Things to Consider in Choosing a Major & Career

Think about where you live, or where you want to live, and make sure there are jobs in your chosen major available. If you know you want to live in Walhalla, SC (for example) and you don't want to commute more than 30 minutes to work each day, you wouldn't want to be a flight attendant or a marine biologist. Ask questions, do a little research, and read the newspaper to find out about what businesses are thriving locally and what kinds of jobs will be plentiful where you plan to live.

Choose a career that fits who you are. If you're not interested in how things work, you probably shouldn't major in something like electronics. But, if you like balancing your checkbook or setting up a family budget, a college major like business management might be perfect for you. It's important to think about your personality, and what you like or don't like, when you choose a major and career.

Get firsthand knowledge before you choose a major. Talk with people who work in jobs related to the major you're considering. Spend an hour or two (at least) in the actual work environment, if possible, or maybe even volunteer. And watch out for the "TV factor" too. Sometimes people choose careers that are glamorized on TV and find out later, after years of study and expense, that real jobs are a lot different!

Figure out how much time and money you can devote to your education. How fast do you need to get into a job or change careers? You may have all the time in the world and plenty of support from others, but if you're like most of us, time and money are critical! Maybe you only have enough time to attend school for a year. If so, consider choosing a major where you can earn a certificate or a diploma. The skills you'd gain would enable you to get a job, and then you could take courses after work hours to build on your education for an associate degree or even a bachelor's degree - if that's what you want. Some employers will even pay for their employees to go back to school. Just do what's right for you based on your resources and motivation.

Think about the salary you need. Choosing a career definitely involves deciding how much money you need in order to have the life you want. If you want a mansion on Lake Hartwell, for example, you'll need a career that pays a lot. But remember, making a lot of money isn't everything. No matter how much money you make, you still have to do the work. And if you're miserable, the salary may not be worth your misery. Bottom line? Make sure you know the earning potential for the career you choose and be sure the salary and the job are what you can live with.

Think about future opportunities. While you may not want to be a company president one day, you may want to advance beyond an entry-level job, or you may want to branch out and pursue a different job within your career field. You never know where life may lead, but it's always wise to find out where a career path may take you. Ask what the job placement rates are in the major you're considering, and find out what graduates are doing several years after finishing the program.

Understand the demands and expectations of your career choice. Most careers have certain conditions that are associated with work. Like, most farmers work outdoors. Most teachers take work home every night during the school year. And most hairdressers stand on their feet all day. You need to find out what the conditions (stress levels, work hours and travel, physical environment, level of responsibility, etc.) are that will likely be associated with the types of work you'll be doing. Can you handle not only the work but also the conditions that you'll probably face?

Be realistic. Be honest. And do what's right for you. When all's said and done, make sure you choose your major and your career based on... you! Make choices that reflect your personality, your abilities and motivation, your desired lifestyle, and your circumstances. And whatever choices you make, think through the next steps. It may seem like a long journey, but as Confucius said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

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