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

New Major – What do I do Now?

By: Kendra

I was one of those freshmen who came to UMD thinking I had everything figured out. I was going to come to UMD for Integrated Elementary and Special Education, complete my student teaching as required, and find a job as a special education teacher. I had a plan and I thought for sure that I would stick to that plan. Well, I was wrong. Within the first couple months of school, I knew that special education was not my calling and that I wanted to do something else. After meeting with the career counselors, taking each of the assessments provided by our office, and some soul searching, I decided to switch my major to Psychology with a minor in Early Childhood Studies. Now I have my major and minor figured out, but need to figure out what I am going to do with them. Here is how I am going to do that:

Take Classes in Various Fields
While many majors have set courses that one needs to take to earn a degree, there are plenty of majors that have many different classes that one can choose to take to fulfill graduation requirements. Your academic advisor can be helpful in that realm of knowing which classes you absolutely have to take and which areas are more flexible in the courses you choose. If you do have the option to pick and choose which ones you would like to take, do it. Take classes in areas you think you do not like, maybe it will surprise you! Taking a variety of classes also helps you figure out which areas of a certain major interest you so you can tailor your education to what you really want to learn about.

Get Involved
This is something everyone will tell you, but don’t overlook it because it really is huge when it comes to making opportunities for yourself. Being active and involved on campus can be extremely beneficial to getting internships, jobs, scholarships, and it is typically pretty fun! UMD has a club for almost anything, so getting involved in one should not be a hassle. It is also a great idea to get involved in your classes. Ask questions, contribute in class, go see your professor during office hours — only good will come from it! Forming relationships with professors is great because they might need a teaching assistant or research assistant in the future and you will lose out on that opportunity if the instructor doesn’t even know you.

Job Research
Learning about jobs is another great way to explore a new major. Researching is important to learn about what people in different careers do, what they earn, and what sorts of steps they took to get where they currently are. A great way to do this is to do a simple Google search and just see what comes up. This is a good way to find out what sorts of jobs are out there and what those jobs look like. Job postings will show what skills and education are required for the job as well as what the job duties are. Another great resource is the Graduate Follow-up Report. This allows you to see what previous UMD graduates have done with their degrees right after college in specific majors, which can be really helpful when it comes to choosing a career path. Learning more about different careers will help you find ones that you might be interested in. When you have done this, set up job shadows with people in those careers. Job shadowing gives you first hand experience as to what a career is like and will be the best determinant of whether or not you will fit within that career.

If you are like me and don’t really know what you want to do, try these three things. If you need any further help, stop by Career & Internship Services at 22 Solon Campus Center and schedule an appointment with a career counselor.

Of Possible Interest:
Building Your Resume – all your blog posts on the topic
Boost Your Career in College; Turn Your Major into a Career – our Pinterest boards filled with articles & resources

Read Kendra’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Joao Silveira

Find Your Fit

By: Kirsi

If you ask a career counselor how to pick the right major, internship, or career path you will likely be directed to assessments. These are quizzes that help you determine your strengths, values, and interests. Career & Internship Services offers online reading about how to seek your fit. But what does it look like once you have found your fit?

Image: Birds sitting on powerlines, one bird flying around
Text: Find your fit

Looks Like
Signs that you have found your fit include that you…

  • lose track of time being absorbed in a project for the class in your major or task at work.
  • experience positive or productive dreams about working on that project or related to your classes or work.
  • follow news and social media about the field you study or work in.
  • feel engaged in your classes or work.
  • imagine yourself in possible roles in your future career.

Doesn’t Look Like
Signs that you have not found your fit include that you…

  • are challenged with starting homework or tasks in your field.
  • dread going to work or classes.
  • wouldn’t consider working on a project or participate in an activity in your field during your free time.
  • find tasks you complete for class or work to be unfulfilling. 
  • avoid thinking about the field you study or work in.

Misconceptions  

  • Finding your fit doesn’t mean you love everything about your classes, work, and field all the time.
  • The potential of the fulfillment your field offers may not be apparent until taking higher level courses, after settling into work, or following further research.
  • Changing your trajectory does not make you a failure! It highlights flexibility and honesty with yourself.

