Careers Go In Circles: Choosing a Major

Pressure to choose a major and career may have been a struggle for Michigan State University (MSU) junior Samantha House, but many people are in the same boat.

Coming into MSU as a freshman, House started as an engineering major, but after two years of continuing to lack interest in her classes and the internship she participated in after her freshman year, she switched to interior design at the beginning of her junior year.

House said, “I like math, so I assumed I would like doing engineering, but turns out that's not for me.”

A research study from the U.S. Department of Education in 2017 reported that “about 30 percent of undergraduates in associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs who had declared a major had changed their major at least once.”

Kristen Hintz, MSU Broad College of Business undergraduate student career advisor said, “There's a lot of stress and pressure to figure out what you want to do earlier and earlier,” leaving a lot of students questioning if they are making the right decision.

Hintz said there is a fine balance between being good at something and enjoying something.

“Just because you’re good at math doesn’t mean you should be dealing with numbers all day,” Hintz said. 

House said she is okay with difficult classes, but not difficult classes that don’t interest her, and said she didn’t want to continue with engineering if it was something she truly didn’t like. 

Hintz said it is normal to not know exactly what you’re doing, and just because you’re doing something now does not mean you have to be doing that for the rest of your life.

“What you’re doing in the classroom can be very different than what you do in the workplace, so don’t use it as an indicator…try to get experience or talk to people that work in the field to see if it's different,” Hintz said. 

4 girls jumpingHouse said she was skeptical about switching majors because she still had no idea what she wanted to do, but knew she didn’t like engineering and wanted to give something else a try. 

House said, “Switching into interior design, I was kind of like, ‘I still have no idea of what I want to do, but this sounds interesting, so let's just give it a try,’ which was a scary thing cause I don't want to be here for like six years, you know?”

Even MSU College of Education Career Advisor Pepa Casselman said she started on a public relations track, but ended up landing professionally in career advising.

“When I was an undergraduate student here at MSU, I was on track to go into a particular field and, come my senior year, I decided that I did not want to do that and then was starting from ground zero,” Casselman said.

Casselman said she encourages students to do a lot of job shadows and get on the job experiences to really see if a certain job is something the student will actually like.

“It might sound really attractive, but when you actually get in there, you might hate it,” Casselman said.

Casselman said self-reflection, deciding who you want to surround yourself with, and finding a career path that aligns with yourself while feeling authentic are a few great ways to find out what major or career is the best fit for you.

House said she felt pressure of having to choose a major coming into college and the uncertainty of what she wanted to do scared her because she didn’t have it figured out.

“Once you’re in college and realize you only have four years to choose a major, know what you want to do, and somehow get that education in four years and get experience, it’s just pretty stressful,” House said.

Lauren Hinkel, an all-majors career advisor at MSU said sometimes students are indecisive because they have feelings of anxiety and pressure to choose a major or career and can be stuck between not knowing their interests or having too many.

Hinkel, having a degree in neuroscience — something she said is way different than what she is doing now as a career advisor — said “a major does not have to equal career.”

Hinkel said, “We carry a lot of shame when we are uncertain about our career path. I think that's also a thing that keeps us blocked…” saying a lot of students feel they should have it figured out right now and may not want to explore publicly because they’ll feel ashamed. Kayla Bacon-Carefree Fall 2

Hinkel said she suggests for students to understand the idea that exploring is part of the process and to acknowledge it’s normal to change your mind.

Hinkel said, “You’re going to be exploring your whole life. You're going to be determining and finding out new things about yourself throughout your adulthood…you don’t have to stay somewhere for 20, 30 years. You’re allowed to change.”

Hintz also suggested that changing your major and career path is normal, saying, “This is your first foray into the work world, whether it's your first internship or your first job after graduation, this is not setting you on a permanent path. Our careers go in circles, they don't go in a line straight up. They'll go in and around and that's normal.”