The myths – and realities – about choosing your major and career path

Course registration started last week, and Career Services counselors are seeing students with that panicked look in their eye. The opening statement for many counseling appointments? “I don’t know what I want to study.” Not knowing your program can cause stress when trying to register for courses. Thus, the panic! Sound familiar?

During most appointments, career counselors spend time talking about myths that can keep you from making career decisions. Below are seven ideas that you may agree with, followed by the realities to put you at ease.

Myth #1: “Everyone else knows what they want to do. Something’s wrong with me.”

Reality: Career clarity is often overstated. Many of your classmates are still deciding their career paths. And the students who say they know what they want to do have likely changed their mind several times.

Myth #2: “I need to find the one career for me.”

Reality: “A-ha” career decision moments are rarer than many people think. Factors that determine career satisfaction aren’t linked to only one career. For example, the desire to help people can be achieved through teaching, counseling and a variety of other jobs. Trying to focus on the one career leads to frustration.

Myth #3:  “What I study now determines my career path forever.”

Reality: What you study suggests career options right now. Students in the dental hygienist program want to work in that field; but, they may be in a different field in 20 years.

Many students are paralyzed by the belief that career decisions they make today are set in stone forever. Nope. Do you still enjoy the exact same things that interested you 10 years ago? Don’t worry about making precise predictions for 10, 20 or 30 years from now. Your interests, skills and experiences change as you grow and take on different life roles.

As far as academic majors being directly connected to career paths, ask Michael Eisner about that! The former CEO of Disney studied English and theater in college – and never took one business course.  

Myth #4: “There’s a career test that can tell me what program to study and what career to pursue.”

Reality: Career Services offers self-assessment surveys that provide insight and information about your interests and preferences as they relate to general occupational fields. The information is helpful. But only you can determine what direction to take.

Myth #5: “More information will help me decide.”

Reality: Don’t confuse research with reluctance. Many people keep researching careers and programs waiting for the a-ha moment that might never come (see Myth #2). Research is good, but eventually you’ll have to make a decision based on the information you’ve gathered. If after doing extensive research you still can’t make a decision, it’s time to figure out why.

Myth #6: “If I change careers, my education and skills go to waste.”

Reality: Once you earn a degree it’s yours to keep, as well as the skills you develop along the way. Earning a college degree opens more doors. You may find yourself using your skills in a different way, but don’t confuse different with wasteful.

Myth #7: “I need to choose a profession where many job opportunities exist.”

Reality: Wanting job security after graduation is understandable. But the reality is no field can guarantee you a job. Additionally, new jobs are being created every day. The world of work will look different 10 years from now. Remember, prior to the internet’s invention 30 years ago, a web designer was just a spider!  

Take time to plan, but don’t let common career myths hold you back from making decisions.