Chandra S. Pemmasani, M.D., is the founder and CEO of UWorld, a worldwide leader in online learning for high-stakes exams.

Education is undergoing a rapid digital shift. Twenty years ago, students and teachers largely relied on textbooks and written exams to measure class performance. Today, the education technology industry alone is valued at more than $230 billion and is poised to surpass $540 billion by 2032.

Since I completed my medical residency in 2005 and started my company, which provides online learning for high-stakes exams, I’ve seen countless transformations in the job market. Many of these have been driven by technology. I believe emerging technology will only continue to drive a seismic shift in the job landscape and influence hiring priorities, all at a time when the cost of college is increasing.

With so much change from the classroom to careers, it’s become more important than ever to be relentlessly intentional when planning one’s education. Whether you’re aspiring to become a leader or you’re going back to college to further or pivot your career, this intention can help you set yourself up for success in the job market of the future.

The Current Landscape

It’s no surprise that the adoption of artificial intelligence at scale will drive new required skills, no matter the industry. As a company that provides exam preparation and supplemental resources for colleges and high schools, we are constantly anticipating what will be the next driver of change across the industries we serve.

In education technology alone, I see an eagerness to incorporate emerging technologies in products to streamline the development of custom study planners and adaptive testing capabilities, as well as to provide immediate performance feedback. There’s a widespread reset in standardized test content for professions such as nursing and accounting in response to evolving technologies used in these fields and a transition to digital testing with SAT exams.

Regarding career readiness, employers often prioritize talent with strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills. With AI managing more repetitive tasks, companies need employers to perform higher-order skills. This new focus is driving shifts in educational content and requiring more simulations, interactive environments and real-world practice to help meet the evolving demands of employers.

Schools are working to meet this need through a more rigorous admissions process across majors. Schools such as Dartmouth, Yale, MIT and more have reinstated requirements to include standardized test scores in college applications because they’ve been deemed by these institutions as a valuable way to gauge college success. At the same time, we’re seeing historic lows in test scores as a ripple effect of the learning loss due to the pandemic.

All of this is happening while higher education costs soar. The average cost of attending an in-state public school for a four-year degree has reached roughly $28,000 per year (when factoring in costs such as transportation, books, tuition, room and board, etc.). This number only climbs for out-of-state or private school students.

What This Means For Students

All this to say, if someone attending college is not intentional with planning their education, the repercussions can be costly and time-consuming to course correct. While it might feel overwhelming to plan for years ahead, these decisions don’t need to be daunting. There are steps you can take to set yourself up for success.

First, do your research. You don’t need to know the exact job you want to land, but odds are you know which fields interest you. Understanding what degrees lead to your desired field or position can help determine the right majors or classes to take. Degrees in STEM, for example, can open doors to a number of careers beyond a selected major.

Next, understand what technical skills are needed for jobs in that industry, and develop a class schedule catered to rounding out your skill set. Those interested in an accounting career, for example, can gain a competitive angle by building their knowledge in data analytics tools like Tableau or Power BI.

Making The Most Of Education

Rising costs and a competitive and rapidly evolving job market make it more critical than ever to be intentional with one’s education. But intentionality in education spans beyond classes and coursework.

College is unique in that your peers could be your future colleagues, clients, customers and business partners. Don’t let these years go by without capitalizing on the opportunity to network and build relationships, even if you’re going back to school mid-career. Join clubs that can help you learn more about what jobs may interest you or that may help refine skills that will pay off in the long run. Turn to teachers, guest speakers and other students to develop your cohort of mentors. And for the aspiring entrepreneur or even those who aren’t anticipating entrepreneurship, I implore you to do one thing: Always keep your mind open to new opportunities.

I didn’t originally plan to start a company. I wanted to write a book to help medical students like me better prepare for their licensure exams because the resources at the time were prohibitively expensive and of limited use. But book publishers were hesitant to partner with me until I finished my formal medical training. While the internet was still fairly new, I saw it as a tool where I could begin posting my material for sale online, and it exploded with popularity. Once I discovered the formula for creating educational content, I realized that I had a viable business idea.

Pivoting your career or entering the workforce, be it as an employee or entrepreneur, will come with its own set of challenges as the landscape continues to evolve. However, by planning your education to cater specifically to your career goals, you can set yourself up for success that pays significant dividends in the years that follow.

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