Mapping out the journey: Aptitude tests point college grads
toward career paths
August 2, 2007
By Lauren Sutherland Staff Writer
Just call it karmic, not kinetic, energy.
Joe Whitlock liked physics while a student at Neuqua Valley
High School. He studied it at the honors and Advanced Placement
levels, and placed seventh of 300 entries in the school's
model bridge building competition.
"I know it's going to be tough," says Naperville
resident and Neuqua graduate Joe Whitlock, 18, about attending
the University of Iowa to study engineering in the fall. For
now, Whitlock said he is "just trying to relax and spend
some time with my family." Here, he plays disc golf with
his brother, Keith, on Monday evening at Knoch Knolls Park
He figured he might have a knack for engineering, but by
his senior year, he wasn't any closer to deciding what or
where he would study.
Then Whitlock's father, Terry, attended a workshop hosted
by Glen Ellyn occupational consultant Career Vision, and won
a raffle for a free aptitude consultation and testing package.
After a day of testing at the company's office, Whitlock
walked away with an exhaustive list of his strengths, interests,
and compatible careers, as well as a strengthened sense of
"I kind of had an idea about doing something in engineering,
but (Career Vision) helped to reaffirm that I have the skills
that it requires," said Joe, 18.
According to the results, he was best suited for industrial
engineering, a field he'd previously known little about. This
fall, he will enroll in the College of Engineering at the
University of Iowa.
"Without (Career Vision) I would have gone into college
kind of scared," he said.
The perfect career has been a proverbial Holy Grail for generations
of students. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the
average college student changes careers once in the three
years after graduation, and two to three times in a lifetime.
Almost two-thirds of American college students change their
majors at least once. That's hardly surprising, considering
the College Board's book of majors describes more than 900
different majors offered at 3,600 American colleges and universities.
"It's important to make sure kids aren't advancing to
college without direction, changing their major five or six
times because they're not engaged," said Sue Simpson,
the regional outreach manager for Career Vision.
For students having to make those difficult life choices,
aptitude assessment turns career planning into a science.
"Aptitude testing is the science of understanding what
one's innate talents or ability to acquire talents are, and
(maps) those innate talents with the best career choices,"
When it was established in 1989, Career Vision was mainly
a resort for adults considering mid-life career changes. Now,
Simpson said most of their clients are students.
"(Aptitude testing) is the missing piece in career planning,"
Simpson said. "Most high school students haven't had
exposure to careers, and kids are mostly assessed in academics."
Career Vision clients take the Ball Aptitude Battery, a series
of tests involving less conventional tasks such as block building
and puzzles. Based on their scores, clients receive a personalized
profile of how well they demonstrate 23 aptitudes ranging
from creativity to spatial reasoning, and how those relate
to different occupations.
These types of services are as much a help to parents, who
by default are their kids' most influential guidance counselors.
"You tend to follow what you know best," said Terry,
who became an accountant after his brother's example. "(Our
family) is in business, sales or accounting. I recommended
that engineering might be a good fit (for Joe), but I didn't
know if I was steering him down the wrong path."
Career experts generally endorse aptitude testing but caution
that it is a test and not a crystal ball.
"Students will ask me, 'Is there a test I can take to
tell me what I should be?' and I don't think there is,"
said Jeff Denard, a career counselor at North Central College.
"(Aptitude testing) can be helpful, and give you clarity,
but by itself it is not a sole indicator."
Denard said students should put equal weight on other factors,
such as personality, academics, and personal and professional
Simpson concedes that aptitude tests shouldn't be seen as
a one-track route to success and satisfaction.
"We don't pigeonhole kids, or tell them 'here's what
you should do'," she said. "We give them recommendations,
and probably nine out of 10 times our clients go with them,
and they are happy."