Question: “I am a college student — how do I know if I have chosen the right major and career path?”
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
You really have two issues here, though they are interrelated. Some experts believe there should be very little connection between major and career, but I believe both are intimately related and should ideally focus around your career interests, skills, and passions.
For example, if you have a passion for history, and that’s what you major in while attending college, then it would be odd to me for you to then go into sales rather than a pursue a career in a field that uses those same passions, such as becoming an archivist or working for a museum or historic site.
Assuming you have chosen a major, how do you know it’s right for you? Let me recommend four ways to test whether you have chosen the right major and career. And if possible, start this process as early as possible in your college career.
First, organize some research on the major. What are some typical jobs and career paths of graduates? Spend some time examining in detail the lives of people in these jobs. Research what they typically do daily at their jobs. (You can start with our Career Exploration Tools & Resources.)
Second, conduct some informational interviews with people in those jobs. These could be alumni from your college or university or simply people you have identified through the research you conducted in the previous step. As the name implies, informational interviews are a great tool for obtaining information about what people like and dislike about their jobs and careers. (Read more about the value of informational interviews.) To learn much more about informational interviewing, read our detailed guide, the Informational Interviewing Tutorial.
Third, do some job shadowing, which allows you to see first-hand what a typical day looks and feels like by spending the day with someone — perhaps one or more of the people you interviewed in the previous step. While job shadowing is a bit more intrusive, it’s common enough that you should be able to find several people who will allow you spend the day with them. (Read more about job shadowing.)
Fourth, arrange an internship in one of the career paths you are considering. I recommend you try to fit in several internships while in college. Remember that an internship can last anywhere from one week (such as over semester break) or several months. You can do an internship over the summer (probably the most common), as well as during the school year. (Find internship resources here.)
All this research and all these experiences should give you enough information to help you decide if you have chosen the right field. By the way, if along the way you find you really do not like any of the career paths for your major, then you’ll need to consider if you have time to change your major or make other changes to find your correct career path.
Finally, remember that for many of us, it takes years and years to truly find our career passion. We may work in or around it for years before we truly find it. Others make dramatic career changes later in life.
This article is part of a series from The Career Doctor’s Cures & Remedies to Quintessentially Perplexing Career and Job-Hunting Ailments. Read more.
See a list of all the most common college, career, and job questions — and Dr. Hansen’s solutions.
Who is the Career Doctor? Learn more, read his current career column, or browse the column archives when you visit the Career Doctor’s homepage.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is a nationally recognized career and job-search expert. He is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
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