The Career Path Not Taken

GUEST COLUMN | by David Siminoff

Several years ago, I founded a company called Shmoop – a publisher of digital curriculum and test prep. In addition to getting students ready for those all-important standardized tests, the site strives to prepare them at the same time for college and – cringe – the real world beyond.

Shmoop is all about being real. Real insight. Real stories. Real people. Real turkey. Sorry – we just can’t get on board with that Tofurky stuff.

For every piece of content we create, we ask ourselves, “Where is the hole in the donut?” “Where is the world not giving students (and aren’t we all students?) the real poop?” Whenever we locate one of those holes, we attempt to fill them with… well, donut holes.

One such hole – an area that is suffering badly because of the various budget cuts involving school counseling – is career advice.

About half the country decides not to attend college after completing their secondary education, so for many kids, getting the high school lambskin is it. “Half” is way too much. Some may opt out for financial reasons, because they assume they can’t afford it, even with assistance. Others may be on a predetermined path to take over the family restaurant, hocking pancake specials to the Sunday brunch crowd.

But there are also many students who simply haven’t wandered onto any path whatsoever. Nothing in particular has grabbed them by the shirt collar and energized them to the core. And so, because they never had a guidance counselor to point them in the right direction, or because they had a counselor who pointed them in the wrong one, they figure college isn’t going to be their cup of Red Bull. Nah – college is only for those students who have their lives all worked out before the night of their Senior Prom.

Of course, no one has to have their mind made up that early. But often it’s a matter of a student not even being aware that their dream job is out there somewhere. With a little direction, they may suddenly be able to glom onto an idea that motivates and inspires them, and be able to focus on exactly what needs to be done so they can position themselves to succeed. Take a student with B’s in most of her classes, a few C’s and A’s in math – with just a tad more effort, that student could get a meaningful scholarship to a good university and immediately improve the job options and quality of life they’ll have.

There’s a hole there, and Shmoop is filling it. It’s called Shmoop Careers, and it was soft-launched five months ago, with new career units being added every two weeks.

Our goal, once again, is to be real. Take that same B-ish student with weak-ish drive – they’re simply not going to be a brain surgeon or a hedge fund manager. Those career paths are already closed to them. They may be only 18-years-old, and their mothers may still look at them as their “babies,” but in every part of this country (except maybe in liquor stores and car rental facilities), they are considered adults. Those grades they have spent years accumulating count for something, and if they haven’t been able to knock it out of the park in three and a half years, they certainly won’t be able to make up for it by cramming hard for a week straight.

But just because a few doors have closed doesn’t mean that there aren’t thousands of others that are swinging wide open. (Thought it felt a little drafty in here.) We feel it’s important to make students understand that only a handful of opportunities – the crème de la crème – require straight A’s, a résumé chockfull of extracurricular activities, and 200 hours of community service volunteering at neighborhood soup kitchens. There are numerous alternatives – the crème de la rest – that are open to nearly everyone… assuming they are willing to begin applying themselves in the interest of achieving their new – very achievable – goals.

We want to surface these options to students, and make them see why they should care about where their life is headed. How do you make a young person care (other than by threatening them with suspension of Xbox privileges)? You Scrooge ’em. You show them the Ghosts of the past, present and future. You allow them to gaze through windows to see where they are coming from, where they are now, and where they are going – to show them all that might possibly be in store. This country is indelibly forgiving to those who demonstrate the will to change, to endeavor and advance. To those who care.

At Shmoop careers, we want to be real and, at the same time, demonstrate the upside. We strive to answer the core question: Why bother?

As it turns out, preparing for college and mapping out one’s life doesn’t have to be much of a bother at all.


David Siminoff is the Chief Creative Officer and Founder of Shmoop.

  • Dean


    I really like Shmoop. I’m not American, but the initiative you took shows that Americans ‘still got it’.
    I used it to help me study for allegorous poetry (what a bugger), but it help a lot. So I’m very glad I saw this article. Now I may have a chance to thank you personally.

    Thank you Mr Siminoff.

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