By: Julia Yeadon, College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Well-Being Leader
During my second semester of freshman year, I changed my major from Education to Psychology. For many years, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, however I reached a point where I did not feel as passionately about this occupation anymore. While it was overwhelming to reconstruct my life plans, I felt at ease when I began to find a new and more exciting passion for helping others in the field of psychology. In fact, one study found that one out of every three college students enrolled in a Bachelor’s program changed their major within the first three years of enrollment (https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018434.pdf). You are not alone!
A question we have heard a million times (that often induces a state of panic) is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As a teenager, aspiring college students are prompted with this question and are expected to know the answer. With little knowledge of what a certain career entails, we must make the daunting decision of choosing a career path. Thus, many of us enter college with a major that we think might be a good fit for us based on general interests and financial considerations.
What many high school guidance counselors and other adults fail to explain to us as high school students who are unsure of which career path to choose is that going into college as “undecided” is a perfectly acceptable option. Doing so allows us to utilize our first year of college to take a variety of elective courses to fulfill general education requirements. Taking these courses will give the insight needed to determine whether or not you are interested in a particular field and discover new fields that may be of interest to you. In addition, this allows you time to utilize other on-campus resources to aid in deciding on a major.
One of UMass Lowell’s greatest resources on campus is the Career and Co-op Center. This resource provides you with the opportunity to meet with an advisor through the center for help with exploring different career options. In addition, the Career and Co-op Center’s website (https://career.uml.edu/) allows you to utilize the “Explore Career Options” tab by choosing an area of interest to search for job trends, as well as job and internship opportunities. This provides you with a variety of career paths to align with your particular interests.
Furthermore, the Career and Co-op Center includes a “Learn How To Explore Your Interests” tab that lists relevant featured articles and a variety of resources. Resources include a self-assessment to dive into your values and personality to match you with potential majors and careers, called “Focus 2”(https://www.focus2career.com/Portal/
UMass Lowell’s career advising team has recently formed a one-credit course designed to help students explore potential career paths and begin planning their next steps. Two sections of this course will be offered next semester (Spring 2024). You can learn more and register for the course, UMLO.1500 Career Exploration & Planning, via the UML Now website (www.uml.edu/NOW). A “Job and Internship Search” class is also offered in the Spring semester to aid in gaining application and interviewing skills, as well as learning how to find the right job or internship for you. This class can also be found on the UML Now website.
Some students may find themselves questioning whether the major they picked is well-suited to their values and aspirations. One thing I have learned throughout college is that being in the field can be significantly different than learning about aspects of the field in a classroom. It is imperative to engage in Summer internships, the Co-op program, or other fieldwork experiences that are offered through the Career and Co-op Center. These opportunities allow you to directly experience what it is like in the field to better interpret whether or not it is the right career for you. Additionally, these experiences can boost your resume and help develop connections with other individuals in the profession.
Some other tips that I would recommend to fellow students is to interview individuals who are employed with the career, or careers, that you are most interested in. Ask questions, such as what their day-to-day looks like, challenges they experience, which parts of the job they enjoy least and most, and if they have experienced burnout in their position. Better yet, if possible, shadowing someone in the profession can help you directly see the day-to-day experiences of an individual in your career of interest.
Many college students who go into college with a major that they originally had interest in realize that the career path is just not for them. While it can be frightening to start back at square one in finding the perfect major for you, keep in mind that many of the classes you take in the first two years of undergraduate school can count toward general education requirements. College is a time where you develop as a person and learn more about yourself and the things you feel passionate about. Therefore, it is normal for you to discover new interests and for old interests to fade out.
While I would recommend any students struggling with finding their perfect major to check out the Career and Co-Op Center on campus, it is also important to keep in mind that your Well-Being Leaders are here for you, too. Occupational health is one of our eight dimensions of wellness, which we are determined to help you find a career that provides you with happiness and fulfillment. We are happy to share our experiences and advice regarding choosing a major or career path. To book an appointment with a Well-being Leader in your college, please visit https://www.uml.edu/wellbeing/well-being-leaders.aspx.