Being beyond your freshman year has its upsides, that’s for sure. You’re past the first-year jitters. You know your campus like the back of your hand. You’ve developed a supportive circle of friends. You may even have figured out how not to pull all-nighters. Life is looking up! That doesn’t mean that your world is free from anxiety, though. After all, according to a 2019 survey of 1,000 college students conducted by Ellucian, 68% of Gen Z college students fret about choosing a major. And there are plenty of reasons why.
First of all, you can end up feeling pretty locked in when you declare a major. Though it’s a relief to have direction, you may wonder about regrets later. According to 2020 data from BestColleges, 61% of college graduates admit that if they could go back, they would change their major.
Secondly, you may not be passionate about your major. Maybe it was your mom’s dream that you become an accountant. Perhaps you decided that a political science major would be the right path to law school — but you haven’t liked your core courses.
You might also be wavering between two career paths that seem dissimilar. You want to be a musician but you also love engineering. You dream of moving to Los Angeles to write films but you’re hoping to teach elementary education. In other words, you want it all and just aren’t sure that it’s feasible.
If you fall into that last category, grab your soothing beverage of choice, put on your comfy clothes, and get ready to put your career fears aside. Here’s what to do if you’re wondering how to choose a career path when you’re stuck between two.
Consider a double major.
If you don’t like the idea of pinning yourself down to one type of job or industry, a double major can open the door to more options. You could even earn more if you end up double majoring in two highly in-demand fields like STEM and business, according to a 2016 study.
The downside to double majoring is getting creative with your course schedule because you will probably have to load up on credits every semester. This is especially true if you decide to double major during your third year when the remaining courses you need to take may be less flexible to move around in order to work in additional classes.
Even if a double major doesn’t look doable, you may find success by minoring in one or more areas. College minors don’t have the same resume sway as majors with some employers, according to Indeed, but they can show a depth of interest and illustrate your interests. A degree loaded with majors and minors can help show how well-rounded you are as a job candidate, which could make you more competitive when you apply for jobs your senior year.
Pick a career path and a side gig.
If you have two careers in mind, rather than going through the next couple of years in angst, go through a little exercise. Jot down your two potential careers and list the pros and cons of each. For example, one might be riskier in terms of netting a job right out of college but offer a higher salary. The other might be easier to “walk into” as an entry-level employee, but not pay as much.
After exploring your two careers, brainstorm if one might be suitable as a side gig. This would allow you to pursue a main passion but keep the other one on the back burner. Plenty of entrepreneurially-minded professionals hold down full-time jobs but keep a fun, rewarding side hustle going, too. Vivian Tu, for example, stumbled into a side hustle as finance influencer @YourRichBFF on TikTok simply by answering financial questions from friends. If your side hustle is in hot demand now, such as being a virtual assistant or a freelance writer, you might be able to do it while you’re still studying.
Try an internship to see if you like the work.
Are you just finishing up your first or second year of college? See if you can get a summer or on-campus internship in your preferred career. Being an intern in an industry like finance, social work, or museum studies will help you know if you like it enough to make it your main source of employment.
In addition to helping you navigate your desired field before you commit to working in it full-time, internships can keep your resume on par with the rest of your graduating class. Around 60% of all college graduates complete at least one internship before graduation, according to data obtained by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). And if you make a great impression, there’s a chance you could be offered a job after graduation.
Not able to find a formal internship? Take matters into your own hands by looking into job shadowing at a company you admire.
High Point University’s Megan Parker, director of corporate relations for the Office of Career and Professional Development, says students can approach a company they are interested in shadowing through a multi-step process. “Reach out to the HR department to ask about internship opportunities that may not be advertised. If they don’t have a formal internship program, ask about the possibility of speaking with a member of the executive team who would be able to give you insight into the company culture and job roles at the company,” Parker tells Her Campus.
“Once you know more about the internal workings of the company, you can decide whether or not to take the next step of asking about the possibility of shadowing someone. People are often far more willing to say ‘yes’ to ideas than we give them credit for. And if things go well, you may have an opening to approach them for a full-time position after graduation.”
Take some career aptitude tests.
When all else fails and you still can’t figure out how to proceed, follow Socrates’ “know thyself” route by diving into career aptitude tests. These tests are designed to highlight jobs that might be ideal for your natural talents, personality, and perceived purpose. Many online career aptitude tests are free, which makes it easy to take more than one, so you can have a variety of results to evaluate.
For better, more objective results, ask your besties their opinion. Bringing your friends into the mix will reveal how others see you. It can be a huge eye-opener to hear the job path that your personal cheerleaders would choose for you.
If you’re close to any professors that you see as mentors, you could ask for their feedback, too. MentorCloud’s CEO, Pankaj Srivastava, tells Her Campus, “Your career is part of a lifelong journey that can benefit tremendously from mentoring relationships. A good mentor can help you discover your superpowers and help navigate through the ebbs and flows of your career.” The more input you get, the simpler it will be to settle on a major and a budding career.
I’m not going to lie: You’ll still wake up at two in the morning and wonder what you’ve done from time to time. This tends to happen after a tough week spent hitting the books — and the caffeine. Don’t worry, though. Even if you graduate and start a career, you’re never locked in. Trust yourself to do what makes sense for Future You today with the understanding that tomorrow may hold surprises.
This piece was originally posted April 14, 2022.