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Should I Go to College if I Don’t Know What Career to Pursue?

i don t know what to go to college for

“I don’t know what I want to go to college for!”

If you’re about to graduate from high school, you may find yourself saying this a lot. Your parents, teachers, and friends may be encouraging you to go to college. If you already know exactly what career you want to pursue, you may be on board with this idea, but what if you aren’t quite sure? What if you don’t know what you want to go to school for?

If you don’t know what to study in college, you’re not alone. Roughly 20 to 50 percent of incoming students are undecided on a major— they want to go to college, but they don’t know what to study. It may even surprise you to learn that even once they are enrolled, many students still say, “I don’t know what to do in college.” In fact, around 75 percent of students change their major at least once during their college careers.

So, you see, your doubts and misgivings are perfectly normal. In this article, we’ll talk about what you should do if you are undecided about college because you don’t know what career to pursue. 

What Do You Love To Do?

Being forced to choose a major is stressful. Perhaps you fear failure or the idea that making the wrong decision will lead to an unhappy and unfulfilled life. One of the main reasons students drop out of college is that they feel unsatisfied with their coursework and the whole college experience. Often, this is a result of doing things they simply do not enjoy and ignoring their true passions.

It doesn’t need to be this way, especially if you explore your degree options based on activities and hobbies you already love. It may sound cliche’, but doing what you love is a surefire way to a happy life. This is where a list of potential majors can come in handy.

But what if you can’t even come up with a list of college degrees you might like to pursue? If you find yourself drawing a blank, dig deeper into your memory vaults and try to picture a time when you felt really, really happy with what you were doing. This might be an extracurricular activity at school, your first job, a volunteer event, or some other instance where you had an overwhelming sense of well-being.

Without judgment, begin jotting all of these thoughts on a list. For now, let’s call this your “inspiration list.” Yours will be unique, of course, but here is a basic example of an inspiration list. 


I don't know what to do in college

Once you have your list together, think about the types of classes that might interest you based on things you know from experience you will enjoy. You can get as detailed as you want with the list, honing in on your specific skill sets and personality type to determine the career path that might best suit you. However, this is meant to be a fun discovery activity, not a burdensome task, so be sure to keep it lighthearted. 

What Don’t You Want to Do?

If you aren’t sure what interests you, it may be easier to decide which kinds of jobs you don’t want to have first. Many jobs are available that only require a high school diploma, but before you decide to skip college, check to see whether any of them interest you. 

Most retail positions don’t require any sort of post-secondary education, and you probably don’t need a degree if you want to work with children in a daycare setting. If you’re an introvert, becoming a mail carrier could be a good choice. You also don’t have to go to school to become self-employed.

Many jobs that only require a high school diploma are entry-level, though, and you may have a hard time getting promoted without a degree. If you know that you don’t want to stay in an entry-level position for a long time, consider going to college.

Salary

Some people don’t care about money as long as they have enough to live on, but others base their career choice solely on income potential. Neither of these attitudes is better than the other, but if you care a lot about living comfortably and would even like to live a little extravagantly, you should consider going to college. 

On the other hand, many individuals who have only earned a high school diploma do very well for themselves.

However, college graduates generally make more money than people who haven’t gone to college. A recent study shows that the income gap between college graduates and non-graduates isn’t shrinking; in fact, it seems to be widening. According to Northeastern University, those with a bachelor’s degree can expect to make about $18,772 more per year than individuals without an associate’s degree or no degree at all. If money is important to you, strongly consider getting at least a bachelor’s degree.

Options For Undecided Students

I don't know what to study in college

Don’t forget there are plenty of resources available to you as an incoming student. While some are stronger than most, all schools have a student advising department to help you navigate all your options. Set up an appointment with an advisor early in the process. This way, they will have time to get to know you and can offer you the most appropriate guidance.

Taking advantage of online quizzes or assessments that can help match you with majors or schools that pair well with your unique abilities. While these types of tools should be taken with a grain of salt, they can be helpful to get ideas flowing when you are exploring your options.

Another less talked-about option is to take a gap year. If you feel pressured to make a decision about your major to the point that it is causing you distress, a gap year might be a godsend. It doesn’t have to mean that you have given up on college altogether, just that you need some extra time between high school graduation and the start of something new. Many students are simply not ready for college right away, and there is nothing wrong with that. 

What Is the Best Major To Choose If I Don’t Know What Career I Want To Pursue Yet?

It’s easy to get caught up in the anxiety of the unknown. Most people are more comfortable when major life decisions are settled, and when things are up in the air, it can feel worrisome. Our suggestion? Relax. College is about the whole experience, and you have your entire life to decide what you want to be when you grow up!

Many students enter school undeclared, and at most colleges, you don’t have to declare your major until you’re in your junior year. If you’re ready for the college experience, but you don’t know what you want to study, you can get a head start by getting core requirements out of the way first. If you absolutely must choose a major, the following options are broad enough so you can begin exploring:

Communications

Majoring in communications is terrific for anyone who is undecided about where they want to end up. That’s because as a communications major, you’ll spend a lot of time developing transferable skills like problem-solving, writing, speaking, and other core competencies. The field is broad, and students can choose from several different specializations, including:

  • Public relations
  • Journalism, media, and broadcasting
  • Business and industrial relations
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Government and politics

You will learn how to form solid business relationships, write articles and press releases, work on campaigns, promote events, and help change public policy. 

