College can and should be a time for self-discovery and exploration. But it’s a myth that just being at a college is enough for students to identify the best majors and career paths for their interests and strengths. I know plenty of people, and I’m sure you do too, who graduated college feeling like they still had no idea what careers truly interested them. They never had the big “aha moment” that helped them find their purpose or path.
I’ve seen that students who add a roadmap of activities to their academic experiences are better equipped to choose the right majors and careers. These activities increase self-awareness and guide them to use their time in college for more purposeful and focused exploration.
The key to building a roadmap of activities for purposeful exploration is to create an additional “track” to college in addition to academics – one that is focused on self-discovery and provides exposure to career paths.
Exploration and experiences outside of academics is especially important in the first two years of college. Often filled with required classes that are disconnected from career work, it’s easy for two years to fly by without knowing much more about yourself, or your career options, than when you walked into orientation.
The roadmap needs to include both self-discovery and career exploration. Self-discovery is the foundation that students build their exploration on, and without it, I often see students aimlessly exploring and losing critical time in areas that really don’t fit them.
Recent research from ACT scientists with 80,000 college students showed that when students align their college major with their most dominant interest area (from the Hollands Theory Interest Assessment), these students tend to have higher GPA’s, finish college on time (read: save money on additional years!), stick with their choice of major and feel more fulfilled by their college and career. But sadly, not many students are aware of their dominant interest area or of how to match it with college majors and careers.
After students gain a better understanding of their interests and strengths, they more intentionally explore college majors and career areas.
Here are a few of my favorite ways college students can learn about their unique superpowers and interests AND learn which college majors and career paths fit them:
CAMPUS RESOURCES – CAREER CENTERS & CLUBS: Visit your Career Center in your first year of college to seek out any self-discovery tools and assessments that are offered. If possible, make an appointment with a counselor to talk through your results. Visiting or joining clubs, associations and campus organizations are a great way to discover new areas of interest or to use your capabilities in ways that more closely mirror career activities.
CAREER COACHES & MENTORS: Career coaches (like me!) guide students through self-discovery activities and help them learn about college majors and careers that align with their interests. Mentors may be professors, advisors, and alumni. They can offer ongoing support and be sounding boards for students deciding which options to explore. They may even help navigate opportunities by sharing their experiences or making introductions.
INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS: My top recommendation for free and easy exploration is to meet with people who are in college majors or career paths that interest you. Grab my informational interview guide here to learn how to find someone to meet with, how to ask for a meeting, and for a script of the best questions to ask.
INTERNSHIPS/VOLUNTEER/WORK EXPERIENCES: For gaining clarity about your career areas of interest, a key strategy is actually doing the work or seeing the work being done. Any opportunities to put yourself in the real work environment will provide clarity about your areas of interest.
For a full list of exploration options (as a career coach, I’ve got a lot of them!), grab my Career Exploration Guide here.
With the increasing cost of college and pressure to find internships and new graduate jobs, it’s more important than ever to have an aligned career path right out of the gate. The great news is that by creating your roadmap for exploration and using it as a guide to support your academic and work choices, you can feel more empowered and confident in your college and career journey, you can make sure you are getting the most from your college investment and you can enjoy your college experience even more!