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What is Navigation? Helping Students Find their Way Along the College and Career Journey

Students need help with their future plans. When life is full of choices, it can be hard to know where to begin. ACT acts as a compass and a guide. We provide direction and a route to help students “navigate” the college* and career journey.

Where we’ve been

Historically, navigation has focused on the journey from high school to college or career. The ACT Interest Inventory, administered to millions of students since 1971, is a hallmark of ACT’s programs. It helps students explore preferred education and career options and discover personally relevant career paths. Students can also figure out which academic programs and careers are a good fit for their interests, abilities, and/or values. Research shows that people who make education and career choices that are a good fit with their interests are likely to be more motivated, satisfied, and achieve their goals.

The Career Map and Major Map help students explore possibilities based on their interests.

In addition to their interests and strengths, students are greatly influenced by their environments at home and at school. Supportive environments make a big difference in what goals students pursue and the steps they take to pursue them. Guardians, counselors, and educators are important advocates in the college and career planning process. These individuals help to broaden students’ perspectives on what is possible for both college and career. A network of advocates can be particularly critical for students from underserved backgrounds who may perceive fewer opportunities or be exposed to fewer options in their environments.

To help students navigate key transitions, ACT created a research-based framework emphasizing the knowledge and skills needed for education and workplace success. The ACT Holistic Framework includes four important domains that contribute to this success. Education and career navigation (related to exploration, decision-making, and planning) is one of the four domains, and critical for helping students achieve their goals. Within this domain, there are four dimensions that contribute to navigating education and career transitions effectively:

ACT has identified the transitions (e.g. middle to high school, high school to postsecondary or work) and best practices that support navigation success over time.

Where we are

Beyond the interest inventory and navigation insights students receive after they take the ACT test, we offer many avenues for exploration and discovery.

  • Free college and career planning tools in MyACT.
  • The My Success campaign for students to share their stories about the college and career journey to inspire others who may be navigating a similar path.
  • The American College Application Campaign (ACAC), now a part of ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning, helps high school seniors from underserved backgrounds navigate the complex college application and admissions process and encourages them to apply to at least one postsecondary institution.
  • Research that helps learners make decisions about their future. Our latest career report provides information on skills needed for different jobs to help students explore careers within different career pathways that fit their talents and interests.
The most important point we can make about navigation is that it is an ongoing process, and not necessarily linear! There are many routes to becoming successful. Setbacks are inevitable, no matter where you’re coming from or going to. Having a “growth mindset” perspective as you move through the journey is helpful.

Given the new and emerging educational ecosystem, ACT has reaffirmed its commitment to navigation through its transformation to become a learning, measurement and navigation organization. We acquired the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCCUA) in 2018 to provide more students with comprehensive resources to navigate their future. NRCCUA offers a free planning service called myOptions, which provides college and career planning assistance to students, parents, and educators nationwide so they can explore a wide range of post-secondary opportunities.

Where we’re going

We continue to enhance and develop navigation resources, tools, and insights that help students earlier and throughout the college and career planning process. We also know that navigation is important for both learning and measurement.

For instance, students taking the ACT receive scores that have meaning only when interpreted within some context. It allows students to figure out how well they performed compared to others, whether they are college ready, and whether they would qualify for admissions at different colleges. These contexts help to inform navigation-related decisions to re-take the ACT for a better score. Test scores can also inform the direction students take to major in a specific field or pursue a specific career pathway. For example, a student who obtained high ACT scores on the math and science sections of the test may want to consider majoring in a STEM field. Similarly, in terms of learning, navigation can help students figure out what to do next and direct them to class resources that can help them get to where they want to go.

Technology is influencing traditional navigation opportunities and driving new ways to provide resources to students and their advocates. We are seeing more virtual college tours, online practice job interviews, and career counselors on-demand. The use of apps and plug-ins to address navigation needs (particularly from a financial perspective) and assist students with the college and career planning process continues to grow. Technology can also support building partnerships between parents, guardians, schools, teachers, counselors, and business leaders to better serve students’ navigational needs.

It’s an exciting time as we strive to help all students meet their potential and navigate their paths toward education and workplace success.


*“College” comprises a range of postsecondary options, including certificate, two-year, and four-year degree programs.

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About ACT

ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Grounded in 60 years of research, ACT is a trusted leader in college and career readiness solutions. Each year, ACT serves millions of students, job seekers, schools, government agencies and employers in the US and around the world with learning resources, assessments, research and credentials designed to help them succeed from elementary school through career.