“So… what are you going to do with that major?”
It’s the question that that you may not have an answer to, because you may not have totally clear plans for your future yet. Even though talking about your potential career should be exciting, it can also be a source of anxiety when you really have no clue what you want to do.
Every student has questioned their future career plans at least once throughout college. But fret not, undecided ones! Her Campus asked the experts why it’s okay to question your post-college plans and how to find a career path that you love so you can confidently answer when someone asks, “What are you going to do with that?”
Why it’s okay to be undecided
Let’s face it: You may not even know what you’re having for breakfast tomorrow, so how can you expect to know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life? College is a time to discover your passions, so don’t be freaked out if you don’t have all the answers just yet. First and foremost, here are some reasons why it’s totally okay to be undecided.
You may have an ambiguous major
In most cases, if you study engineering, you’re likely to become an engineer. If you’re in the nursing school, odds are you’ll end up as a nurse someday. But what if your major doesn’t have an “obvious” career path? What should you do if you love what you’re studying, but you’re not quite sure how it translates into a job?
The students who most often get the, “What are you going to do with that?” question are the ones studying subjects with more ambiguous career paths, like humanities, English or communications. “Many liberal arts majors, like psychology or sociology, could lead to many different careers,” says Nayelli Perez, career counselor and assistant director of Hofstra University’s Career Center. “That could be a blessing and a curse, because it gives students options but also makes it hard for students to see how their major connects to their future career.”
Just because you might not have a definite career path based on your major doesn’t mean you should switch majors! Oftentimes, these “ambiguous” majors can give you invaluable skills that will help you in any career.
“A liberal arts education can prepare you for a broad range of careers — consulting, marketing, banking, publishing, public relations, etc.,” says Lesley Mitler, president of Priority Candidates, Inc., an organization that provides career coaching to college students and recent grads. “These majors bring certain skills that are desirable in [students’] long-term career advancement — research, critical thinking, analytical reasoning and communication.”
Your major might not have a clear career path, so it’s okay that you’re undecided. Consider your major versatile instead of ambiguous. You may not have a set career path like other fields of study, but you can pursue a ton of different opportunities someday.
You’ll probably change your mind
When you were little, all you wanted to do was become a doctor, a writer or maybe a lawyer. As soon as you got to college, you declared a major that would help you achieve those dreams, only to find out that you absolutely hated the subject after the first few weeks. Now what?
Whether you find yourself not liking your current major or you stumble upon a completely new passion that you may want to pursue, don’t stress! It’s completely normal to change your mind as you’re exposed to new topics and fields.
Megan Shuffleton, a grad from Emerson College, entered school as a media studies major, which she considers her version of undeclared. “I chose media studies because it seemed vague and I thought it might be a way to explore a few areas before deciding on anything,” she says. “I changed my major after one week of classes. I didn’t like the department I was in and switched to marketing. Don’t worry, so many students switch their majors and change their minds and end up where they want to be!”
Similarly, Elodie Jean-Philippe, a junior at Duke University, changed her mind a couple times about her major and future career plans. “I was never truly undecided, but there was a period of time when I dropped my pre-med and biology and was figuring out what to do,” she says. “It was scary, but I knew it was going to be okay.”
After visiting the career center, Elodie decided on a political science major. “At the time, I was addicted to anything political, but I realized I knew nothing about it, so I went ahead with the major,” she says. “I added two certificates to learn more about markets and economics, and [now I’m interested in] consulting for politics!”
You might even pull a 180, like Rachel Cisto, a senior at the University of Hartford. “My coworkers at the Student Television Network like to laugh about how I got to where I am now,” Rachel says. “I came in as a physics major and joined the TV station because it looked like fun, and I ended up switching my major to journalism because of it!”
College is a time to take a variety of classes and learn a bunch of different things. So instead of being freaked out by being undecided or changing your mind, use it as an opportunity to explore your interests — and have confidence that you’ll find what you love eventually.
Ways to find a career path
So you have an idea of the possible careers you can pursue with your major — now it’s time to narrow it down. There are countless opportunities to discover a possible career path and tons of available resources to guide you. Keep these tips in mind and you should gain a better understanding of what you want to do someday.
Do some research
Something you can do on your own as a first step is researching what possible careers your major could lead to. “An easy way to do this on your own is to go to linkedin.com/alumni,” Perez suggests. “Search for your school’s alumni by major to get an idea of what, for example, psychology majors have gone on to do.”
The LinkedIn alumni tool allows you to search alumni by what they studied and find out their current jobs as well as where they currently live. There’s also a feature that allows you to determine the requirements for certain jobs. So, if you find a job you’re interested in, you can add a minor or another major if you need to in order to pursue that field after college.
Another way to do research is to talk to someone with a job! The best way to find out if you’ll like a career is to ask people who are actually working in your desired field. “Speak to people who are doing jobs that you think you might be interested in,” Mitler says. “Attend career fairs and information sessions, and talk to a company representative to find out what certain jobs entail.”
You can also use the LinkedIn alumni tool to connect with professionals for this purpose. By doing some basic research, you may find that you can narrow down your career path by just knowing some of the options out there!
Visit your school’s career center
After you do some research, you should consider visiting your career center. Besides editing your resume or helping you write a cover letter, the counselors there can guide you through the career decision process.
“The people I talked to [in the career center] really helped,” Elodie says. “They asked me a lot of random questions, like what TV shows I watch, to help narrow it down. That’s how I got interested in political science!”
Perez suggests asking if you can take a career assessment test at the career center. “When it comes to students I see for career assessments, some of them are students that are undeclared and some are students that have a major but don't know what to do with it,” she says. “I would recommend that students that fall in the latter category definitely meet with a career counselor on campus to go over resources they can use to explore some career options based on their interests.”
Your career center is a great resource to narrow down your career path options; it’s literally what it’s there for! By talking to a career counselor, you may discover a possible career path you never even considered before.
Apply for an internship
Once you decide you’re interested in specific careers, try to get an internship in those fields. Real-world experience will help you decide if you can actually see yourself in that career someday.
“I explored my publishing interests by acquiring an editorial internship, which allowed me to explore the magazine industry,” Megan says. “And at the beginning of this semester, I acquired a public relations internship. These internships have really secured my interests and helped me gather an even better idea of what I might want to do in the future.”
Beyond that, reach out to alumni again or use your LinkedIn connections to see if there are any opportunities you’re interested in. Beyond using the LinkedIn alumni tool, your career center probably keeps a record of alumni, which could be a good resource for finding connections for internships.
Internships are great because they give you hands-on experience in the working world, and you can determine what you like (and don’t like) pretty quickly. Whether you do an internship over the summer or during the school year, try out different types of internships to narrow down your career search.
Whether you have no idea what careers your major may lead to or you’ve changed your mind about your dream job, it’s okay to be unsure of what you want to do with your life after college. Use your college’s career resources and explore your interests inside and outside of the classroom. In no time, you’ll be able to confidently answer, “What are you going to do with that?”