It is well accepted that CD8+ T cells play a pivotal role in providing protection against infection with intracellular pathogens and some tumors. In many cases protective immunity is maintained for long periods of time (immunological memory). Over the past years, it has become evident that in order to fulfill these multiple tasks, distinct subsets of effector and memory T cells have to be generated. Until today, however, little is known about the underlying mechanisms of subset differentiation and the timing of lineage fate decisions. In this context, it is of special importance to determine at which level of clonal expansion functional and phenotypical heterogeneity is achieved. Different models for T cell subset diversification have been proposed; these differ mainly in the time point during priming and clonal expansion (prior, during, or beyond the first cell division) when differentiation programs are induced. Recently developed single-cell adoptive transfer technology has allowed us to demonstrate that individual precursor cell still bears the full plasticity to develop into a plethora different T cell subsets. This observation targets the shaping of T cell subset differentiation towards factors that are still operative beyond the first cell division. These findings have important implications for vaccine development, as the modulation of differentiation patterns towards distinct subsets could become a powerful strategy to enhance the efficacy and quality of vaccines.