Too many people I know just chose a degree, moved through the program, graduated, looked around and asked “What now?” But if you start planning your career before you even settle on a degree program, you’ll be more likely to know exactly what you’re doing after graduation and probably even have a job lined up.

Your School-to-Career Roadmap

Whether you’re going to school for the first time, looking to advance in your current career or want to break into another field entirely, your success depends largely on your ability to map out the path that gets you there. Mapping it out requires asking yourself some important questions:

What’s your destination?

What kind of work are you interested in? What kinds of professions exist in your chosen field? Do any of them have the kind of salary you’ll need to support the lifestyle you want? Should you work in the public or private sector? Do you want to work for a big firm, or would you rather work for yourself? These questions all relate to the quality of life and professional opportunity that people often don’t think about until they’re actually out there in the workforce.

How do you get there?

Knowing your destination, you can start to get down to brass tacks and map out the path to achieving your goal. This means more questions: Is a degree required? Strayer can help you find the right academic program, identify the classes you need and help you plan a schedule that gets you from registration to graduation.

How much experience do you need to get to the final position you’re aiming for? Would an internship provide you with the resume boost it takes to land a job once you’re finished with your program? Can you transition to that or a related position from your current job, maybe even in the same company? Does your current job experience, military experience or personal skill set make it likely that you’ll have a leg up on the competition?

Once you know the jobs you want and the experience and schooling you need to get there, how are you going to make that happen logistically? How are you doing to finance school? (We have resources to help you locate financial aid and plan how to pay for your degree.)

Why You Should Start Early

You might be asking, “I’ve got time to figure this out, right? I have a 2/4-year degree program.” But that’s your procrastinating brain talking! Too many students find out halfway through their degree program that what they’ve chosen isn’t going to get them to the destination they really want. And a lot of them don’t even really have a career in mind; they just figure some job will be there for them upon graduation, only to find that they should have developed some particular skill, learned some program or taken on a specialized internship to help them land a job. Trust me; you don’t want to be in that position.

Start planning now. Know the jobs you want, read the job descriptions for postings for those jobs, and connect with professionals already working in that industry to see what their jobs are like and sniff out possible job opportunities. Planning ahead helps you avoid the financial and career speed-bumps that all too often derail people on their track to a brilliant career.