Even if you already have a good idea about the career path you want to follow after you graduate from college, deciding which steps you need take to make it happen can be a pretty intense experience. There are so many things to consider: Which classes you should take, the major you should declare, the extracurriculars you should get involved in, and the summer internships you should apply for are just a few of them. These decisions are even more daunting if you’re still among the thousands of college students or college hopefuls that are undecided about the direction they want their professional life to take.
Thankfully, even if you don’t exactly know what you want to do with your life just yet, there are many things you can do to help you sort through all your options and narrow down the possibilities. By using resources that are already at your disposal, you’ll be able to get a better idea of the path you’d like to take.
Don’t simply use your classes as a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Use them to try our different fields and gauge your interest in them. Don’t be afraid, particularly during your freshman year, to experiment with as varied a class selection as you can—and go outside your comfort zone! If you’ve always been a “math” person, why not give sociology a try? If English is usually your home base, give astronomy a shot. Let your mainstays have a chance, too: That will either confirm your love for a subject or let you know that you should look outside your tried-and-true interest for a career possibility. Using your classes as more than just an academic experience will give you an easy, foolproof way to see what’s out there—and all while fulfilling your academic requirements.
Although certainly a little more involved than simply trying out different single classes, sampling different minor courses of study might be a good way for you to gain more than a superficial or beginner’s look at different fields. While minors aren’t as comprehensive as majors, they still allow you to take advanced classes in a subject, and are easier to change and fulfill requirements for than a major. If you’ve narrowed down your possible fields of interest to 2 or 3 different subjects, consider making one of them (the one that attracts you the most) your major, and then trying out one of the others as a minor.
Extracurriculars are a great way to become involved in a variety of interests without worrying about how they’ll affect your academic career. No grades, no homework, no professors—just the opportunity to work with your peers, and determine your level of interest in specific pursuits. Again, just like with your classes, don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone! Perhaps you’ve never done debating—consider joining a political society. Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as a writer; the school newspaper might be a good place for you to check out. Looking outside the box may just bring to light a passion you didn’t know you had. Just like with your classes, though, don’t forget to also try out some student clubs that are in your usual go-to fields, just to make sure that the things you’ve loved in the past or think you may love now are still things you enjoy and can see yourself doing even after graduation.
A little more involved than extracurriculars, becoming involved with community service activities will not only let you see if you like a particular field, it will also show you if you like working within that particular field. Community service is not just about having fun with your friends; it is often about hard work and helping others, which willput your interest to the test. Colleges are great places to find community service projects and activities to become involved with—everything from environmental groups to inner-city youth organizations have college groups that let students become involved with each initiative. You may discover a gift for this kind of work, and decide to pursue it further. In addition, colleges are usually open to helping students found their own organizations, so if you realize that you’re passionate about these endeavors you can become even more involved and create something you can continue long after graduation.
The Career Center
Use your college’s Career Center to obtain term-time and summer jobs in positions that attract you. Not only will this build up your employment résumé, it will also allow you to see, much like with community service work, if your interest in a field extends to actually wanting to work in it. This will also allow you to test out multiple positions and career directions without adversely affecting your post-graduate employment opportunities—in fact, it may actually enhance them! In addition, many college career centers also have counselors that are specially trained to guide you through the career selection process, as well as tests you can take and videos you can view to determine which jobs and career appeal to you the most.
Probably nothing is as valuable as being able to talk to those that are already practicing in the careers you’re considering. And no one will have more of a vested interest in talking to you and answering your questions than men and women who have also attended your college. They will not only want to show you what they do, they’ll be able to provide you with insightful and direct answers to your questions, the pros and cons of their professions, what they wish they’d done differently, what they wish they’d done more of, and how you can best get started on the path they’ve already walked down on. Talk to your college’s alumni association and ask them to put you in touch with graduates in the jobs and fields you’re looking into—they’ll be glad to help, and you’ll get an invaluable insider’s look at your potential future.
Not having a concrete idea of where you’d like your life to go professionally can certainly be a little frustrating, but it’s nothing that some planning and determination can’t help figure out. By using the resources available to you and availing yourself of what your school has to offer, you’ll not only be able to make an informed decision, you’ll also be able to make a happy one.
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