs that focus on engineering or business. Some examples of A.A.S. degrees include graphic design, food service, management, medical assisting and automotive technology.

Explore careers that require a two-year degree or technical education.

Four Year Degree (Bachelor’s degree)

A combination of liberal arts (general education) courses and a specific course of study for a major area of interest, a Bachelor's degree is earned at a traditional four-year college or university.

Learn about pursuing a bachelor's degree and career options available.

Master or Doctorate Degree

Required for professions in medicine, law and higher levels of education, graduate level degrees are also attained in business administration and other specialty fields. To earn a graduate degree you must first earn a Bachelor's degree. Graduate programs are generally offered at universities, however some colleges offer graduate programs in specific specialty areas.

Explore careers that require graduate school

Military or Specialized Training

There are many options when considering military or specialized training in one of the seven branches of the U.S. military. The first step is to take the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) which helps identify the correct Military Occupational Specialty. Basic training follows. There are also military academies and preparatory schools that focus on both academics and military training. Graduates enter service as officers, ranking higher than enlisted military personnel.

To learn more about careers in the military contact your local recruitment center or visit

Create a Budget

Before you begin down a career path, you should know the estimated starting salary. Your starting salary, or first year's pay, is the key to creating your budget and understanding your financing structure if you pursue a degree or certification. Your starting salary for your first year is the maximum you should borrow to cover the costs of your education. Here you can view estimated starting salaries in Iowa and begin your research on your career pathway. See estimated starting salaries in Iowa. Actual starting wages might be higher or lower than the estimates shown on this site.

You should research the starting salary for any career you consider and understand that if you have to borrow to cover the cost of your education or training program, your maximum borrowing limit is your first year's starting salary. This will keep you in the realm of responsibly borrowing. 

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