Myth: I Have to Know My Career Goal Before College

You don't need to know what your career goal is before going to college

Flickr user John Morgan

As nice as it would be to know exactly what you want to do right off the bat, it may not be the case. And that’s ok! Not everyone has a set-in-stone plan by the first day of Freshman year, and even those with a clear career goal or outline might find their plans changing.

College is a time of discovery.

Specific and specialized classes are offered, whereas in high school, they were largely generalized. You meet up with classmates who have common interests in what once seemed niche. Opportunities present themselves that perhaps you hadn’t even considered before. Professors inspire, you learn new things, events happen all around you.

Many students are considered ‘undeclared’ their Freshman year as they test the waters and see what courses they enjoy. Picking a college major can be difficult, after all. You never quite know what will catch your interest. (I certainly didn’t think I would take, let alone enjoy, a  Medieval Norse Viking Literature class).

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an idea.

So does that mean you don’t need any plan before going to college? If you haven’t the slightest clue what is you’d like to study, it’s all going to work out fine? You’ll magically ‘discover yourself and your goal’ after a year or two in college?

Well, no not really. Maybe you don’t have a specific end-goal career in mind just yet, but going into college without some sense of direction isn’t a great plan. Tuition is expensive, after all, and you don’t want to take a handful of varied courses and still not know what you’re interested in after Freshman year and thousands of dollars spent.

If you’re at a loss for what you want to do, consider what classes in high school you enjoyed. Biology? English? Mathematics? History? Finding a subject that fascinates you is key to discovering your ultimate goal. Search your college’s course catalog to find some classes in that subject that seem interesting.

Say history is your thing. After searching the catalog you find an African Studies class that really intrigues you. What related courses are offered? Which courses are also labeled ‘history’? Take a peek at the History Major requirements–do any of those mandatory classes seem like your thing? And make sure to do a college visit; see if you can get a tour from a history student, talk to a history professor, or even sit in on a history class.

You don’t have to know that you want to be a museum curator or an archivist from the get-go, but you do know you’d like to study something relating to history. That’s your starting block. Now you have a general direction to go in. From there you can springboard into comparing colleges known for producing History Majors.

Continuing with our hypothetical example, say it’s Freshman year. You’re interested in the History Major track (whether you’re officially declared or not). Talk to your history professors–they can offer great insight and potentially have connections to an industry you haven’t considered yet. Talk to fellow History Majors–what are they planning to do after college? Talk to your career advisor–what sort of internship opportunities are there for History students? Attend career fairs, follow historical news, research ‘careers for people with degrees in History’, Google ‘famous Historians’. There is a lot of information at your disposal, and with even just a bit of direction, you can make your way through it and hopefully find inspiration.

What if you know what your career goal already is?

Switching gears: say you do know exactly what you want to do. Good for you! That will likely change. Not every single class required by your major will be tailor-made for the career you have in mind, but that’s a good thing! College is about expanding your horizons and your interests. Throughout your years you will discover more about yourself and your favored subject than you ever thought possible.

(As a personal example, I knew exactly what I wanted to be from the very start: an author. I pursued every creative writing and literature course I could. I had to fulfill an elective and so chose Writing for Film despite only having an interest in novels. I thought it’d just be a one-off course, but it soon became my favorite class I’d ever taken. I took it two semesters in a row and am now highly interested in screenplay writing).

So to make a long story short: you don’t have to know the specific career you’d like to have, but it’s important to have a direction to go in.

Don’t waste your time or money on wandering around aimlessly, but also be open to new ideas and opportunities. Strike the balance of open-mindedness and focus. If you really need to, take a gap year between high school graduation and college to discover what interests you.

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