When I was a kid, my parents’ attitude toward college degrees was, Jjust get one…any one.” In their youth, the simple act of completing college was a stand-alone achievement capable of propelling you into professional success. Vacillating between a handful of undeveloped ideas and lacking the fortitude to commit to a strenuous study plan, I picked one. It was the wrong one. The rewards of taking outdated advice and pursuing a (really neat) degree without a long term job plan have been slim. The reality of modern education has been a big departure from previous expectations. College today is more costly but has also become a standard prerequisite to almost any successful career. If you are thinking of attending or returning to college, here are five tips (learned the hard way) for choosing a profession that can pay back your efforts.
Make a List
Before you begin any career research, do a little investigating first. Write down a list of the types of work that interest you. Since uncertainty about how to choose can stagnate your efforts, this is your opportunity to explore your skills, passions, financial needs, and family obligations together in a systematic way. Next to each career field, jot down your motivation for such work. The answer may be as noble as “I want to save lives” or as practical as “This move will earn me the most money”. These are both legitimate motivators to earning a particular degree, and it’s important that you remain honest with yourself as you consider the possibilities.
Talk to People
The reality of a career can often be very different from what we imagine. The best way to garner useful information about a job is to spend some time with those already doing the work. If you know someone in your field of interest, try to shadow them at work for a day. Volunteering or interning with a company can also offer invaluable insight into the inner workings of a particular field. Be sure to ask pertinent questions about education, salary, and job outlook, as well as their level of satisfaction with their work.
Do an Honest Assessment of the Job Outlook
The hard truth about college is that you can spend a lot of time and money studying something you love, only to find out the textbook is the end of the adventure. Unless you’re independently wealthy, your hard academic work needs to translate into gainful employment. Use labor statistics, such as the US Bureau of Labor and third party salary reports, to investigate the opportunities available to your chosen interest. Do a job search and see where (or if) companies are hiring for that skill set. If, after a thorough assessment you find that a specific degree is not employable, cross it off the list and choose something else.
Don’t Use College Advisers as Your Sole Resource
Career advisers are available at every college, from trade schools to four-year institutions. They often have good insight into the various degree options, but since their job also overlaps with recruitment, they tend to be less blunt about negative job prospects after the tuition has been paid. After you have done your own independent research, consult with college advisers only to let them guide you down the path to degree completion, or to help you choose between a couple of good, pre-selected options.
Take Advantage of the Digital Classroom
One of the internet’s greatest benefits has been the implementation of online degree programs. The traditional classroom is great, but has always been a barrier to students who have to work and/or care for a family while attending classes. Today, with the exception of practical labs that require hands-on participation, virtually every type of degree is digitally accessible. This means that all opportunities are at your fingertips, from business, to finance, to the upper echelon of clinical healthcare and health management.
With careful preparation, a brighter career future is absolutely possible. Just remember to do your due diligence in choosing a lucrative and rewarding career that suits both your personality and your lifestyle.