Choosing a major when you are in college can be an exciting time, but many students also feel under a lot of pressure. The first few semesters of your bachelor’s degree are all about taking general education classes and getting used to college life, and then all of a sudden, you’re being asked to make a decision that will impact your entire career. With little work experience and possibly not much knowledge of the field you are entering, it’s very easy to crumble under all this pressure and end up choosing a major that you regret later.
Thankfully, if you realize that you want to work in a different sector to the one you majored in, all is not lost! Here are some tips on how to navigate a change of direction, based on where you are in your career.
If you are still in college
Colleges vary in terms of when they ask their undergraduate students to declare a major. Some colleges require you to obtain a certain number of credits before declaring your major, while others focus on the amount of time you have been enrolled as a student, regardless of how many credits you have completed. Generally, undergraduate students are expected to declare a major by either the middle or the end of their sophomore year. However, some colleges will require students to choose a major—or at least a school within the college—at the start of their undergraduate degree, especially if admissions to the college or the specific major are selective.
Regardless of whether you chose your major four semesters as a sophomore or before even setting foot on campus, however, it will be possible to change your major, even if you are fairly advanced in your studies. A huge number of students change majors at least once during their undergraduate degree, so the professors, student counselors, and clerical staff at your college will know how the process works and will be able to help you navigate it. If you have realized that the major you originally declared is not for you and now have your heart set on a different career, it’s worth taking the plunge and changing your major.
If you are not sure about your current major but you are not quite ready to let it go entirely, you could see if you can switch to a double major or to a dual degree. You should be aware, however, that pursuing a dual degree often entails more studying, more time, and, therefore, more money than studying for a single degree. Double majoring can also take extra time and money, but not necessarily—this often depends on how many prerequisites your two majors share.
Alternatively, you could declare a minor and split the time you have left in college between the discipline you originally decided to study and the discipline you have now decided that you are interested in. A minor usually takes around half of the number of credits to complete compared to a major, so you stand a better chance of being able to graduate within four years with a major and a minor than with a double major, especially if you change your mind about your desired career during the last few semesters of college.
If you are a recent graduate
If you recently graduated college and have now decided that you don’t want to go into the career you studied for, this is the time to get some work experience under your belt. The issue that many graduates face, especially if their degree did not include an internship or another practical component, is that they don’t realize the difference between studying a subject at an academic level and working ‘in the real world’. For example, you may be a bookish, analytical introvert who loves history, and you may have done really well in your history degree, which required you to analyze historical sources and write papers presenting your interpretation of the facts. After graduation, however, you might have got a job as a museum guide and realized that you really struggle with verbal communication skills or that you hate interacting with customers all day.
If that’s your situation, find another job and see if you like it better. Try to use this time to figure out which skills you already have and, when it comes to those you lack, which you might be able to acquire. Experiencing a variety of workplaces—such as an office, a store, an entertainment establishment, or a school—will help you narrow down possible career paths.
If you graduated a few years ago
Once you have spent some time working and have figured out which field you would like to go into, you can look into an accelerated or conversion degree to help you get there. These are condensed versions of a regular degree aimed specifically at those who already have a degree in another discipline; for example, there are online BSN programs for non nurses that will allow you to gain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in less than a year provided that you already have certain academic prerequisites. Get more info on nursing programs to ensure you’re making the best decision for yourself. Apart from nursing, other fields in which you could do an accelerated degree include:
- human resources management
If you cannot find an accelerated degree in your chosen field, another option would be for you to get an associate degree at your local community college. Associate degrees usually take two years to complete, and you normally choose a broad area of study—such as applied science—and then a specialization within it—such as diagnostic medical imagery. Depending on your chosen field of work, you might also be able to get the qualification you need through a vocational degree or a vocational certificate.
When you are planning your career move, make sure you look into whether the job you are choosing also requires a professional license. In some states, security guards, makeup artists, residential painting contractors, and even shampooers need to be licensed, so don’t get caught out and budget in advance for the time and money it will take you to acquire your license.