Is It Ever Too Late For You to Change Career Paths?

As kids, we were taught that we could be anything we wanted to be when we grew up. A princess? Done. A neurosurgeon? Done. The world was ours and anything was possible—at least in our imaginations. Hopefully, we maintained those dreams as we started planning our futures. Maybe it’s deciding what major we want to study in school or scoring a dream internship—either way, it all starts with a single plan. But what happens if what you want suddenly changes? Her Campus gives you the inside scoop on whether or not it really is ever too late to change career paths.

Changing your mind in college

Sarah Kaufman, an alumna of Bucknell University, recalls that when she was a freshman, she intended on being an English major. “Throughout my four years at school, I literally changed my major six different times,” she says. Sarah graduated with a major in biology and is heading to medical school in the fall. “Even just three years ago I had a totally different idea of what I wanted to do with my life,” she says. Because of the flexibility of her school, she was able to explore an extremely wide variety of classes and majors.

Sarah isn’t alone in her indecisive experience. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80 percent of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once. And on average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career. That’s a lot of different career options.

You may be wondering how you graduate on time after changing your career path so many times, but at most schools, you don’t have to declare your major until the end of your fourth semester of college. Liana Cooper, an academic advisor at the University of Michigan, explains that changing majors is typical because within the first two years of school, students have plenty of opportunities to try out classes within different majors. “If a student takes four classes per semester for two years, they will have 16 different opportunities to explore different classes and majors. By their junior year, they should have a solid foundation of classes to make a decision about a major they want to stick with.” 

Changing your mind after graduation

For many students, your only choice in figuring out what you want to do after college is through work experience outside of school, especially if you aren’t interested in a specific major. One of the biggest misconceptions about gaining work experience through internships and job shadowing is that it is just limited to undergraduates.

Cooper believes that once you graduate, spending two years trying out different internships and jobs is totally normal. “Although it may seem like you have to know what you want to do right after you graduate, there is no harm in taking your time to figure it out,” she explains. “Having professional experience under your belt, no matter what the industry, makes you a better candidate for any type of job, whether it’s a year from now or 10 years from now.” So if you were worried about your degree defining your future path, think again. 

Related: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do With Your Life

Changing your mind once you have a career

Laura Blum, a 1987 graduate of Cornell University, believes that it is never too late to change your mind about what you want to do, but it does come at a cost. “When I was 22, I thought that I wanted to be a lawyer. I spent so many years of my life thinking that that’s what I wanted, but in reality, if you look at my life right now, I am doing nothing of that sort.” Laura didn’t realize what she wanted to do with her life—be an athletic trainer—until she was 35, and by then she was still paying off her student debt. “I don’t regret following my heart and changing my plans, but it is important to understand that there are consequences,” says Blum.

So although it really is never too late to change your career path, whether you are 19 or 90, it is important to think carefully about what you want to do as soon as possible. “It’s not like changing my mind to be a trainer was that big [of] a deal but I do feel as though I wasted a lot of time,” Blum recalls. “If I hadn’t been so scared of changing my major in college or trying out a physical therapy internship, I could have found my passion much earlier.”

There is no hard deadline in life for deciding what career you want. You could be 57 years old and going to medical school for the first time, like Clarence Nicodemus did. Or you could know what you want to do at the age of 13. Either way, as long as you are happy and doing what you love, it doesn’t matter when you find your dream career, even if you do hit some obstacles along the way.