If you ever need help finding your fit, stop by 22 Solon Campus Center and schedule an appointment with a career counselor.

Good Luck! 

Of Possible Interest:
Choosing a Major, Career Planning – all our blog posts on these topics
Boost Your Career in College, Turn Your Major into a Career – our Pinterest boards filled with articles & resources

Read Kirsi’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Danielle MacInnes

What to do with a Writing Studies Degree?

By: Rachel (a Writing Studies major!)

What does the Writing Studies program entail? 
Within CLA, UMD offers a Bachelor of Arts in Writing Studies. There is also an option to minor in this program, which is called Professional Writing. While these titles are pretty self-explanatory, you might be wondering what the program actually entails.

To start, every Writing Studies student is required to take four core classes. Aside from this, you must take an Advanced Writing class and capstone course to be completed during your last semester. Other than that, you take 15 credits of writing electives and 6 credits in communication, English, management information systems, journalism, linguistics, or theater. This allows you to customize your education to your interests and career goals. Some of the electives I’ve taken so far incorporate aspects of graphic design as well as web design and software skills which are highly attractive in today’s job market. I’ve also taken more traditional literature classes that prioritize reading and analyzing writers’ works.

Looking down on a pencils in a pencil cup on desk. Text: What to do with a writing studies degree?

How can I use a Writing Studies degree?
You might be surprised by how many careers involve a level of writing. Reports, formal memos, or casual emails all require some writing ability. To even land a job, it is likely you will have to compose a resume and cover letter. While all jobs incorporate some writing, there are certainly some that center around it more than others. Here are some writing-related jobs in different categories (in no particular order):

Creative Writing
You can certainly head a creative route and work as a novelist, video game writer, or screenwriter.

Journalism
Journalism is another field within writing, with subcategories such as photojournalism and sports journalism. TV stations also hire writers for producing and writing content.  

Law
At the entry level, you can work as an administrative assistant in a law firm. Since the field involves such a high level of writing, a background of study in business and writing is a smart way to set yourself up for law school.

Freelance
Working as a freelance writer can be a great option! There are several websites to advertise your skills and help you connect with clients. A similar but somewhat controversial field is ghostwriting. As a ghostwriter, you would develop content for a client, but you don’t get any of the credit for your work. The pay can vary widely, and ghostwriters have been used by songwriters, politicians, celebrities, and novelists.

Colored pens on open notebook. Text - Career Ideas for Writing Studies: creative writing, journalism, law, freelance, business, editing, publishing, copy editing, technical writing, and more.

Business
Within a wide scope of businesses, there are a variety of roles that would be strengthened by a background in writing. Some examples include communications specialist, marketing associate, public relations specialist, content strategist, or social media manager. Some organizations also hire proposal or grant writers.

Common Roles Across Industries
Other typical jobs for writers include editors, publishers, and copy editors or proofreaders. You can find these positions in a variety of organizations. If you can speak and write in more than one language, there are countless fields that utilize translators.

Unique Roles
While we’ve addressed some common areas writers work in, there are countless obscure roles you probably don’t know exist. Think of everything you read; someone is responsible for writing that! The backs of cereal boxes, birthday cards, the fine print at the bottom of those ads for medicine on tv. . .it’s all written by someone. Technical writers are often tasked with writing documents like manuals. In certain fields, such as engineering, demand for these positions can be quite high, but they typically require knowledge in your field as well as writing expertise. Another interesting position is speechwriting. Some celebrities, politicians, and executives actually hire writers to come up with their speeches.

Hopefully this opens your eyes to the many directions Writing Studies can take you! If you enjoy writing to any degree, I would encourage you to think outside of the box and combine that with your other interests to see how you can find success in your career.

Of Possible Interest: 
• What recent UMD grads are doing: Writing Studies, English, Journalism
Choosing a Major – all our blog posts on the topic
Turn Your Major into a Career – our Pinterest board filled with articles & resources

Best, Rachel

Read Rachel’s other posts

Photo sources: Unsplash | rawpixel & Jessica Lewis

Career Planning Process: Explore Options

By: Paying

There are so many paths you could take during your career planning process: assessing yourself, exploring options, developing skills, marketing yourself, and managing your career. Not one person is the same and it doesn’t matter which order you choose to do these in. In this blog post, I’ll be writing about and giving advice based on my experience and the path I’ve been going about!