Careers in communication may include:

  • Accounts executives
  • Digital marketing specialists
  • Press secretaries
  • Market research analysts
  • Social media manager
  • Content managers
  • Investigative reporters

See also: 10 Highest Paying Communications Degree Jobs

Business

If you don’t know what you want to do after you graduate from college, a business degree can help you gain practical and valuable skills that you can put to good use in nearly any industry. Every company, agency, and organization runs like a business and will always need those who are business-minded to help them run their day-to-day operations.

When you choose to major in business, there are many career options open to you, including:

  • Benefits and compensation managers
  • Real estate agents
  • Financial analysts
  • Investment bankers
  • Accountants
  • Loan officers
  • Product managers
  • Sales managers
  • Business operations specialists

Psychology

Psychology is one of the top majors at most US colleges. If human behavior and the inner workings of the mind fascinate you, a degree in psychology might be a good fit. As a student pursuing your degree in psychology, you will develop interpersonal, writing, and critical thinking skills. You will also learn about researching and analyzing data and developing quantitative and qualitative skills.

Psychology majors often pursue careers as:

  • Social workers
  • Substance abuse counselors
  • Mental health counselors
  • Human resource generalists
  • Teachers
  • Educational psychologists
  • Psychotherapists
  • Research assistants
  • Caseworkers

Check out: 10 Highest Paying Psychology Jobs

Computer Science

There is little doubt that solid computer skills are an ever-increasing necessity in our technology-driven world. If you enjoy working with computers, a degree in computer science can offer you practical skills and job security no matter what you choose to pursue later on.

If you don’t know what you want to go to college for, a computer science degree will ensure you will not waste money on your education. That’s because this is one of the most popular degrees when it comes to employment rates. 

Those who graduate with a degree in computer science are likely to find plenty of openings for work, so it’s ideal for those on a tight budget who need to have a marketable skill immediately.

When you major in computer science, you can find work across a broad range of fields, including healthcare, technology, education, business, finance, and many more.

Some career options for those who major in computer science include:

  • Software developers
  • Data scientists
  • Business intelligence analysts
  • Network architect
  • IT and support staff members
  • User interface designer
  • Network systems administrators
  • Web developers
  • Information security analyst
  • Cloud computing engineer
  • Mobile application designer or developer

You may also like: 20 Creative Careers for Computer Science/IT Majors

 Liberal Arts

If you don’t know what you want to study in college, a liberal arts degree is one of your most flexible options. There are many avenues to explore in liberal arts, and this interdisciplinary degree can pave the way for various career paths. You’ll learn all the core skills necessary to transition seamlessly to other majors if you choose—things like analytic reasoning, research, communication, interpersonal, and critical thinking competencies.

Liberal arts majors also have a lot of flexibility when it comes to coursework. There are liberal arts classes available on nearly any subject, including culture, foreign languages, race, sexuality, gender, and more. 

Many liberal arts graduates go on to become:

  • Lobbyists
  • Human resource specialists
  • Economists
  • Editors
  • Public relations specialists
  • Museum managers
  • Teachers
  • Salespersons
  • Writers 

English

English major curriculums are designed to prepare students for a wide variety of frameworks and settings. While the idea of declaring a major in English has become somewhat cliche’, it’s still an excellent choice for those who have no idea what they want to do after college. 

Naturally, it would be best if you enjoyed English to be successful in an English program. The skills learned will be invaluable to the rest of your education and your life after school is finished. Competencies gained include excellent writing, analytical, and critical thinking skills, all of which can be applied across any field.

Here are some examples of career options for English majors:

  • Editors
  • Technical writers
  • Announcers
  • Copywriters
  • Freelance writers
  • Librarians
  • Teachers
  • Public relations specialists
  • Marketing associates
  • Lawyers

Biology

If English is not your thing, perhaps you lean toward the sciences. In this case, a biology degree may be more your style. Contrary to what you might think, a degree in biology is not only for those in the medical field. The skills learned as a biology major can be transferred to a broad range of careers, including testing hypotheses, interpreting scientific data, studying living organisms, creating lab reports, critical thinking, and more.

If you have a biology degree, you might pursue work in one of these careers:

  • Conservation scientist
  • Food science technician
  • Occupational therapist
  • Park Ranger
  • Forensic scientist
  • Health educator
  • Cellular biologist
  • High-school science teacher
  • Disease researcher
  • Genetic counselor
  • Geographer
I want to go to college but I don't know what to study

Closing Thoughts

Don’t fret too much about choosing a major before you go to college. Most colleges and universities have programs for undecided students. If you don’t declare a major as a freshman, you can take general education classes for your first few semesters so that you’ll have more time to think about what you want to do with your life. You can also take this time to take a few courses in subjects that interest you. By taking a wide variety of classes during your first year, you may find a new passion or rekindle an old one. 

Talking to your advisor and making wise choices about your courses should enable you to graduate in four years. Of course, if you declare an additional major or choose a different one altogether, it may take longer to graduate, but at least you will have a better grasp of what you want. 

In short, don’t worry too much if you can’t choose a major right now. Even if you’re not sure about what career you want to pursue, you can still find the value of a college education.

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