Pursuing Your Career

Ways to avoid buyer’s remorse with your choice of college degree/ major

Every fall semester, I inevitably have 1 or more seniors stop by my office to inform me that they no longer wish to pursue the major they’ve spent 3+ years… pursuing. In some instances, the student has considerable course completions in a major (usually a minor) they now hope to pursue. This change in direction often requires a student to stay in college an extra semester or two (who doesn’t want to spend an additional $10K, am I right?). In some instances, when students have only one semester left, they may complete free electives related to the new career path and then pursue a Master’s degree related to the new career interest (did I mention that graduate school courses usually comes with a higher tuition rate than undergrad programs/courses?). In addition to money, students making such late changes are also wasting valuable time, which could have been saved by following the following tips:

Step 1: Investigate your career interests immediately your freshman year. College career centers usually provide free career assessments students can take, assessments that help students identify the range of interests they have. Most students enter college with one or two career paths in mind. However, high schools often lack resources (and assessments) to give students a comprehensive view of career options while also encouraging students to identify their strengths and interests. Now, the results from such assessments are, for the most part, easily interpreted by reading the end evaluation. However, it is highly recommended that students review their assessment results with a career counselor to get the most out of the assessment.

Step 2: Speak with campus professors connected to your interests. Archaeology was my interest as I entered college. Career assessments reinforced this interest, which made my choice seem all the more appropriate. However, to really investigate the field and determine of it was the “right” path, I needed to talk to a professional. So, I found the college’s sole archaeology professor, and I asked questions. What was involved in pursuing archaeology studies and job opportunities? What were the chances of finding employment after graduation? What was the range of professional positions I would be able to pursue? The archaeologist answered my questions, became my advisor, and is a mentor to this day (in addition to advising college students and professionals in multiple careers, I still pursue archaeological research). You need to speak to relevant professionals/professors as they are most knowledgeable about the field.

Me as a teaching assistant teaching mapping techniques to undergrads in 1992.

Step 3: Get fieldwork experience as soon as possible. Getting an internship your Junior or Senior year of college is often too late for experiencing the field you are pursuing. It is those internships that often help steer students away from their current major. Whether pursuing an official internship or a volunteer opportunity, you need to get field-related experience… which is something the professor/professional from step 2 can help you locate. My advisor advised me to complete an archaeological field school the summer of my freshman year. That experience answered most of my questions of what life as an archaeologist would be like, making it clear I picked the right career path. Had the experience been bad, that would have help me realize I needed to pursue a different major (saving me from having to change majors my Junior or Senior year). EIther way, time and money saved.

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