Choosing A Major
Choosing a major and planning a future career is a process, not a destination with a finite ending point. Click here for a College Success Timeline. Follow these steps to start the journey toward effective career planning. The road will likely make several turns or branch off in different directions, as you discover new options or new information about yourself. Use these steps to chart your course so you have less surprises along the way!
Step 1: Identify Your Interests, Personality Traits, Work Values, and Skills
Step 2: Explore Career Options
Step 3: Make A Decision
Step 4: Take Action
Step 5: Evaluate Your Choice
Step One: Identify Your Interests, Personality Traits, Work Values, and Skills
Making good decisions depends on gathering good information. In career planning, that includes information about you and information about careers. So, what types of information about yourself should you gather? Of course most people think about interests and skills when they think about careers. "What do I like?" or "What am I good at?" There are also other things to consider such as work values and personality fit. "Who do I want to work with?" or "Where do I want to be in my career in five years?"
There are a number of different ways of gathering this information about yourself. You can start with some simple checklists or exercises designed to jump-start your thinking. If you are a currently enrolled WTAMU student or alumni, we offer the assessments in MyPlan free of charge. For free resources on line that any one can utilize, check out these Self Assessment Tools.
Career Services has other tools to help students in this "self assessment" process. You can set an appointment with a professional counselor on staff who can help you explore your career options. In your work with a counselor, you may decide to take MyPlan, the career assessment we use with WTAMU students. The assessment can be used as information gathering tools to help you clarify your interests and other criteria, such as personality and values. These assessments are part of an overall career planning process and are not going to tell you what you should be, but they can start you thinking.
Once you have gathered and organized information about yourself you can develop a profile of what you are looking for in a career. Then it's time to find out which careers best match that profile.
Step Two: Explore Career Options
Now that you've gathered information about yourself, you can begin to explore careers that are available to you.
Begin by exploring careers that are of interest to you as well as ones about which you may know very little. There are several ways to go about this. One of them is to start with the things you are most interested in and branch out from there by exploring related careers. You can base this search on the careers suggested through the assessment you took in Career Services. Another way to do this is to focus on career associated with the major(s) you are considering and expand your search from there. The majors section in MyPlan is a great place to see what you can do with the major you are considering.
Whatever route you choose, there are resources in Career Services that can assist you. Some of these are: the Library in Career Services, MyPlan, the Career EXPOs and the Educator's EXPO, our job shadow program, and Experiential Education program.
By attending the Career EXPO in the fall and spring, you will have the chance to talk to recruiters from over 100 companies about career opportunities and how to prepare yourself for them.
There is a wealth of information available on the internet to assist you in researching careers. Take a look at the following sites on the internet to do occupational research:
Utilize as many sources and gather as much information about careers as possible. This part of the process can be the most time consuming, but the more information you gather, the better decision you'll be able to make. Remember, this is an information gathering step. Save the evaluation process until the next step.
Step Three: Make a Decision on a Career/Major
Making a decision about your career actually takes very little time, yet it can be the most frustrating and difficult part of the process. Seventy percent of students change their majors at least once and, on average, most people change their career fields six or seven times in their lifetimes. The more time and effort you put into the first two steps in the process, the more easily you should be able to make your decision and the more comfortable you will be with that decision. Keep in mind that no career can possibly meet all of your needs. You will have to do some bargaining and prioritizing to pick the career which meets your most important needs or allows you the flexibility to meet them outside of the workplace. Also remember that there will be numerous career paths within a given career field. For example, an accountant can work in a large accounting firm, and have his/her own personal business,or can be the only accountant in a business in a completely different career field. Your exploration is only just beginning when you pick a major or general career field. If you find that you are getting stuck on this step or are experiencing too much anxiety surrounding your choice, there may be more work to be done in steps one and two. This may be a good time to take the information you have and sit down with a career counselor. You may simply not be ready to make this decision yet, feeling that you don't have enough information to make a choice. THAT IS OK!. Everyone progresses through these stages at a different pace.
Step Four: Take Action
Now that you have made a decision and are excited about your career choice you can take some time to relax, right? WRONG! It takes more than a degree to compete in today's marketplace. You want to try your major or career on for size and make any alterations you need to find the perfect fit.
The first step is to determine the steps required to implement your decision and then develop a timeline for getting it done. In looking at your new major, remember to consider prerequisite course work, entry requirements, application deadlines and procedures. See an academic advisor in the major you selected for an outline of the courses necessary to take for your major.
Employers consistently tell us that they concentrate on three general areas with the candidates they invite for interview. The first is academic excellence. While your GPA and overall academic record will decrease in importance as you gain more experience in your field, it will be very important in your entry level job search. The second aspect is career related experience. You can get this experience through part time work or volunteer, but the best comes from participating in an internship through the Experiential Education Program here at WTAMU. By doing an internship or co-op you can get great experience while field testing your choice. The third thing employers look for is leadership experience. While you are here at WTAMU, explore the many student activities and organizations WT has to offer. Find one or two or three that appeal to you either because they represent your career choice, or your cultural background, political views, or service goals. Join a select group or two and get involved. Take leadership roles and gain this valuable experience. Not only will it help you in your career, it will also add to you overall experience here at WTAMU. There are two other skills that you need to have when you get ready to go on the job market. No matter what your career field, you will need to have computer skills. In addition, most employers look for people with good communication skills. You need to be able to work with others effectively and provide good customer service to your customers. Taking action in these ways can help you to become more marketable when you graduate. It can also help you to evaluate your choice of major or career.
Step Five: Evaluate Your Choice
Well, you've made your decision and have started toward that major or career. Congratulations! Don't relax too much because you aren't finished yet. Actually, you are never really finished. Evaluation and change is likely to be a permanent part of your career life.
As we stated earlier, 70% of students change their majors at least once and the average person changes career fields six or seven times during their career lifetime. Once of the reasons for this is that there is no substitute for actual experience. You can research particular major or career but until you have some experience with it, you can't be 100% sure it's for you. The classes for a particular major may sound interesting on paper, but may be very different once you are enrolled in them. You may find a career that meets all of your important needs, but the company you work for does not.
Another thing that contributes to changing majors or careers is that your own needs and values may change over time. Few of us are the same person we were 10 years ago. As your values change, so might your attraction to a particular major or career. You may want more challenge, more responsibility, or a promotion. Other times, life circumstances or a change in the industry may force you to make a career change. It is suggested that you take an inventory of your needs and values from time to time and compare them to your current career. If they are being met, you will probably be content in that particular position of a while. If not, you may want to explore the importance of the unmet need(s) and consider if and how you want to change that. This may mean going back to the beginning of this cycle and re-exploring your interests, values, and career options. The point is that the course of your career can be very dynamic. If you can anticipate some of these changes and are familiar with the steps in the career planning process, it can make those transition points easier to manage.