Career Planning model in a circle the text reads (starting on top and moving to the right): Assess Self, Explore Options, Develop Skills, Market Yourself, Manage Career

In one of my previous post, I shared my experience with an assessment offered by the Career and Internship Services office, this is where I first started my career planning process: assessing myself. After that experience, I started to question if my major and minor were ‘good enough’ to get me to my career goal: an editor. From this point on, I went to the next step in my career planning process: exploring my options. There are so many places one can choose to explore that it might seem overwhelming, and even scary, but it can be as easy as asking a friend for advice.

Since registration for Spring Semester was approaching, I first looked into the possibility of double majoring and/or minoring. I asked for advice from co-workers, both students and full-time staff, as well as family and friends. From there, some of my friends had recommended I speak with their friends who then advised me to speak with some professors at UMD who are knowledgeable in my field of interest. Turns out I was already taking a course taught by one of the recommended professors! She assured me that the path I’m going down is fine and was actually similar to hers. With assurance from my professor, I went on to speak with a friend who was majoring in Journalism, a field I thought about double majoring in. After our conversation, I crossed that option off my list because it wasn’t the right path for me to go into for editing however, she recommended I speak with both her significant other who was a Professional Writing minor and her close friend who actually works as a managing editor for the student-run news organization on campus, The Bark.

Lighthouse with light beam at night. Text: Career planning process: explore options.

Weeks of talking with many different people with different backgrounds led me to finally choose to add on another minor: professional writing! Now that I settled confidently with my educational path, it was time to explore more options to give me experience related to editing. I got in contact with two student employees from The Bark and was given a publishing opportunity! About a week after speaking of the opportunity, I was going to get one of my written pieced published on their website but first I went in to discuss the edits I would have to make. When I went into their office, I found out one of their workers was actually a person I sat next to in class. After the meeting, I was referred to a job posting by The Bark to apply as an editor!

Within 2-3 weeks of exploring my options while going through my career planning process, I added on a new minor, I have a piece published, and I am connected to new people who are experienced in a field I want to have a career in! Exploring options may be something as small as reaching out to a friend and it could lead you to something as big as a job offering or an internship! No matter what you choose to do, all it takes is one step and from there, you’re already closer to your career goal.

Of Possible Interest: 
Double Majoring: Pros and Cons
Career Planning for Humanities Majors
Career Planning – all our blog posts on the topic
Boost Your Career in College – our Pinterest board filled with articles & resources

Read Paying’s other posts

Photo Sources: UMD Careers; Unsplash|Evgeni Tcherkasski

How I Figured Out What I Want to be When I Grow Up

By: Eva

Before college, I knew that I wanted to be a therapist. From middle school until junior year of high school this was my dream profession until I began to worry I wouldn’t make enough money. At that time, 16-year-old Eva didn’t understand that success is measured in thousands of ways and depends on who is holding up the ruler. When I started college through PSEO (Postsecondary Enrollment Options) a couple months later, I enrolled in pre-business classes, but one economics course steered the fate of that short-lived decision. In the following years, I would scramble to find the perfect career that would make me rich, successful, and better than “normal.” I felt a lot of pressure to perform and compete against other students for scholarships, grades, and recognition. This mindset might have been the perfect environment for some people to thrive, but for me, it meant that my goals were made with skewed parameters that required unsustainable levels of energy. I think a lot of people have felt the way I did my first few semesters of college.

Before I go on, I have to acknowledge something super relevant to my experience. I am a young white woman from a middle-class family. I think many people in college, whether first-generation or legacy, white or POC, able-bodied or disabled, can feel pressure from their families and communities. My particular brand of pressure is inseparable from ableism and white privilege.

