Tools for Choosing Your Major & Career

By: Rachel

The path to choosing a major is one that looks different for everyone. It seems we’re asked countless times over the years, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Some of us are sticking with the same answer we gave in 1st grade, while others have new ideas every day. Before we get to that career, many of us have to decide which major to pursue first.

To share a brief summary of my own experience, I decided what fields I wanted to study in college the summer before my senior year of high school. I had a few different ideas over the years, but they were slowly weeded out as I came to know more about myself. I always had a love for the written word, but I didn’t really want to go into creative writing, and I wasn’t sure what options that left for me. Out of nowhere, grant writing started to come up in conversations with my aunts and uncles, teachers, and other professionals. While I didn’t know a whole lot about it, it sounded like the type of writing I was interested in.

I had a friend who majored in Professional Writing, and one day the idea came to me to pursue a similar major along with a general background in business. I thought this would lend me a wide scope of occupational opportunities while still being areas I was excited to learn about and work in. My pairing was both strategic and driven by my passions; you can read more about that here.

After this idea came to me, I did more research into job outlook and what I could expect. I took a career class spring of my senior year of high school that forced me to conduct informational interviews and research through sources like O*NET OnLine and the Occupational Outlook Handbook provided through the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). I remained open to the fact that I might decide to change my majors once I got into college, but the things I learned through my research affirmed my decision. I want to take a moment to highlight the sources I found particularly helpful as well as a few others offered through our office.

Image: open notebook on wood desktop with pens
Text: Tools for choosing your major and career
  • Your network: I never would have even known grant writing existed if it weren’t for the people in my life. Reach out to those around you, especially professionals. It’s important to keep in mind that one person’s opinion/view is just that: one person’s view, but those working in the field have a unique perspective on opportunities that exist and may be able to offer ideas of where your talents and abilities could be used best.
  • Informational interviews & Job shadowing: Informational interviews and job shadowing are additional ways to connect with professionals in a field of interest.  They can provide tips on steps you should take at this point in your life to set yourself up for success in the future, and doing an interview/job shadow can be a great way to add valuable contacts to your network.
  • What Can I Do With a Major In (all majors): There are so many different online resources out there, and I’d recommend not just relying on one. It’s a good idea to cross-reference your data, and different sites provide slightly different types of data. This resource through the University of North Carolina Wilmington is a great one for college students, because it links a major with a bunch of connected job titles as well as related major skills. This provides you with occupation titles you might not have ever heard of that you can plug into other career outlook sites for more information. The related major skills can be super helpful in determining what minor or additional major would be particularly beneficial to you in that field.
  • What Can I Do With This Major? (via University of Tennessee’s Center for Career Development): Somewhat similarly, this site takes majors and breaks them down into more specific areas. Within each area, there are bullet points of typical job duties. Reading through these might pique your interest or turn you away, thus narrowing your search. Each area also includes examples of specific employers and strategies for success in the field. These are helpful tips of steps to pursue in your education, activities, job experiences, etc. in order to build a solid foundation for that specific area.
  • BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Once you have pinpointed a specific job title you’d like to look into, you can use BLS to find a quick summary of median pay, typical education level expected, and job outlook, among other statistics. Across the top, you’ll find additional tabs with information on job responsibilities, how to become one, and similar job titles. One of the tabs I use most is the one that provides state/regionally specific data.
  • O*NET OnLine: One last website I’d like to highlight is O*NET, which is like the BLS Handbook in that it is organized by occupation. It is easy to use, and a quick search will provide you with a summary of tasks, skills, and knowledge commonly used on the job, as well as personality characteristics and values that lend themselves well to the field.
  • Graduate Follow-up Report: This report provides much of same information provided through these sites, such as job titles within each major, specific employers, and median salary, but it is specific to students who have graduated from UMD! We put this together every year with information from students who have graduated in the last 6 months to 1 year.
  • Assessments: Another potential source of information that will help you determine your major/career are career assessments. There are 3 major ones offered through our office as well as a few you can take for free online. These will provide information on your personality, interests, and skills which you can then match up with compatible fields. Setting up an appointment to discuss your results with a career counselor can provide further clarification.

This might seem like a lot of information to navigate, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the different routes determining your career might take. If you find yourself trying to answer the question of “What do I want to do when I grow up?”, my core advice would be to stay open. The inspiration for what direction to head could come from just about anywhere: your hobbies, your dreams as a child, your skillset, your heritage, a class you took, or information you found from a website. I’d encourage you to make this decision based on what you learn from a variety of sources: testimonies from professionals, statistics, and your personal attributes. More than anything, recognize that the answer to the question will never totally be finalized, and that’s part of the beauty of career development.

Best, Rachel

Of Possible Interest
Choosing a Major – all our blog posts on the topic
Career Planning – all our blog posts on the topic
Turn Your Major into a Career – our Pinterest board filled with resources & articles

Read Rachel’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Mike Tinnion

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