Face to Face or Remote Nationwide Availability

10 Critical College Readiness Questions for Parents and Students

Dr. Brunner has worked closely with high school and college professionals for over 20 years as a PhD learning specialist.  One of his specialties is evaluating and treating learning disorders. 

As part of my upcoming career guidance book to help you find your “Real Me,” I’ve interviewed several college students and recent college graduates and have asked them what they wish they would have known before they started college. 

After sifting through my interview results, I have condensed the major themes into 10 critical questions for you and your high school student. These themes are also discussed in my upcoming book that you can sign up to be notified when it is published in the near future.

1. Have you gone through an in-depth career guidance process?

Most commonly people report that they chose a career with less than rigorous investigative methodology. Meanwhile, statistics repeatedly reveal end-of-life career regret haunts the majority of people. This kind of painful regret can be avoided, but you must wake up to the fact that college is not the place where you’re going to find the real me. Finding the real me takes a systematic approach that weaves together exercises that help you take a full inventory of your breadth and depth. 

Most people naively think that self-reflection and casual conversations are enough preparation for starting college. Maybe that’s why statistics show that students on average change their majors anywhere from 3 to 6 times. Every unnecessary class a student takes costs anywhere from $500 to more than $1,000, and changing a major can cost anywhere from $10,000 to 20,000! No wonder parents are increasingly asking me to assess their adolescent to determine their readiness for college.

Admittedly, no in-depth career guidance process has been previously available. That’s why I developed an in-depth method (Precisely Engineered Career Guidance™) I will be bringing to the table in my upcoming book. Here’s an overview of my unique method of career guidance.


An in-depth approach can identify your “real me.”

2.  Have you gone beyond choosing a major based on “cupid’s chokehold”?

The “follow your passion” myth leads to being caught in a “cupid’s chokehold.” Passions get your blood running as they create tunnel vision toward a singular goal. Meanwhile, as David Epstein pointed out in his best-selling book Range: why generalists triumph in a specialized world, studies show that those who expose themselves to a broad diversity of experiences tend to do the best after all is said and done.

More often than not, people follow a passion without ever truly exposing themselves to a broad enough diversity of opportunities to even figure out if other passions exist that would be even more sustainable. The only way to figure out if your passion is sustainable is to undergo a rigorous career guidance process so that you become aware of what kinds of blinders accompany your particular personality. I discuss this in my upcoming book.

3. Have you reliably identified a base camp of core training preparing you for 40-50 years of work?

As I discuss in my upcoming book, the labor market has radically changed over the last 30 years. As many have recognized, the golden era of capitalism is over. I call the current era of capitalism the “nomadic gritty era.”Why? Companies are focusing on minimizing benefits and outsourcing as much as possible. They can treat any one employee as disposable given the hypercompetitive global marketplace of applicants. Loyalty is at an all-time low from both the employer’s and the employee’s perspective. The rise of remote work has given companies a pool of more people to choose from anywhere in the world.

These and other trends have created a labor market in which there is more frequent migration from one job to another, and leapfrogging from job to job has become the norm. Statistics show people will change jobs at least 12 to 15 times, and the majority of people will work in more than one field.

On top of this, we are in the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is fundamentally changing what employers are looking for, because AI can give employers very deep knowledge bases at their fingertips. AI is replacing a significant amount of cognitive functions previously thought to be unique to humans.

The challenge now is to undergo training that can ensure you win a much lengthier and complex career chess game. Because the career chess game involves working for 40 to 50 years, and as people are living and working longer, it is even more important to choose a base camp of career training that has the maximum amount of versatility over time. 

Winning the career chess game is harder than ever.


Winning the career chess game is harder than ever.

Don’t expect to get 100,000 hours of mileage out of a superficially made decision about what your core training should be. In fact, I have helped many people identify a core base camp of training that was not even on their radar before we began the career guidance process. If you don’t put yourself through a rigorous career guidance process, it’s like deciding to marry a field of study that you never really got to know.