After my brief stint as a business major during PSEO I switched to nursing. I got my CNA license, enrolled in pre-nursing classes at LSC (Lake Superior College), and was given my first pair of super-cute teal scrubs as a high school graduation present. I loved that as a nurse I could help people in such a direct way. However, after three years of caring for elderly people as an aide, caregiver trauma started to seriously impact my mental health. That realization was incredibly difficult but necessary because it helped me understand my limits.

succulent with grey pot; Text: How I figured out what I want to be when I grow up

I explored my options: I was always told that I wrote well, but I was repelled from an English or Writing degree because of the (untrue) stereotype that graduates with liberal arts degrees are unsuccessful. I tried for several months to transfer to UMD for a biology degree but the core science classes at LSC only counted as electives at UMD. I couldn’t afford another five semesters of college and that fact allowed me to ignore that I was still headed in the wrong career direction. Another area I had done well in was laboratory procedures, which sounded like an acceptable route. I signed up for Medical Lab Technician classes at LSC. There were parts of the classes I really liked, such as drawing blood, looking through microscopes, and learning about pathology. Overall, I felt overwhelmed and disappointed with my choice.

By this point I started to realize that I had been shoving myself into a box I didn’t fit in. I had been trying to make my idea-centered brain work with numbers and logic. Not only was this wasting my strengths, but because of the low enrollment cap on the program I might have prevented someone else from succeeding.

When I looked back I realized that whenever I’d talk about being a nurse or lab tech I felt like I was talking about someone else. All of the prerequisites and checklists felt like I was a hamster in a wheel and not someone about to begin the rest of their adult life. Back to the drawing board. My favorite classes had been sociology and anthropology and many of my role models had similar degrees. After a lot of Google research, I decided that anthropology would be a great place to start. After three and a half years of college, I finally figured out my priorities – and was proud of them.

But wait! There’s one more twist to this story. My first full-time semester at UMD I began working as a Peer Educator at Career and Internship Services. I remember talking with the counselors about all the careers I thought I might like, but after years of chasing the wrong degree I knew I still did not feel right. Part of the student employee training involved personality and strengths assessments, all of which hinted (shouted) that I should consider counseling. I liked the sound of it, especially because it allowed me to help people hands-on, but caregiver trauma is a relevant issue for counselors I couldn’t ignore. Then I had a “could have had a V8” moment when the thought occurred to me that I should look into career counseling.

I could help people, have a useful career that took advantage of my strengths, work in a position that aligns with my values, and have a reliable income. I felt like a massive weight was lifted off my shoulders, almost literally. The pieces clicked together with an ease I had never experienced before. I know that I might change my mind in the future. At least for now I have a plan, which is more important than the plan actually happening.

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

Read Eva’s other posts 

Photo Source: Unsplash | Scott Webb

Start on the Right Foot

The school year has started! Woo! We’ve put together a mini to-do list for career-related items that ought to be completed by the end of the September (or earlier). Here’s a full breakdown of career-related items you can be working on during each year of your college career.

Start the school year off right

Freshmen:

  • Come find us! We’re located in Solon Campus Center 22 (aka: The Wedge). You can also find us online at any, and all, of these locations: websiteFacebookTwitter, InstagramLinkedIn, and Pinterest. I’d list our blog, too, but if you’re reading this, you’ve already found our blog. Kudos to you!
  • Get involved on-campus – in something. This could be a student organization, your residence hall, working on-campus, and much more.
  • Start your resume…even if it just has your HS involvement, the fact that you’re now a UMD student, and any jobs you may have had up until now.

Sophomores:

  • Research careers related to your major. Check out the Follow-up of Majors, from our Graduate Follow-up Report, to see where recent UMD grads have landed jobs right out of college (with YOUR major!).
  • If you haven’t decided or declared your major yet, you can take one of our career assessments (Strong Interest Inventory, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and CliftonStrengths for Students).
  • Get involved in something on-campus. Build your resume so you’re ready for whatever opportunities may come your way in future years. If you’re already involved in something, see how you can increase your involvement. This could be a leadership role, more responsibility, etc.

Juniors:

  • Update and polish your resume.
  • Prep for upcoming job & internship fairs (E-Fest for Engineering, Computer Science, & Science, Head of the Lakes Job & Internship Fair, and the Government & Non-Profit Career Fair are all happening this Fall).
  • Consider possible internship sites.

Seniors:

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash