Even for adult learners, choosing the right online degree program can be challenging. Here are some tips and free career guides that may help.
When you're a child, talking about what you want to be when you grow up is a fun way to stretch your imagination. Maybe you'll travel to Mars, have your own television show or play for your favorite football team.
But as you get older, answering the question of what career path you should take becomes more stressful – especially if you are already in the workforce and want to pursue a career that better fits your lifestyle or provides more opportunities for advancement.
You're ready to earn a college degree – to enroll in an online degree program so you can make that career change – but you're not exactly sure what major will get you where you want to go.
Here are three tips that can help when it comes to choosing a college major.
1. Know yourself.
A good first step is to take a self-assessment, which can provide insight into your personality traits and preferences. Online tests on sites such as Human Metrics or My Next Move help connect your interests, preferences and personality traits to the working world. Answering the questions honestly, without overthinking, you can uncover common themes and see what types of careers align with your natural inclinations.
For example, you may discover you love the process of investigating. Does that mean you should become a private investigator? Perhaps. But it could also mean you are suited for jobs that involve research in medicine, science or even business. There are many industries where you can apply your investigative skills and preferences.
Beyond tests, take time to reflect on what you enjoy and areas where you excel. What clubs have you joined? What projects have inspired you? What activities did you gravitate toward as a child?
Try not to think about all the reasons these pursuits might not work as jobs — look at what is in your heart and see if you can find connections.You can even ask friends and family members. The people who know you the best may see strengths in you that you have overlooked.
2. Know your field.
Once you have a general idea of your preferences and strengths, it's time to discover your options. A Google search for your interest and careers will turn up lists with job possibilities that may surprise you.
When you find something that piques your interest, begin to gather more information. The occupational handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics answers questions about specific positions. What type of training do you need? Is the field growing or dying out? What's the work environment like? What does it pay? Additional online research can unearth valuable blogs that offer insight into the major players and current trends in a particular industry. Take your searches to a local level and see what companies are in your area and browse their job boards to learn more about positions and qualifications.If you like what you are seeing, gain some personal experience. Reach out to people you know personally or through LinkedIn and ask them for 15 minutes to chat over coffee or over the telephone. Ask about what they do and how they got where they are. Volunteer work, part-time jobs and helping at corporate-sponsored events can provide a glimpse into a company's culture and give you a firsthand look at your industry of choice.
3. Know it's OK not to know.
Even students who enter college set on one path often change their minds. Up to 80 percent of students starting college, including ones who have declared majors, admit they are not certain what they want to major in. Before graduation, more than half of college students will have changed their majors at least once.
It's a trend that continues into the workforce.
Career change statistics indicate that the average person will make a career or job change five to seven times during their working years. Some people grow frustrated or disillusioned with their job of choice. Some discover they dislike the work environment or culture. Others have changes in their lives that prompt them to re-evaluate their jobs with respect to their personal or religious values. Business closures or a diminishing industry may motivate others to try something new. And some people just want or need to make more money.
Enjoy the journey
So go ahead and wander and explore.
You might head down one path and then decide to switch gears. Until you begin to find direction, stay broad. Don't commit to a competitive training program or lock yourself into an area that doesn't give you many options.
Stay patient and make research part of your weekly routine so you gradually gain the knowledge and focus to create the perfect career path for you.
This blog post is based on a webinar presentation given by Saint Leo Career Services Advisor Nancy Cheek. To access an archived version of the webinar, click here.
Cheek suggests several online resources to help with self-assessments and career exploration.
To assist you in determining the field that is right for you, Saint Leo has created career guides that highlight job, salary and industry information. Click on any of the guides below that interest you and fill out the form to download these free resources.
Image credit: alphaspirit on Shutterstock.com