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What Can I Do With My College Degree

Tags:  First job, Looking for work, College degree

Spending four years in college pursuing a college degree seemed like a great idea to Chris until he realized he couldn't figure out how his area of interest – science – was actually going to translate into a career.

He knew he didn't want to be a teacher and the thought of wearing a white coat in a research lab didn't rank high on his list of interests either. He did know that he enjoyed studying science, particularly the life sciences, he loved exploring the wonder of animals, and he wanted to find a career that would blend both.

So during his first semester on campus he went to his campus career counselor and after several conversations with her, she was able to help him decide based on his aptitude and interests what his career options were.

Chris finally decided to study marine biology and was fortunate enough to land a part-time job at a local aquarium.

For Carissa the decision of what to do with her degree was a bit more difficult. She was about to enter her final semester of college having pursued a degree in accounting, a field her parents had suggested would always keep her employed.

However, during the summer before her last semester began, she had the chance to work in human resources. And the rest, as they say, was history. Now she wanted to change her career plans.

Fortunately the human resources team at her summer job loved her and was more than happy to have her as a full-time member upon graduation. In addition, Carissa went on to a technical training program and got her certificate in human resources management.

The whole idea is that just because someone has chosen a major does not mean they are locked into any single career for the rest of their lives. However, here are some things to keep in mind when deciding what to do with a college degree:

  • Ask the experts. For anyone still undecided on their career major, one of the best places to start is by talking to a campus career counselor. They have career assessment tools and can counsel students to help them determine what would be their best course of study based on interests and aptitude. In addition, they can help with how to utilize their education after graduation.
  • Choose a neutral major. For students who are mid-degree, consider a course of study with built-in flexibility. Unlike Chris's degree – marine biology – which has fewer options, a degree in psychology or sociology -- where the primary focus is on the human element -- can fit with many careers from marketing and human resources to hospitality and education.
  • Study an area of interest. There's an old saying, ""do what you love and the money will follow."" The best students are those that are truly engaged. And if someone has a real passion in their course of study they are more likely to be a better student. It may mean, however, having to explain why that major was chosen or returning to college for further education.
  • Get work experience. One of the best ways to overcome a gap in degree focus and career focus is to find an opportunity like Carissa. Entry-level or summer positions can offer good work experience (see related article, ""You Got the Degree, Now Where's the Work Experience?"").
  • Be flexible. Since many college grads change jobs the first few years after college as they strive to find what fits, the choice of major isn't nearly as big an issue. Track accomplishments and transferable skills to ensure a good fit with future career choices.

The two primary things to remember is that a college major does not dictate the only type of job someone can do and just because someone has a college degree in, say, U.S. History, it doesn't mean they won't be able to find career success with that degree. Teaching is a great option or they may want to consider a career working in a museum, in archival management or working for the government.

Whatever degree someone obtains, they should know it is the quality of the experience that matters. Useful skills obtained while going to college – researching, writing, team building – will translate well into any career choice.

And if all else fails, try doing an Internet search: careers (major) degree. There's a lot of information about how to use that college degree.

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