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Relying on role models as ONE way to identify potential colleges or programs seems pretty simple, right? All you have to do is 1) think about your favorite or most admired celebrity, politician or local business person, 2) check where they went to school or what degrees/diplomas/certificates/other training they completed, and 3) you have some entries for your list. Right?


Yes, one easy way to find potential colleges or programs is to explore the background of a high-profile role model. Their training can give you some idea of the type training and experience that can succeed in that job or career.

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On the more challenging side, what if you are not interested in the careers of your favorite movie star or professor? What if your role model worked his way into his success, without a degree? Also, the best roles models may not be the ones you read about in the news or find via hashtag trends.

Here are some guidelines for finding role models or successful people who you may want to learn about as an example of potential education and training:

  • Think about what you want to do as a career….or for your next job or two.
  • Find successful people with that career or job. You can define success in different ways, including income, influence on the field, their work-life balance, how often they are quoted in news articles, etc.

            Here are some places to start:

  • Awards. Search for words like “hero” or “top” or “the best” and add words for you career like “nutrition expert” or “CEO.”
  • Professional organizations. Start with words for your career or job like “chemist” or “librarian” and add words like “association” or “professional.” Look for leaders in these groups, including staff and committee chairs.
  • Conferences. Professional organizations usually host annual conferences for their members and others. They also tend to publish an agenda of key sessions. People invited to talk or participate in sessions are typically viewed with respect or as a success in some way. Also look at other types of conferences in your area of interest to see who gives the keynote address, for example.
  • News sources or guests. Journalists tend to rely on experts or people who are successful in some way.
  • Family/friends in the field or with similar jobs.
  • Popular blogs, talks (like TED talks), etc. As you look at these types of sources, don’t forget that popular people are not automatically good role models.

In addition to exploring a written or online background, you may also learn from asking a successful person or two for advice on what training or education would help a newcomer succeed in her position or career. You may be surprised to learn how their education connects…and sometimes does not connect…to their current success.

Finally, don’t forget that roles models should be one of several sources of inspiration for your career or job and how you pursue it! 

Starting Your Potential List of Colleges/Programs: Intro and Wikipedia (Part 1) – ways to start your potential list of colleges/programs:

  • Local experiences (Part 2): considering local colleges/programs that are familiar (e.g., because you drive by them every week)
  • Word of mouth (Part 3): knowing about options because you have family, friends or advisors who attended those colleges/programs or who work there
  • Rankings (Part 4): choosing potential options based on a credible evaluation that ranks the opportunities
  • Role models or prominent people (Part 5): adding options to your potential list based on the education of successful people, athletic teams, etc. you have read or heard about or seen [FEATURED IN THIS POST]
  • Browsing (Part 6): finding potential options by accident or as you search for information for other reasons