One of the most significant decisions that a college student makes in life is choosing what to study in college. In more ways than one, college paves the way for a smooth transition between student life and being a student of life in the real world.
The choices you make—primarily your school and major—can have a tremendous impact on your future. It is clearly not something you can rush through without careful consideration.
What is your passion in life? What major do you want to focus on? What career do you want to pursue? These questions are vital in helping you map out the career path that will guide you through that shift.
Making a firm decision about your career of choice can make a huge difference in how well you perform as a college student. Knowing that any knowledge, skills, and experience you will acquire will bring you closer to the goals you have envisioned should push you to do better.
That said, it’s not all that hopeless for you if you’re stuck in uncertainty about your future career goals while in college. Sometimes, all you need is enough time to define your career goals, explore your options, see where your interest lies; or even discover a passion.
Good universities and colleges across the country have career support and career development systems in place to help students to guide and offer different perspectives as students make their decisions and weigh their options.
But whether or not you know you have a clear picture of your academic and career pursuits, it matters that you use your time while in college to navigate the choices you have. Here are some of the best ways to do just that:
1. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
The point about exploring your career options is to try learning about other areas of study and discipline beyond subjects you are passionate about. According to Amy Bergerson, dean for undergraduate education and associate provost at Miami, the national average of students who switch their majors during college is approximately 75%.
Do you breeze through mathematics and sciences but find humanities and art challenge? Attending college and getting out of your comfort zone while at it—such as engaging in creative writing—can help develop your interdisciplinary breadth of knowledge.
This can also open your eyes to other options for your major if you have not decided on one yet. Through this, you will become a well-rounded individual with a solid background in a variety of disciplines.
2. Narrow Down Your Career Options
After exploring your academic options and making a decision about your top major or majors, your next step is to discover and learn all about your career choices. Do you want to work in the field of marketing? Has becoming a medical doctor always been on your list?
Along with these questions come a gamut of other considerations as well, from the possible job descriptions and salaries to the skills you need to develop for your chosen occupation.
Many colleges underscore the importance of professional development early on, preferably once students arrive on campus or before they formally start their online learning journey. The search for job opportunities begins when you are still at school.
Knowing what you want to do after graduation can prepare you for the challenges to come. That is why students are taught how to create professional materials like resumes and cover letters. You will also be trained to do interviews. Narrowing down your career options is a great start.
3. Choose Your Networks and Mentors Wisely
Building connections at school goes beyond its social benefits. This is also integral in helping you navigate your career path. They call this networking, both on the social and professional fronts.
You can start simply by joining clubs, social functions and engaging in activities that can introduce you to people who share your passions and interests. Many alumni functions are open to students. They usually involve talks about career development. This is also an ideal resource for potential internship opportunities.
It is also common for universities and colleges to provide support to students through the career development department. Through it, students get expert counseling and find themselves in organized events that bring students and alumni together and give them a chance to cultivate relationships.
The alumni can act as mentors for students, too, given their insight into various industries. By finding a good mentor, you will find someone who can guide you through the rigorous job search process.
4. Learn to Leverage New Technology
When it comes to looking for the right job, knowing the tools and technology to help you make the job search process easier is just as important as having a mentor.
The internet age has revolutionized the way you can search for jobs, with online databases and social media platforms at your disposal. LinkedIn is one stellar example, offering a wealth of opportunities to build networks and look for prospective employers.
Social media is more than a channel that helps you build your networks and connections. It is also a tool that you can use to create your personal brand and portfolio. Some students, especially those in the creative field, consider making personal websites where they can showcase their work and impress their future employers.
According to job search expert Susan Joyce, 80% of employers will look you up on Google before an interview; and having something on you that supports your resume–such as a LinkedIn profile, will help you land the job.
5. Develop the Skills Employers Seek
Most jobs have corresponding descriptions and requirements for applicants. Employers are particular about necessary skills that will make a candidate the perfect fit for a specific job description.
Beyond the technical skills, they also consider how a potential employee will deal with problems, use critical thinking, and interact with other people.
Regularly interact with fellow students, professors, and advisors while in college. Try to develop social skills for actual employment scenarios where frequent interactions and collaborations are crucial. Learn teamwork, leadership, and communication skills that are just as priceless in all careers, regardless of level or industry.
Develop the set of skills you need to overcome hurdles at work and stay motivated.
6. Gain Insight and Experience on Different Career Paths
Experience is sure to give you a headstart in your career, and it’s crucial to get a lot of it early on. And not only will it put you among the list of marketable and attractive candidates to employers, but having a lot of experience– especially in different fields can help you discern whether or not an area of expertise is really for you.
What better way is there to tell if you fit into a certain field than being in the field? Consider taking up part-time jobs related to one or more of your career path options. If you’re looking into getting inside the medical field, try working as a home and health aide. If you prefer office jobs, applying as an administrative assistant can give you relevant experience.
Dipping your toes in different fields may also help you reevaluate your choices and steer you into a path that you are better suited for.
7. Know what you can Do with your Major
Sure, landing a job unrelated to your major is possible and isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it’s pretty common. According to a recent survey conducted by Intelligent.com, more than half of college graduates over the age of 25 don’t work in their field of study. But if you really want to make sure that your studying doesn’t go to waste, it’s important to know the things you can do with your major.
Reach out to career services or make use of the various resources available to you to rule out the options that do not appeal to your career goals and narrow down the ones that do.
Build a clear vision and a realistic plan for the things you will be doing after you graduate.
8. Visualize your Future in your Career
Where do you see yourself a couple of years from now? Do you have an end goal in mind? Or are you still undecided? Set long-term goals you can work towards as early as now. Visualizing yourself thriving in the career path of your choice will help you recognize what you need to do to achieve just that.
Or, if you are torn between two or more options, visualize your future in all of them. This should be an effective way to compare your options and figure out the best one. Then again, you can also always turn to career services for guidance.
Keep in mind the changes that will happen on the way to achieving your end goal and take into account important factors such as income and time frame during this visualization.
9. Work on your Flexibility
Flexibility is something you will greatly benefit from wherever you are, and it’s one of the best qualities you could have as either a student or a professional.
Gain qualifications and skills transferable among different fields. Be open to new opportunities for career growth. Work on your soft and hard skills, and try out new ways to learn, such as taking online courses, internships, and volunteering.
While having concrete career plans and goals is essential for success, life is naturally unpredictable, and you’ll never know when you’ll get a sudden change of heart or when you will end up in a situation where you are to pursue something completely beyond your field.
10. Observe and Learn from Professionals
Learning from an expert is among the best ways to learn about anything. But being able to do so comes down to networking and keeping yourself close to people who are working in your fields of interest. They most definitely can teach you the ropes and help you get to where you’re going.
It’s best to learn from professionals whom you are personally connected to, such as alumni from your school or even relatives, anyone you know working in the field/s you are looking into.
Otherwise, you can also still learn from remarkable professionals regardless of your connection to them via their work. You can learn new concepts and techniques, gain insight from them and apply these as needed.
Deciding on your career path can be pretty daunting, but learning to navigate through it while in college can tremendously impact your goals and efforts while in school. No successful adult ever has it easy, but with the right mindset and enough preparation, you’ll get to where you are ultimately headed.