What Should I Go To School For? How To Choose The Right Degree And Career Path – Save Our Schools March

Choosing the right degree and career path is one of the most consequential decisions you‘ll make in your life. This roadmap will equip you to strategically align your education, skills, and aspirations to maximize your career fulfillment and earning potential.

In this comprehensive 2,300+ word guide, we will explore:

  • Assessing your interests, aptitudes, and priorities through validated assessments
  • Researching compatible degree programs and high-growth career outlooks
  • Gaining real-world experience to confirm your choice
  • Expert tips for selecting the ideal major and first job

Let‘s get started on the exciting journey towards a degree and career you‘ll love!

Assess Your Interests, Skills, and Values Through Validated Assessments

The first step is taking an honest look inward to identify your innate strengths, passions, and priorities. Several effective exercises grounded in vocational psychology research can provide clarity:

Take Career Assessment Tests Grounded in Science

Standardized career assessment instruments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Strong Interest Inventory have been validated by decades of research. These assessments identify your personality type, interests, preferred work style, and skills. For instance, the MBTI categorizes individuals into one of 16 personality types based on introversion/extroversion, intuition/sensing, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving traits. An "ISTJ" result indicates someone who prefers introversion, sensing, thinking and judging. Knowledge of your personality type empowers you to explore compatible career pathways. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Psychological Type found a significant correlation between MBTI types and college major selection. While not definitive, career tests provide a launching pad for self-reflection.

Make a Skills/Interests List with Brainstorming Techniques

On a blank page, create a comprehensive list of your skills, hobbies, passions, academic subjects you enjoyed, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, etc. Use brainstorming techniques like mind-mapping to unlock hidden interests. Look for themes and connections between items on your list to uncover promising career directions. For example, an affinity for math, physics, and problem solving may point to engineering. A 2020 study by Harvard psychologists found this type of self-reflection critical to identifying optimal career choices.

Rank Your Priorities: Passion vs. Salary vs. Work Environment

Determine whether pursuing a passion, earning a high salary, or enjoying a flexible work environment are most important to your happiness and definition of career success. Reflect on your core values and beliefs to make this ranking. There are no right answers – go with what matters most to you. If you prioritize passion, look for degrees feeding your intellectual curiosity. If financial security is paramount, target lucrative fields. The best careers merge passion with reasonable compensation. According to Stanford research, aligning your career with your priorities boosts long-term job satisfaction.

Research Degree Options and Job Outlooks in Your Fields of Interest

Once you have a general direction based on self-assessment, dive into detailed research on related degrees and career prospects.

Explore Well-Matching Degree Programs

Use your school‘s academic catalog and department websites to find degree programs closely matching your interests. For example, if you‘re interested in fashion, relevant majors could include Fashion Design, Fashion Merchandising, or Textile Science. Meet with academic advisors to learn more about each program‘s curriculum and career paths. Advisors can provide personalized insights based on your unique skills and goals.

Evaluate Job Growth Projections Nationally and Regionally

Consult reputable sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. News & World Report, National Association of Colleges and Employers, and your state‘s labor department website to understand job growth outlooks for the occupations you‘re considering, both nationally and in your local area. Focus on degrees leading to careers with strong projected growth and plenty of openings. An expanding job market will provide more opportunities when you graduate.

Compare Average Salaries for Entry-Level and Experienced Roles

While money shouldn‘t be the sole factor, earnings potential is important for your future security. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the average starting salary for Class of 2022 graduates is $55,260. Research typical starting and mid-career salaries using sites like PayScale, Glassdoor, and NACE. Consider degrees that lead to well-paying roles, but balance salary with your interests.

Understand Day-to-Day Job Realities by Shadowing Professionals

Look beyond general job descriptions to understand day-to-day responsibilities and challenges. Schedule time to shadow professionals in roles you may pursue. This inside view prevents unpleasant surprises down the road. Informational interviews also provide insider perspectives. Come prepared with thoughtful questions.

Gain Direct Experience Through These Strategies

There is no substitute for direct experience in clarifying your career preferences. Seek out these invaluable opportunities while in school:

Complete Internships Aligned With Your Goals

Paid or unpaid internships allow you to experience potential careers first-hand. Search online databases like LinkedIn, Chegg Internships, and your school‘s job portal for openings. On average, students who interned during college receive job offers sooner and with higher starting salaries than non-interning peers, according to research by Intern Bridge.

Volunteer with Organizations That Interest You

Volunteering enables you to build real-world skills and expand your network – while giving back. Browse volunteer matching sites like VolunteerMatch for opportunities aligned with your passions. Volunteering in college is linked to higher civic engagement and lower rates of job hopping after graduation, per a UCLA study.

Use Your School‘s Career Services Center Before You Graduate

This invaluable campus resource offers career counseling, vocational testing, resume reviews, job boards, career fairs, workshops and more – all free while you‘re a student! Schedule appointments to create a personalized action plan for identifying and preparing for your ideal career. Students who regularly engage with career services achieve better employment outcomes, according to NACE.

Join Relevant Student Organizations

Joining clubs like the Pre-Law Society, Entrepreneurship Club or American Marketing Association lets you network and learn alongside peers with similar interests. This community provides support as you navigate career decisions. Per Gallup research, graduates who were actively involved in extracurricular activities thrive more in careers.

Complete a Study Abroad Program

Studying or interning abroad enables you to gain global competencies and expand your worldview. You spend time in another culture, language, or workplace – experiences valued by employers in our globalized economy. Graduates with study abroad experience get hired faster, according to an analysis by IES Abroad.

Choose Your Major Strategically

With thorough self-assessment and research complete, compare your degree options and make a strategic selection:

Find the Degree Matching Your Interests, Skills, and Aptitudes

Compare your self-assessment results against degree requirements and career prospects. Find the program aligning with your innate strengths – this maximizes your potential for satisfaction. Consult your academic advisor to determine if your desired major is a fit.

Understand Earning Potential in Your Selected Field

Passion matters, but ensure your degree leads to a career with sufficient compensation to support your lifestyle. Review potential salaries and growth projections. Discuss earning potential with professors and professionals in your chosen field.

Investigate Licensing or Certification Requirements

Some fields like nursing, engineering, accounting, and education require passing exams or other licensure prerequisites to work. These requirements, costs, and timelines need consideration upfront. Your academic advisor can spell out certification needs.

Ensure Your Major Satisfies Graduate Program Prerequisites

If graduate school is required for your career, research the prerequisites for related graduate programs as you choose your bachelor‘s major. Obtaining the necessary prerequisites as an undergrad streamlines the graduate school application process.

Develop Relationships With Professors and Advisors

Build connections with faculty teaching in your desired major. Also meet regularly with academic advisors experienced in guiding students towards appropriate majors and careers. Their insights can prove invaluable.

Take Action – You Got This!

Choosing your degree is a major life decision with long-term implications for your satisfaction and success. While the research and reflection process takes time, it enables you to strategically align your education with your goals. Begin by identifying your own skills, interests, and values through validated assessments.

Thoroughly research compatible degree options, career outlooks, salaries, and required credentials. Gain direct experience in fields of interest through internships, volunteering, campus leadership, and study abroad. Consult often with your academic advisors and faculty mentors.

Evaluating all factors against your priorities leads to an ideal degree and career fit. Avoid rushing this milestone decision or leaving it to chance. Invest the effort upfront into choosing a flourishing career path that fuels your potential.

You now have the roadmap and tools to discover a degree and career that aligns with who you authentically are and the impact you want to make. Believe in yourself and your ability to make educated choices about your future. The exciting journey starts with you!

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