Most people have trouble choosing their career when they get to college. Some even struggle to decide what career is best for them well into their 40s or 50s. But as you begin your college career, you’ll need to choose a major—and that major could have a lasting effect on your future employment.
Obviously, this is a big decision, and it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and anxious about this decision. However, at some point, you’ll need to be decisive and work past those anxieties. Fortunately, there are several strategies you can use to calm your nerves—and end up with a major and/or career path you’re confident you’ll enjoy.
Understand That This Isn’t Your Final Decision
It may seem like choosing your major in college is going to dictate how the rest of your life plays out, but this isn’t really the case. It’s hard to estimate how many times people change careers during their lives (even for the BLS), but anecdotal evidence alone makes it clear; most people undergo many career changes in their adulthood, and few end up strictly following the path their major laid out for them.
In other words, even if you somehow find a perfect choice for your future, that perfect choice may not be perfect forever. You’ll always have the opportunity to find something new, and that’s a good thing. Don’t think of this as a lifelong commitment.
Know the Criteria for What Makes a “Good” Career
How can you choose a career when you aren’t really sure what a “good” career looks like? Different people have different priorities when it comes to choosing a career path, so it pays to define yours objectively.
These are some of the most important categories people consider:
- Job openings and demand. It’s usually a good idea to go into a career with lots of demand, many regular job openings, and a strong future ahead of it. For example, fields like healthcare won’t be affected by economic changes or technological breakthroughs.
- Safety and hazards. Some jobs are inherently more dangerous than others. For some people, risky professions are worth the rewards, since they often come with better pay and benefits packages. But for others, safer professions are a better choice.
- Pay. Obviously, you’ll want to consider the earning potential of the job. Typically, jobs and careers with a high demand for technical expertise pay more than jobs that are easy to obtain, or jobs that don’t require much training or education.
- Personal enjoyment. People often neglect personal enjoyment as a considering factor when evaluating their career options, but it’s as important as the other factors on this list. If you don’t like what you’re doing, it won’t matter how safe your job is or how much money you make; you’ll be miserable. You don’t have to love your job, but you should at least be able to tolerate it.
- Future flexibility. Your wants and needs will likely change in the future, so how well can this career path accommodate those changes? Most people are best served seeking a job with some degree of flexibility. For example, does this career allow you to seek multiple promotions, climbing the corporate ladder? Will you have the option of starting your own business in this field eventually?
Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses
You also need to spend some time introspecting. What are your strengths and weaknesses, and how could they play into your career? Are you really good with people, but not great at working with numbers? Or did you always exceed in math and science courses, but struggle when it comes to writing? Your aptitude doesn’t have to determine your career path, but if you’re stuck between a handful of options, it can help to break the tie.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll want to get involved with other people. If you have a list of viable career options, reach out to local businesses and see if you can talk to people who currently hold those careers. Ask them what they like best about their profession, and what they hate about it. Ask them why they chose this path, and what other options they considered. You may even get the chance to volunteer, or work as an intern. In any case, you’ll get a firsthand look at what a career in this field looks like, which will provide much better information than hypothetical scenarios. If you can’t find people in this career field, consider talking to professors of the subjects you’ll need to study instead.
Once you’ve taken these steps, you’ll have a better understanding of yourself, of the careers available to you, and of the support your campus can provide. You may not feel like your decision is perfect, but it doesn’t have to be—it just has to be good enough, and based on the best information available to you. There’s plenty of time to change and/or develop your career, so don’t worry if you change your mind later.