Let’s face it, a college degree is becoming more of a necessity in today’s competitive job market than it was in bygone years. Today, one in three people in the U.S. hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. With so much pressure to earn a degree that will allow you to join the job force, students often rush into the wrong major in an effort to “just pick one”. If you’re feeling stressed about your undeclared status, know that you’re not alone. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 80% of students change their major at least once, so even freshmen who enroll as a declared major are more likely than not to switch it up.
Especially in Liberal Arts Colleges, students are encouraged to survey courses ranging from Microbiology to U.S. History Through Film, zeroing in on potential areas of study and ruling out others. If you’re in pursuit of a major that will get you to where you want to be post-graduation (even if you don’t quite know where that is), be proactive. It’s OK to be undecided as long as you’re making steps towards finding your perfect fit.
Before You’ve Declared
Do your research. If there are a few different fields of study you think you may be interested, talk to as many people as you can in those fields. Connecting with upperclassman can also be a huge help in deciding the right path for you. Try joining a private social media group created for students at your college to connect with upperclassman. You should also:
Informational interviews and job shadowing are possibly the most beneficial tools in your arsenal. They allow you to gain invaluable insight into what working in the field is really like and could help you discover a new position you didn’t even know existed.
Aim to schedule at least one informational interview a week. You’ll be surprised at how receptive many professionals are to helping students (plus, everyone likes talking about themselves). Your first step should be to check a company or organization’s website for contact information. Brevity is important when reaching out. Be professional and to-the-point about who you are and what you’re looking for. Connect via email and follow up if you don’t hear back within a week. If you don’t hear anything back after the second try, find another candidate.
LinkedIn is an incredible resource for connecting with professionals across fields. Create a profile with a clear, professional photo of yourself (try paying a visit to the photography department at your school and asking students if they’re willing to take a headshot of you). Your headshot doesn’t have to be professional grade, you just have to look professional in it. Make sure your profile indicates that you are a student at the college in which you attend and that you are looking to meet with professionals in specific fields. Search companies or organizations you’re interested in working with to view a list of employees. If you do not have their email addresses, connect as a “Friend” and be sure to introduce yourself in the optional message when you ask to connect.
Many professionals will suggest meeting for coffee if you don’t first imply that you would like to come to their office. Though this isn’t always an option, meeting at someone’s office can give you valuable insight into the work environment as a whole and how this person’s particular job fits into the bigger picture.
It’s important to dress appropriately for an informational interview. If you’re not sure what to wear, call the front desk to ask what the office dress code is and match that. Always bring a pen and paper, turn your cellphone off, and have some questions prepared. Lastly, visit a few different professionals at different companies or organizations that hold similar jobs as the experience may be completely different from place to place.
If you’re considering a teaching degree, get in touch with a local school district. Dress professionally and visit the school’s main office during school hours. Introduce yourself and explain that you are a student who is considering earning a teaching degree and are interested in any opportunities that would allow you to shadow in a classroom. If you attend a college close to where you attended primary or secondary school, reach out to teachers who have had you as a student to inquire about shadow opportunities. Be sure to shadow a few different teachers, grades, and subjects.
Talk to Professors
Make sure the programs you’re interested in are exactly what they appear to be. Some programs prepare students to continue on in academia where others focus on job acquisition. If you think you want to study biology with a botany focus, make sure your school’s biology program has that track. Talking to professors may help you discover the program focuses on something you aren’t interested in or help uncover an entirely new focus that could be a better fit. Check your college’s website for faculty descriptions and contact information.
Focusing Your Declared Major
You can focus your major by adding a minor or taking specific courses within your major. Focusing your major will make your path more clear and help you build up a resume that will land you the specific job you’re after.
Most colleges will have career-centered clubs that help students be proactive in building connections and exploring niches within their area of study. Many clubs book guest speakers for meetings or tour different organizations in the area. Clubs are a great way to learn about internship opportunities that could lead to further interest specialization. Clubs can help boost your resume, too. For example, writing for the school newspaper can help a journalism major decide whether they excel in writing or editing while they produce clips for their portfolio.
Off-Site Learning Opportunities
Off-site learning opportunities are a great next step to focus your major once you’ve declared. Maybe you know you want to work in humanitarian work, but aren’t sure if you want to focus domestically or abroad. A study abroad program could help you decide. Teaching degree programs often offer assistance in finding student teaching positions in local schools. Students pursuing other fields can often get credit while working at off-site internships that could reveal additional potential job descriptions.