College is supposed to be the best time of our lives, but many students will spend countless nights crying in their dorm rooms instead of living it up. The stress of figuring out the rest of your life is immeasurable, especially when everyone around you seems to have it all planned out. Your boyfriend is applying to med schools, your best friend has three amazing magazine internships under her belt….even the greasy kid down the hall has a full-time job offer, and it’s only September!
Your parents, teachers, and advisors expect you to start applying for jobs, but forget that….you don’t even know what you would be interested in doing. Maybe your “dream” internship turned out to be different than you expected, or you just realized that your stimulating philosophy major isn’t exactly going to come in handy for much. Either way, you probably feel like your college career has left you with more questions about your future than answers. You also aren’t alone. Penn State Junior Robin Choy says she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do yet, like many others her age. “It’s scary to think about, but I’m just going with the flow. I also have to decide if I want to live in Korea or the States, so that’s extra pressure,” she says. College can be stressful for students who don’t have a five-year plan, but it’s also the perfect time to experiment.
The last thing you want to do is trap yourself in a major or career that you hate. Take the time now to explore your interests and figure out what is best for you. It may take you an extra semester, or cost you big money, but think of that time and cash as the biggest investment of your life: investment in your happiness and your future. The first thing you can do for yourself is to think about what you want out of life. Is making money more important to you than where you will live? Do you want to be your own boss, or have the security of working for a company? These early decisions will help you decide what kind of field you want to get into.
Business women working on Wall Street simply won’t have the same time to devote to a family as artists in New Hampshire will. Decide what is important to you, without forgetting that your job should make you happy. Maggie Scotilla, a career counselor at Penn State University, says the most important part of finding a career you’ll love is to get experience in the field. If you think you love fashion writing, get as many internships as you can in the industry. Write for your student newspaper and magazine, work in a clothing store, and study up on designers. If you feel bored and stressed, take note of that! It’s best to know before you graduate and depend on the money from your job.
Once you get a better feel for what you want to do, there are plenty of steps you can take to develop that five year plan:
1. Many schools offer career decision-making courses! You’ll learn the tips you’ll need to find a major and a job while earning credits toward graduation. Check with your school to see if something like this exists for you.
2. Start networking now. Talk to everyone you know, tell them over and over what major you’ve chosen, or if you’re not so into your major, what other interests you have. You never know who might have an aunt in the physical therapy field, or who can hook you up with an amazing photography internship.
3. Shadow a professor or professional in the field you are considering. Do they seem happy with what they are doing? Is there room for growth in their position? Take notes on what you liked and didn’t like about the day you spent in that person’s life.
4. Connect with alumni. Going to a college gives you a huge wealth of resources to tap into. Graduates from your alma mater will be more willing to help a fellow Harvard student or UCLA football fan than some random kid off the street.
5. Visit your school’s career center. The people in these buildings have devoted their lives to helping you know what you want to do with yours. Ask them what books to read, what websites to visit, what classes to take. They are experts on helping you, so utilize this service to the fullest.
While it’s perfectly normal not to know what you want to do with the rest of your life at such a young age, it’s up to you to get your butt in gear and figure it out. No one can do it for you, but by looking at the activities you love to do and combining that knowledge with the advice of career counselors, you’ll be on your way to a life you love in no time. Need a little more hand-holding (nothing wrong with that!)?
Here, we’ve broken down three of the common “I feel lost!” problems and gotten you on your way to solving them.
Problem 1: You hated your “dream” summer internship.
Solve It!: Figure out what about it you hated. Did you hate staring at a computer screen all day? Did you hate having to travel so much? Did you hate working in a big office? Isolate what it was that made you not like it, and use that knowledge to help inform your career search for the future.
Problem 2: Your major has nothing to do with what you want to do after college.
Solve It!: You can still make yourself marketable for a field you aren’t studying! Take Gen-Eds that will teach you the skills you want to learn. Spend your weekend learning a new computer system. Or use your extracurriculars or summer internships to pursue your true career passion.
Problem 3: You had always planned on going to Med/Law School and just decided you don’t want to.
Solve It!: In this case, you really need to weigh the importance of those extra years in school. If you can’t advance professionally because you’re lacking a degree, you’ll regret not applying to Med/Law schools. However, if the job you now want doesn’t demand a diploma, take that tuition money and use it to start your life as a working woman. You’ll get a head start learning the ropes of your new career, and hopefully get promoted to an ideal position in no time at all. If you’re still not happy, you can always reconsider the grad school path.
Sources: Robin Choy, student at Penn State University Maggie Scotilla, career counselor at Penn State University