If you’re just leaving school and wondering what to do next, or contemplating a career change, the chances are that you’re thinking about attending college. It’s an exciting prospect but also a daunting one. A degree isn’t cheap, and it takes a lot of time and commitment.

Before you take the plunge, it’s important that you evaluate not only what subject you would enjoy learning the most, but also which careers could your degree open up for you and should consider whether those careers are ones that you would ultimately be happy in?

These are big questions! So it’s a good idea to break them down a little..

What Are Your Goals?

The first question to consider is what your career goals are. According to 80,000 Hours, which is a charity dedicated to helping people find careers that can help them to make a meaningful difference in the world, one of the most important things to consider is careers that are a good personal fit for you. If you were terrified of the sight of blood for example, then it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to train as a nurse, no matter how much of a positive impact you could have on the world while doing it!

Some things to think about when you are considering possible career choices are:

  • Your personal values. What are the most important things to you? Is it important to you that you have a family, and earn enough money to support them while working regular hours? Are you committed to joining the fight against climate change? Do you love animals? Ascertaining what your personal values are is actually a lot more difficult than you might think! Psychology Today suggests a few methods that you can use to find them, including making a list of 10 or more values, and then cutting this list down to five. The act of having to remove values will show you which ones are truly important to you. It’s a good idea to repeat this exercise a few times over a couple of weeks to find your answers. You could also think about the people you love and respect, and what it is about them that you admire the most. This will give you a clue as to your own values.
  • Your skills. In order to feel satisfied in a job you need to be good at most parts of it, otherwise, your daily life will be a frustrating grind. Think about the skills that you already have, or skills that you are genuinely interested in learning, and think about careers where those things are a primary part of the job.
  • Enjoyment. You should think about a career where you can enjoy yourself most of the time. Obviously, everyone has to do things that they don’t particularly enjoy some of the time, particularly when you are building up your skill base, but your aim should be a job where you are mostly satisfied and engaged in your work.
  • Giving something back. Human beings are social animals, and we like to feel as though we are making some kind of difference in the world with our work. This doesn’t mean you have to work for a charity, but it’s important that you feel as though your work is genuinely helping somebody, somewhere.
  • Work-life balance and pay. Studies have shown that while pay is important up to a point, you need to be able to afford to live a comfortable life, after a certain level additional pay doesn’t necessarily equate to additional happiness. Think about the level of pay that you actually need to allow you to achieve your life’s ambitions. It’s also important to think about things like the number of hours you want to work, whether you want to be able to work from home, and if you’re happy to travel for work.
  • Future-proofing. When you’re thinking about future careers it’s important to think about which careers will be viable when you graduate. Technological advancements like Artificial Intelligence (AI) are rendering fields that were previously ‘safe’ like accounting obsolete. Do some research on which fields are likely to be around long enough for you to benefit from them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a great source of information about the outlook for employment sectors, as well as providing information about average pay and employment density by area of the country.
  • Flexibility. Gone are the days where people train in one career and stay in it for life. Think about developing a skill set that is in line with your values but that can also be applied to other careers, in case you want to make a change in the future.

Speak to People in Your Fields of Interest

Once you have narrowed down your possible career choices based on the steps above, it’s time to take your research one step further and find out what working in that field is actually like, and what kind of person employers are actually looking for.

The best way to do this is just to reach out! Identify people who are working in the field that you would like to work in, and contact them either via their professional email address or their LinkedIn profile to ask if they would be willing to have a conversation with you about their career.

Most people will be flattered that somebody wants to talk to them about what they do for a living, and will be pleased to answer your questions. Be sure to ask them the things that you can’t find out from a job description, for example, you could ask what the most enjoyable parts of their work are, what the most stressful parts of their work are, how their work-life balance is. Ask your questions with a view to discovering how the role lines up with what you have identified as your values. You can also find out what types of degrees and experience these employers find valuable, so that if you think it’s the one for you, you’ll know how to impress them.

If it’s possible, you could offer your services as a volunteer or an intern. You probably won’t get to do the exact job, but you can at least get a feel for what being on the job is like!

Online vs On-campus Study

Once you have narrowed down your preferred career path, you can use this information to help you decide which degree is the right one for you, or if a degree is the right path at all!

You can also decide whether you would like to study online, or on campus. There have been great advancements in the online facilities that universities are offering as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; a lot of institutions have had to invest a lot of time and money into their online offerings in order to service current students, but this means that online offerings going forward are likely to be a realistic alternative to attending a brick-and-mortar school.

For more information on what it’s like to study for an MBA online, click here.

When considering online vs on-campus study, again you need to look at what’s important to you. Online study has the benefit of allowing you to fit your studies around your life, so it’s great for people who are juggling childcare and employment. The fact that you have studied online and managed your own time will also look great to some prospective employers.

The benefit of on-campus study is that studying becomes a more central part of your life, because you are physically spending time with your classmates and teachers. A lot of online courses do make the effort to foster a sense of community, but nothing beats being somewhere in real life if you’re looking for the more social aspect of college. There is also the fact that some employers may put great stock in how prestigious an institution is when they are hiring graduates. These types of employers may prefer to hire people who have studied on campus. The best way to find out whether this is the case in your field of interest is to ask.

Choosing a School

So, you’ve settled on a career path, hopefully have a broad idea of what degree courses might help you to get there, and you’ve decided whether to study online or in person.

The final step is choosing your school and your course. The best way to narrow this down is to do some research on which schools have the most graduates that have gone on to work in your chosen field, and then specifically look at those schools to ascertain what courses they are offering. You should also take into account which schools it is feasible for you to attend based on the area of the country they are located in.

Once you have a few school and course options narrowed down, let them know your career goals and allow them to pitch their offering to you. You are the customer, after all!

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