4.  Have you deeply researched and rigorously road tested the value of different majors or minors you are considering?

As I said previously, the cost of switching majors, adding a double major, adding a second minor, is often $10,000 to $20,000.

Even if a student has a scholarship, beware! Many scholarships place limitations on whether they will pay if changes are made to the academic plan.

Statistics clearly show the college major system is broken. Students most commonly change their majors 3 to 6 times. Changing a major even once has become unaffordable for most American families. First of all, students choose majors with very little knowledge and almost always no truly rigorous exploratory methodology. The trial-and-error approach that most students use is fatally flawed results in an enslaving tuition debt. This is why in my upcoming book I discuss how the method I have developed exhaustively explores different types of majors so no unforeseen change of major occurs.

5. Have you deeply researched all the different majors you could choose in order to reach any identified career goals?

There is a new higher education movement among graduate schools (e.g., MD, Law, etc.) to look for more well-rounded students. Graduate schools are realizing that often students who have a broader base of life experience are better suited to succeed in what are often cutthroat circumstances. This is in contrast to the “Tiger Mom” trend that has dominated parenting in the recent past. The “Tiger Mom” kids often live their childhood far too narrowly, and only find out too late that they were living their parents’ dreams rather than figuring out their own genuine interests.

I work with graduate students in their 20s who frequently tell me they regret the career direction where they are currently headed. The key to college success is to get in-depth career guidance before you go to college. The best metaphor for college is a bus station, where the beauty of it is you could go anywhere, but no one’s going to tell you where to go when you walk up to the ticket window and choose your major.

6. Have you gained enough self-knowledge that you are prepared to receive minimal guidance in college?

Recent college graduates repeatedly tell me that college is not a place where you’ll experience psychologically deep mentorship experiences. Sadly, there is no inbuilt mentorship-focused system. Academic advisors, who often have hundreds of students in their caseloads, must use the brief time they have with a student to focus on what classes are needed for graduation.   

Take for example Elsa, a recent college graduate, who told me that her advisors did not help with such things as clarifying how to stand out from other students, providing resume guidance, or being connected to potential mentors. In fact, Elsa clarified that in her four-year college career she had four different academic advisors because of the high turnover. What this means is a student needs to go into college with the deepest level of intelligence about who they really are, because 95% of college decisions must be self-driven. And to be self-driven across four years of college, you need to have a master plan before you step foot on the campus.

7. Have you chosen the right kind of college based on the fact that the majority of help, resources and support will most likely come from teaching assistants, preceptors and peers, and not the professor?

Another common theme among recent college graduates — especially those graduating from larger colleges — is that they had minimal contact with the professor, other than being a member of an audience during lectures. Many students I work with feel like they are a number among the multitudes. Stadium-sized classes often dominate freshman year, sometimes even at a school’s honors college. 

Few parents truly take time to gain an intimate understanding of their child’s psyche. Instead, they get wrapped up in the brand name of a college. Many students will experience success in a much smaller school, or by starting at and/or fully attending a community college, rather than jumping into the huge arena of a large university. Smaller colleges often offer smaller classes where topics can be investigated at a much deeper level.

8. Have you calculated how much money you could save by considering maximizing credits at a community college that can easily transfer to a four-year college?

It is now much more common for students to take classes at a community college in order to save money. Community colleges are no longer the ugly stepsister to four-year colleges. In fact, these community colleges are innovating much more adeptly than the more bureaucratic larger colleges.

Many students I have mentored from the University of Arizona have told me that some of their courses at Pima Community College have offered a more intimate learning environment than those at the U of A. If you’re not sure your student is ready for a four-year college, a great toe-in-the-water approach is to take classes at a community college. In fact, your highschooler can even take classes at your local community college.

Pima Community College is a great example of a school that has proven how a school can quickly adapt to what a community is looking for, such as through their centers of excellence. If you want to stay abreast of how an innovative leader of a community college is keeping his finger on the pulse, follow Pima Community College’s Lee Lambert. Lee is somebody I pay close attention to, and so do hundreds of other people.

