Struggling to pick (or keep) a major? Here’s your solution
By Patrick O’Brien
Going to college will help you figure out what you want to do when you grow up. Right?
To be honest, the best answer I can give to that question is a solid “maybe.”
Just going to college, attending classes, binging on Netflix or PS4, and enjoying a quality social life will likely leave you just as bewildered as you are today about what major (and career) might be right for you.
The liberal arts classes you’ll take as a freshman may include a science, an English class, a history class, a math class and maybe even a foreign language. All great stuff to know, but really an extension of what you learned in high school in many cases.
Your professors may go deeper into the subject matter than your teachers did in high school. And, you’ll likely get to pick from a range of classes, so you can take courses that are a bit more appealing to you. That said, you’ll gain little insight in most cases as to whether you should be a social worker, sales person, scientist, or a second grade teacher.
Sometimes your path can be obvious. If you were the president of the Lego-building club in 3rd through 7th grade, loved the robotics club in high school, and fly drones, you might be a candidate for engineering.
If you build websites for fun, learned how to write computer code on your own, and have mastered Google Analytics and AdWords, you might be an IT or interactive studies major.
For most of us however, the path is not nearly so obvious. You’ll likely need to do some work during college to find the right major (and career path) for your future.
To best determine the right path for you, it’s often the opportunities you’ll find on a college campus “outside” the classroom that will shed real light on what you should pursue from a career standpoint, and therefore, what might be an appropriate major for you. Here are five things you can go to begin to “crack the code:”
- Visit the career center. This is not typical behavior for an underclassman. That’s why I recommend it. By visiting the career center, you can get a broad sense of who recruits at the school, and by talking to the staff, begin to understand what majors typically lead to what jobs in the real world. Many career centers also offer free tests to help you determine what careers (and majors) might be a good fit for you based on your strengths and interests.
- Go to the career fair. Nothing delights me more than a freshman or sophomore at the career fair. It’s a wonderful introduction into the world of recruitment, and you’ll get a first-hand look at which employers recruit at your school, what jobs they hire for, and what majors are most appealing to them. You’ll likely feel a bit awkward at your first career fair, but take a deep breath, and go talk to some employers. Most of them are good conversationalists and will help you get comfortable with the process.
- Talk to family and friends. While you’ve been talking to family and friends since you were a kid, perhaps it’s time to change the topic of the conversations. Ask adult family friends what they do for a living, and what they like best and least about it. Ask them where they might see you fitting into the “real world.” They may have some interesting insights for you, and the more you learn about the different careers, the better sense you’ll have about what might be a fit for you personally. Don’t forget the significance of mentors – people who have found success before you who can help you as you navigate your journey.
- Go to speaker presentations. One of the amazing opportunities associated with being on a college campus is the wide range of amazing professional speakers you can go see for free. Many of the speakers will be there talking about their careers (and career opportunities in their industry and with their firms). Going to these free presentations can help you fine tune your thoughts on what you might like or not like about a particular industry.
- Do a little research. Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a government publication that is loaded with information about every possible career you might pursue. It’s loaded with facts, from how many people get hired into a starting role in a job each year, to salary progression, and what you’ll do in a typical day in the role. By the way, salary is only one component of a job. Whatever field you choose to pursue, know that you’ll be spending 50+ hours per week doing it – so make sure it’s something you enjoy.
- Job shadow. Once you think you have a sense of direction, try to spend a day or two with someone working in this field. See what he or she does all day, and think about whether or not that would be appealing to you. You may need to be creative to find a way to get a job shadow opportunity, but professors can be a good resource here, as can family and friends.
- Breathe. If you have an iWatch, every day it will offer you a 60-second opportunity to simply breathe. Whether you own an iWatch or not, the idea of “breathing” is is never more relevant than when you’re trying to pick a major or life’s work. Careers are more non-linear than ever, so take a bit of comfort in knowing that you have room to move from one major to another, and then pick a job that wasn’t an obvious outcome of your major, and it all has a way of working out.
As I talk about in my book, Making College Count, if you earn a strong GPA in college, have significant extracurricular successes, gain some relevant work experience, and develop the skills that future employers are looking for, you should have ample opportunities available to you as a college senior headed into the real world.
So, work hard, be very proactive … and don’t forget to breathe.
Source: USA Today