Dear New Shrink,
My sister and brother are both UC students and I expected that I would also get into a UC, too. Even though we have about the same GPA and SAT scores, I am attending a local college instead. Everyone has been telling me that perhaps this is a blessing in disguise because otherwise I would’ve just followed my “family path” and do what my parents think I should do. Since I am here, I want to make the right choices to prepare for my future or to try and transfer to a UC. Are there any tests I can take or books I can read that will help me pick a major that I will enjoy?
Thank you for your help,
No matter which school you attend, college provides the perfect setting for you to begin to explore and prepare for your future. Every class, project, and assignment will help you learn more about yourself. Although you may not enjoy every class you take, you can learn just as much about your future from what you like as what you dislike.
Start by visiting your college career center. Meeting with a career counselor can help you explore your interests, personality, values, and skills to determine those career paths that may best fit for you. There are a few different assessments that many college career centers use. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, called MBTI for short, is a personality preference inventory that is used for lots of different things like leadership and communication styles. In career planning we use this assessment to help you explore the types of environments and situations that might be most comfortable or natural for you based on your personality.
Another common assessment is called the Strong Interest Inventory. Like the name suggests this inventory looks at your interests and helps to generate a list of different career areas based on the way you answer the questions. The Strong Interest Inventory takes your results and compares them to professionals working in over 120 different occupations. What is helpful about this assessment is that it not only gives you an idea of what areas might be a good fit for you but it also compares your results to people who are happy in their profession. The college version of the Strong also suggests related majors and activities based on your interests.
One important thing to mention is that assessments are just a place to start. There is not a single career test that will tell you what you should be or do, that’s up to you to explore and decide.
Your career counselor or academic advisor can tell you more about the majors your school offers and help you to select classes that will help you meet your career goals. For many four-year universities you do not have to declare your major until your sophomore year. Take the first year of college to test out a few different classes and majors that interest you. You may also find it helpful to talk with upper-classmen about their major or sit in on a class to see if the topics covered interest you.
Meeting with a career counselor can also be helpful to give you ideas of ways you can begin preparing for your career while you’re still in college. One of the benefits of living in, or around, Los Angeles is that you have the opportunity to explore almost every industry imaginable. Participating in internships during your college experience will help you to see what the world of work is like and will help you to determine the skills and experience necessary to get your dream job.
Books and online tools can also be helpful in your career exploration. I often recommend that students read “What Color is Your Parachute” by Bolles; it’s a great hands-on exploratory book to help you declare a major and explore careers. There is also a teen edition, which may be more specific to the types of decisions you are facing right now. There are two free Web sites that are great for more specific occupational research. O*NET (online.onetcenter.org) has an easy to search feature based on your interests or career keyword and the Occupational Outlook Handbook lists thousands of different occupations (http://www.bls.gov/search/ooh.htm).
Ultimately choosing a major is simply choosing the classes you’ll focus on during your college years. Most employers hire graduates based on their experience and the qualities they bring to the company, not the major they studied in college. Taking the time necessary to explore your major and career will help you to find work that you will truly enjoy.
KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a professional college and career counselor who has worked in university and private settings. She holds degrees from Columbia and Cornell universities. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!