Sunday, September 18, 2011

How to Choose Your Major and Your Path

What are you majoring in? What do you want to do when you grow up? What is your five-year plan? 

Do you know the answers to these questions? 

It’s okay if you don’t. Many of my blogs have focused on reminding you that it is okay to change your mind and keep exploring who you are and what you want to do with your life. It is an adventure that can continue for the rest of your life. But there is an important piece of this puzzle I have yet to address. 

If you had asked me 5 years ago what my major was and what I was going to do with my life I wouldn’t have ever dreamed I’d be where I am today. I wouldn't have known what I was going to get my Master's degree in or what my job was going to be. 

But. And this is huge. I would have had an answer.

Was I always 100% sure of that answer? No.

Did my answer change? All the time.

Did having a direction help me get money for college, stay motivated, and enjoy college? Yes

Every day, I had some kind of goal and direction for my life based on what I knew about myself and the world at that time. As I grew older, took more classes, and became more exposed to the world I learned more about myself and what opportunities were out there and naturally my career goals changed. They still change and evolve all the time. 

But I've never moved through life without some sort of goal. And while your choice of major can certainly change from one extreme to another, you should eventually get yourself on a path that moves away from dramatic shifts in focus to simply becoming more and more refined as you learn and grow.

I just read an article this week that said choosing a path in community college leads to higher grad rates. Without even reading the article I am sure you can guess why this is true. I certainly did.  If I didn’t have a greater goal in mind (e.g. my initial goal in community college was to be an English teacher) it would have been almost impossible for me to find the motivation to get through my math classes.

Honestly, it would be hard to even wake up in the morning to go to class without knowing how it affected your life and your goals and your dreams and your direction.

I always saw the greater purpose in what I was doing every single day. It kept me focused. It kept me motivated. It kept me in college. 

So while you don’t need to define your entire life's future today, you do need to start building your path.

That path may twist and turn and take you through places you could have never dreamed. But you’ll never be able to experience that adventure if you don’t pick a direction. You can’t just stand in the middle of the woods hoping someone will show you the way.

So how do you start picking a direction if you have no idea? There are many ways you can start exploring options and making decisions. Below are the ones that worked best for me:

1. Go to your career center and take every career assessment they have.

2. Pay attention to the careers that match your personality and interest you.

3. Find someone who majored in that subject or works in that industry and ask them what they like about their job, what they don’t like about their job, what type of person is most successful in that job, and what advice they have for you.

4. Rinse and repeat for any career/major that you find interesting.

5. Talk to a lot of trusted mentors and friends about what you’ve learned and about what careers/majors you’re considering. Get their feedback.

6. Research your major possibilities online. “Jobs for major X” or  “majors for career X” or “Jobs for personality X.”

7. If you're still unsure, consider choosing a general major (e.g. When I transferred to community college I still wasn't 100% sure what job I wanted, so I chose communications because I loved people, loved studying how we communicate, and loved the course descriptions.

And I knew the major would transfer into many different careers as I talked to a lot of people with different jobs I liked and they all had majored in communications). If you're deeply unsure do not choose a major that translates into a very specific industry (e.g. medicine). 

8. Choose a direction. Choose a major. Pick one.

9. Find the educational plan in the catalog/website of the university you want to transfer to after you finish community college. Print it out and make an appointment with an educational advisor at your community college. Compare the educational plan with your current course schedule plan at community college and ensure you’re on track.

10. Never stop exploring, researching, and staying on top of your path and direction. This should be fun. If it isn’t fun to continue to explore your future, then restart at the beginning and find a direction that you find invigorating, exciting, and that moves you to want to contribute to the world in your own unique way.

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