Ah, those self-assured people who chose their careers before they were ten! You’ve seen them on TV, right? The woman who always knew she’d be a pilot. The veterinarian who found his calling in first grade. But maybe you’re different. Maybe you have too many ideas and interests right now to even guess what you’ll be doing in 10 or 20 years. Does having no major chosen make you lazy, odd, unfocused? Does your lack of certainty about your future doom you to waste time on the “wrong” classes at college?
No. All it tells us is that you’re normal. According to a 2017 U.S. Department of Education study of 25,000 students, about 30% of college students change their majors at least once in their first three years of college. About 10% change majors twice or more.
Some see that as backtracking or wasting time, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. With life experience, education, and exposure to additional data, you discover important things about yourself. You’ll have a better understanding about how the world works. Maybe you’ll choose a major, then realize another one suits you better. If so, you’ll adjust your actions and expectations to maximize the likelihood that you’ll be a happy, successful, well-prepared member of society. In other words, you’ll learn. And that’s part of what makes college so valuable.
No Major? No Problem.
Sure, that’s easy for me to say. Knowing what major field to focus on saves time and gives you a helpful head start. But not knowing what you want to do with your life at 18 is completely reasonable. It doesn’t mean you’ll be flailing in the dark until you choose a major.
Even people who aren’t ready to choose a major usually have a good idea about excites and engages them. By now, your personality is well formed. But you may not know whether you want to make political science or marketing or Spanish your major yet. Maybe you’d like to take more classes in those subjects before you decide.
You probably have an idea about whether you like to solve mechanical problems, have a knack for music theory, or enjoy studying foreign languages. You know whether you’re more fascinated by marketing or computer modeling or microbes. Your interests likely fall into sets of patterns. And those patterns will give you important clues.
Remember the Venn diagrams you had to make when you were a little kid at school? You had to draw all those intersecting circles showing areas of commonality. Your talents and interests are like that. They overlap in all sorts of ways. This is a good time to make some lists and see what skills, interests, and techniques they have in common. Think of where your talents and passions come together. You might be surprised.
Chances are good that the things you enjoy have some shared themes. Several of the subjects you find most interesting rely on the same core competencies. So get a good grounding in areas where the circles of your activities and interests overlap. You’ll be better prepared for life and can be more flexible once you realize what you’d like to specialize in.
Figure Out Where Your Interests Intersect
When I was a college freshman, I thought I would become an attorney. I loved studying Supreme Court cases and learning about Constitutional law. I followed politics and legal news closely. I wanted to advocate on behalf of great causes or fight for people’s rights, so going into the legal profession seemed to make sense.
The problem was that my excellent but small liberal arts college didn’t have a dedicated pre-law major at the time. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. But my mom recognized that I was a history fanatic who took extra history classes just for fun. She knew that I loved reading, talking, and watching documentaries about history. So she suggested that studying history (as many attorneys have done for centuries) might be a good choice for me.
My mother pointed out that history involves a great deal of research and analysis. It requires making accurate and persuasive arguments, and it means learning to write well and present opinions that stand up to challenges. She knew that all of these core competencies would be very valuable in the study of law. She also knew they’d serve me well if I went into another field later instead.
Mom was absolutely right. And though I didn’t ultimately go into law, I’ve been grateful for my history degree ever since. No, I didn’t become an academic or a legal scholar. Still, I’ve used the skills I honed in my history studies not only in my career but in my daily life. The skills I developed in critical thinking, analysis, logic, reliance on verifiable fact, and in persuasion come in handy every day. I have used them in my jobs as a software test engineer, newsletter editor, entrepreneur, journalist, music and fine arts educator, marketing writer, and artist.
As disparate as those jobs sound, they all have things in common. They all require that I do research, get my facts straight, and communicate my insights accurately and persuasively. Most people may not enjoy quite as wide an array of career opportunities as I have. However, most people do change jobs many times in their lives.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average U.S. worker has 12 job changes before turning 50 (and most of us will work well beyond that age). And while most job changes stay in the same field, the majority of people also change their entire career fields at least once during their work lives. So choosing a course of study that fits your skills and interests and is flexible enough to help you if you change careers along the way makes a lot of sense.
A Varied Background Makes You Versatile
My daughter is one of those people who knew what she wanted to do early in life. She knew she wanted to be a graphic designer long before college. Most people assumed that meant she wanted to be an artist, so she should get an art degree. But the college she chose, Simmons College, looked at graphic design differently.
Simmons sees graphic design not only a visual art but as a way to communicate through imagery. Indeed, their graphic design classes are part of their communications department, not the art department. All of their design students must learn basic skills across a range of communications fields as well as their specific track. All of those skills go hand in hand.
My daughter’s college wanted its design students to know how to write, edit, proofread, create online and print infographics. They needed to understand the basics of web-based and broadcast media. Students learned technical skills and put them into practice in groups, since communicating requires partnering with others. These skills are valuable whether students get jobs in graphic design or go on to do other communications-based work.
My daughter’s interests in writing, typography, illustration, and design all came together in her studies. The things she learned at college combined into a cohesive major. She was taught to integrate ideas, traditional and modern techniques, and interpersonal communications skills. The design field changes rapidly with new technologies, products, business models, and customer expectations. However, my daughter’s major left her well prepared. She’ll be able to flex with each shift. She can put more emphasis on one skill or another as new opportunities develop or the culture changes.
Build a Strong Foundation
Until you’re ready to choose a major, make sure to get a good basic grounding in your core classes. Challenge yourself with captivating extracurricular activities. Ask yourself about what talents and technologies lie at the heart of each of your life’s passions and scholastic strengths. See where they overlap, and how you can combine your interests and studies to make yourself more well-rounded, marketable, interesting, helpful, and contented. Then watch as the best path for you becomes clear.
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