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Researchers at Dalhousie University identified the following personality types in students and the tracks they take from high school to university:

NAVIGATORS: These are the “early foreclosers,” psychology professor Michael Ungar says – typically top students who decide what they want to be early and go straight to university, usually sticking with their program. For some this works out, Dr. Ungar says. But students in this group are also more likely to forge on in degree programs they don’t like, and end up either underemployed or trapped in a profession they wouldn’t choose on a do-over. “They want to become an engineer,” Dr. Ungar says, “but they don’t really realize that engineers sit behind a desk a lot.”

EXPLORERS: These are the students, Dr. Ungar says, who come home after their first year of university and announce to their parents, “I think I am going to take a year off to learn Italian.” They will try different jobs – and maybe different programs – before settling on one. “They’re thinking of the next steps. They try to gather experience,” he says. “They have a direction, but they don’t have an end point.” These students tended to report higher levels of job satisfaction.

DRIFTERS: The most worrisome for parents, students in this group appearto have no plan, no idea what they want to do, and are more likely to spend too much time sitting around on the coach playing video games. “They appear to be aimless, and in some cases they are,” says Dr. Ungar. “But here’s the good thing: They don’t always end up unhappy.” In the study, many students who lacked clear plans eventually stumbled onto a job or career goal that worked for them. Ideally, though, parents should encourage their drifting students to seek out new experiences so they are exposed to as many options as possible, Dr. Ungar says.

Erin Anderssen

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