How to Choose the Right Major or Career Path for You

From one of our readers: "How will I know the right career path for me?"

“My parents keep asking what I plan to do with my life. I have no idea! I get anxious just thinking about the future. My older brother is in medical school, but he hates it. I don’t want the same thing to happen to me. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that I wasted my time and chose the wrong major.”

5 Actionable Steps to Help You Find Your Career Path:

First, let us just say that we hear you – making major life decisions is difficult at its best, and anxiety provoking at its worst. This is why we developed five actions you can take right now to help you figure out what you want to do in college and in your career.

1. Make a list of your interests and passions.

What do you really care about? Fashion? The environment? Politics? Make a list of all the things that get you fired up. If you’re not sure how to identify your passions, try this.

Once you have done this step, think about where your talents lie.

If you really enjoy music and can’t see a life without it, but you can’t carry a tune, then you probably shouldn’t become a professional singer. However, all is not lost. Every industry offers a plethora of options.

Matter of fact, if there are no options, then create one. If we’re sticking with the music example: you may not have the voice to be the next Whitney, but you can definitely write songs for whoever has that kind of voice.

After you have evaluated your interests and your talents, determine if there is any overlap and start researching your career options within that industry.

2. Consider your personality.

This is similar to evaluating your interests and talents.

For instance, let’s say that you are really passionate about education; however, you are not a morning person at all. A teaching career may not be for you since they have to wake up early in order to make it to school on time.

Or is there a way to work around your personality? Remember that thing about creating an opportunity where there is none?

Maybe you cannot take on a “regular-start-at-8am” teaching job, but there are other options: You could teach English online to students in China. China’s time zone is 12 hours ahead of Florida, so that means most Floridians are getting ready for dinner when China is just starting to wake up.

In short – do consider your personality, but don’t let it limit you. If you really have a passion for something, you will find a way.

3. Determine your goals.

This is the time for you to sit down and really get any goals you have on paper. Be as specific as possible. Examine everything, whether it’s an aspect of your career or it’s just related to your life in general. Ask yourself these kinds of questions:

  • Where do you want to live?
  • How lofty are your salary expectations (if you have any)?
  • What kind of lifestyle would you enjoy?

If you have two different interests, try and find a way to do both.

For example: If you want to be a teacher, but you also have your heart set on travelling the world, then do both. Teachers are literally needed everywhere. You can travel the world and teach simultaneously. Look into teach abroad opportunities.

If you have a certain salary expectation in mind, you have to take this into account as well. Your passion might not offer you the income you desire, but perhaps you can choose a similar position, or determine different ways in which you can beef up your income. You could take a side job, or even start a business.

Whenever possible, remove the barriers that keep you from living the kind of life you want.

4. Volunteer or get an internship – do anything to get an inside look at potential career paths.

Getting real-world experience is the best way to figure out if the idea of your potential career matches the reality of it.

So start volunteering or find an internship. If you already have experience, then you may be able to find a paid internship. But if not, take the unpaid experience. It will pay off in other non-monetary ways (like your college applications).

Even if after you get experience and decide that is not the career path for you, you could meet people that can offer you more interesting opportunities. Be open minded and learn as much as you can. If you end up liking a volunteer position or internship, then you already have one foot in the door.

It might sound a little early to network, but networking in high school and college can jumpstart your career – and your life in general.

5. Get a mentor.

This is more important than people think. Having a mentor is like having a free life coach.

Mentors can offer you advice and let you in on industry secrets. You can even have more than one mentor, so you can get different perspectives. And just like volunteering or an internship, your mentor can expose you to people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

How do I find someone to mentor me?

It’s simple: Just strike up a conversation with someone that you admire. This person can be anyone: a family member, a friend in college or in your prospective field, a youth group leader, someone in your volunteer group or internship (yes, we’re pushing this.) If cannot find anyone to mentor you in-person, then try these online mentorship sites for high schoolers.

Let them know your intentions and be ready to offer something valuable in return. It might seem like you have nothing to give. But time is the most valuable thing to have, and your mentor would probably love to save some time by getting an assistant. That’s where you come in.

As an assistant, you are also able to shadow that person and get real “day in the life of” perspective.

The most important thing to know when it comes to choosing a major or career path is you have time.

You are young and you have loads of time. There is no need to make a major decision like this one so prematurely. It’s good to think about your future, but it’s just as important for you to live in the present and enjoy your youth.

Related: Still don’t feel confident about what to do with your life? Take some time to think about it. Here’s how to make the most out of a gap year.

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