Thousands of schools are joining a rapidly growing movement to make transferring credits easier between schools in any particular state. If you’re in Arizona, you can check out the Arizona Transfer Portal, which allows you to quickly understand what kinds of credits can transfer.

9. Have you considered stacking credentials/certifications that would take far less time and money than a college degree?

Many students I mentor end up deciding that completing a set of credentials is a more cost-effective and reliable way to develop a lifelong career than going to college. Credentials are gaining greater value in the marketplace, while college degrees are losing market value.

Instead of asking “Which college should I go to?” consider asking this question, “What set of credentials could do more for me than a college degree?”

A credential-based way to develop a career is spreading like wildfire, and forward-looking organizations like Google have created a separate company dedicated to offering credentials across a wide variety of fields. Check out the “Grow with Google” career certificates described to result in “job ready skills you can put to work.” Google is offering flexible online training programs designed to put you on the fast track to jobs in high-growth fields. On the other hand, colleges are only just now beginning to look more closely at how well their course offerings directly tie into various industries.

Credential stacking is becoming the new way to become the most attractive kind of candidate, one who is more likely to be hired. If you were to ask someone at Google or Intel if they’d rather hire someone who has majored in a particular area of technology, or someone who was taken a specific set of credentials that are often designed by private industry itself, these employers will you that credentials often hold more water.

As I will discuss in my upcoming book, credentials are becoming the new building block, not college courses or majors. College is no longer the golden road to employment. Credentials can also help a student by providing the most economical way to gain some quick experience and then actually get a job in a field before locking in their ultimate career aims.

10. Have you considered the potential value of a gap year?

Once considered a sign that a student was not motivated, the gap year is now being perceived as a clear sign that a student is more intelligently motivated than the herd stampeding from high school to college. In fact, I’ve interviewed admissions staff who have told me that students who have taken a gap year often have a leg up when their applications are reviewed. Taking a gap year shows an adolescent’s courage and willingness to take a step back from things and deeply investigate themselves and the world around them.  

Many of my career guidance clients decide to take a gap year, and in that year I mentor them through my career guidance process. This gap year can be composed of a diversity of experiences that can be woven together, which only strengthens a student’s portfolio. Common gap year activities that can give a student a leg up include internships, publishing a research paper, completing a credential, taking one or more survey courses in fields of interest, and/or conducting deep research into different fields of interest. 

My career guidance process requires that students spend over 50 hours of time to deeply investigate different fields. A student must acquire an intimate understanding not only of the field they are going to go into, but also all of the subfields in that field. For example, the field of engineering has over 50 subfields. It takes a significant amount of time for a student to understand how those subfields relate to each other.

I recently mentored an Asian student who graduated from BASIS Tucson North, one of the most academically rigorous high schools in the United States. She decided to take a gap year. During this gap year, she went through my PECG™ process. Through our work together, we identified agricultural engineering as her chief interest after she rigorously investigated all 50 subfields of engineering. By identifying this subfield of engineering, she chose a college that was not even on her radar before we began her work. Different schools have different types of engineering opportunities. By deeply investigating a field of interest, you can minimize the chances you will need to transfer once you begin at a particular college.

The gap year makes up for the fact that students in high school are often overwhelmed, especially if they take a significant amount of Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Often, there is literally no time for a student to go through a truly intensive career guidance process.

If you are not sure if your child is ready for college, or you want to identify your child’s skill gaps so they can start college by hitting the ground running, contact me here.

Want to Receive Blog Posts Like This?

Meet Doctor Brunner

Dr. Thomas (Tom) Brunner is a Tucson based psychologist and published expert who has a 20 year track record of clinical excellence, scientific research, teaching, publications, awards and podcast interviews.  He is the senior author of a psychological measure adapted into 14 languages worldwide, and has written over 250 blogs, many of them have gone viral.  He is revolutionizing the field of career guidance with his fresh and trademarked approach that is spreading like wildfire. Sign up here to be notified of soon to be published book, Find Your Real Me: Career Guidance Making You Truly Free.