Whether you’re a college freshman or a senior, it’s never too early to start planning your career path. Undergraduate studies put you in an environment you’ll only get to experience once – one with plenty of opportunities to explore your interests, meet new people and make lifelong friends, hone your teamwork and leadership skills, and choose a career path that interests and excites you. So, the sooner you start planning your career path in college, the better.
But, where should you start? From the moment you start college, you need to turn your attention to choosing a degree subject that will lead to realistic career choices, based on both your interests and your aptitudes. You’ll also need to think about the choices you can make outside of your degree program to support your future career goals. Finally, think about the career you want to have and sketch out at least a rudimentary plan for how it might progress.
Choose Your Course of Study
Choosing a major is one of the biggest questions most college students face, and it’s an intimidating one because, in many cases, the major you choose will lead directly to the career you have. So, choosing a major feels an awful lot like choosing your career and planning your whole life.
But that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes people don’t even end up working in their major’s field. Besides, while there are narrow majors like nursing that lead to a specific career path, there are other majors that can give you more flexibility when it’s time to apply to jobs.
When considering your course of study and the future career path(s) that it might lead to, use the G+P+V method, or gifts + passion + values. “Gifts” refers to your aptitudes; what are you good at? You’ll be most likely to thrive in a career where the work comes naturally. “Passion” refers to the things that inspire you, or the things you care about. “Values” refers to the way you like to work; perhaps you’d prefer to work independently, or you’re more of a team player, for example. If you don’t know what you’re good at, see a career counselor to take a career aptitude test.
Once you know what you’re good at and what you want from a career, you’ll be able to begin preparing. Some fields of study are narrow, such as education, petroleum engineering, or nursing; these prepare you for a specific career, which is fine if that’s what you want, but other fields of study, like English, history, philosophy, or political science, can leave you with more flexibility in terms of career.
Make Choices That Support Your Future Career Goals
College presents many opportunities outside of your degree program to gain experiences that can support your future goals. Long before you start using resume writing services and mock interviews to prepare for the job market, you need to start doing things that can go on your resume. Look for internships, summer jobs, and volunteer opportunities that can give you experience in your field. Gain leadership experience in student organizations. A job that puts you in a position of authority, like serving as a resident assistant in your dorm, will impart transferrable skills that will give you a wider range of career options later on.
If you’re taking your time deciding on a career path, use volunteer opportunities, internships, summer jobs, student groups, and other opportunities to explore paths that interest you. If you think you might be interested in a job, make sure you know what it entails; set up informational interviews with people who do the job, to learn more about what the day-to-day of the work involves. Definitely ask advice from parents, mentors, and others, but be prepared to take their advice with a grain of salt; only you know what you want out of a career and what you’re best at.
Sketch Out Your Career Path
You don’t have to map out your entire career progression for the next four decades while you’re in your first semester of college, and in fact, you probably can’t. But you should know in advance what steps you’ll need to take to get a foothold in your career, and where you’ll end up as you progress in it. For example, you may be interested in journalism, but aren’t so keen on the idea of one day being an editor who plans stories, corrects copy, and manages writers. Now that you know what comes later in that career, maybe you’ll choose a new one. Choose something that suits you based on your strengths and preferences, then figure out where you want to go in that career, and how you’ll get there.
Once you start college, it’s time to start planning your career. College life should offer you plenty of chances to explore your interests and begin gaining professional experience, so that by the time you graduate, you can transition to working in your chosen field without a hitch.