Thursday, April 24, 2008

Where Do I Go From Here

In reading this post, I felt a need to write about a subject near and dear to me. Because my mother did it for a about a decade, I have enjoyed helping young people choose careers, and then choose courses of study to get them there. So often they do it in reverse "I want to study political science, and then I'll go into politics." I encourage them to look at people who hold the job they most want and see if their planned degree fits. Very few politicians have a degree in political science - except those lawyers who got it to get into law school. Instead the political science majors are those who run errands for the elected officials. Those who actually hold the office generally got there from some other career first, and rightly so. By bringing other life experience into the political realm, they know better how to shape the law to fit the real world.

Others want to walk out of college into their dream job. "I want to make commercials, so I'm getting a marketing degree." The marketing degree will help in the long-run, but most marketing jobs follow a stint in sales or some other area. I had a great friend from high school who refused to take a sales job after college because she wanted to go straight into marketing. She just couldn't understand why none of them would hire her without experience. Several temp jobs later, she finally got a job at a public relations firm doing something akin to what she wanted.

Most often, though, I find young people just don't know what they want to do. They're interested in a subject, so they study that, or they simply have no idea what they want, so they go to college to "find" themselves. Six years, three majors, and many dollars later, they have found their calling in life, or Mom and Dad are calling on them to do so. For those who truly have no idea, or simply haven't thought about it, I encourage them to take an interest survey, which are usually offered at their high school (I've list a couple at the bottom of this post that I found in a quick search). One young lady I was talking to last summer about what accounting involves got very interested. Then she took one of the surveys and saw "actuary" on the list of possible careers. After researching it, she fell in love with it (please reserve judgment, some people really do love statistics), and now she's headed to college with a clear goal in mind.

The main reason it worries me to when a student doesn't have a clear picture of where they want to go is because there are plenty of people on a college campus who will try to put a picture there. As one friend told me about his wife's English degree, he felt certain that the profressor who convinced her to get it had probably been given a charge by his dean to get more people into the major the day or week before he talked to her. Profressors can influence an open mind, advisors can suggest courses to a wayward spirit, and in the end, a lot of tuition money can be spent in the process of following someone else's idea of what to do.

In my case, I went to college with a clear idea of what I wanted, and I signed up to talk to an advisor to get suggestions on how to schedule all the courses I wanted so I could complete three sequences in my management degree. He was so baffled by a first quarter freshman actually coming to see him that he actually asked "Why are you here?" It was so uncommon for people in his program to know what they wanted, he did not know how to handle me. So, I transferred (for that and many other reasons) to a program I felt would help me accomplish my goal to work in the field of finance. I changed majors to accounting, knowing it would give me a good background for business regardless of what career I wanted. My first term there, my advisor told me to take a certain class, despite my not having the pre-requisite courses. Every term after that our discussion started with, "Well, you'll need to take this course over, since you didn't have the pre-req's for the course." I quickly explained each time that she needed to fix that because it was on her advice that I took it. To her credit, she always did, but she never remembered it until I reminded her. I had a specific set of courses I had to complete to get out of school on my schedule - two more years - so I sat down and wrote out a complete two year schedule of what courses I should take to make sure I completed them in order. Each term I went to my advisor, I took my list with me and she expressed her concern about how heavy a load I had planned, but then she signed off on it so I could register. The last term there, I went to her because the last management class I had on my list was being taught by someone who expected a huge project and a massive paper coordinated with twenty other students. I wanted to know an alternative, and she told me I didn't have to take the class since they had broadened the allowance of courses to fulfill that requirement in my program. Since I had already taken enough of the alternative courses to meet the requirement, I could take an elective (quite a novelty for me, since I had not really chosen more than two courses on my own since arriving there) in whatever area of business I wanted. I registered but I'm not sure what I chose, though, because she met me in the hall a couple of hours later and casually informed me "Oh, I was confused. The graduation requirements I mentioned were for the people graduating next year. You still have to take that class." Again, I let her know that it was time to find a solution because the class had already filled up and I could not get in to take it now. She was rattled, but she rallied to come up with the idea of taking it independent study. I finished the class in six weeks instead of fifteen, giving me a much more leisurely semester to finish school instead of sweating over the project in the first class I registered for.

The lesson I took away from my college experience is that even the best laid plans can be thwarted by an ignorant advisor. My best friend had a similar story to mine, despite him being in a completely different college at the same university, so I know it is not an uncommon one. The difference between us and so many others is that we stood up for ourselves. Many young people are too compliant to realize they should, or too ignorant to realize they can. So I advise anyone heading to college to have a plan. Plans can change - mine certainly did and does - but having one at all can at least focus effort and achieve greater results.

I advise anyone in life to have some sort of a plan for what they want. A lot of people will happily tell them what to do, and they might find themselves in a job they hate one day wondering what happened. It's no wonder to me that so many people seem miserable in this country. Meeting someone with a clear idea of their goals and a plan to achieve them, though, can be intoxicating. So often driven people exude charisma, perhaps because it is so rare to find someone who knows what they want. Wouldn't it be nice to be one of those individuals, instead of being impressed by them?

Here's the list of surveys I found:

I am sure there are others, and I can't vouch for these, since I haven't taken them. I do think taking them can be helpful, though, especially for anyone unsure of a career path.

-- Robert

Editor's Note: I could not figure out a good place to work in this suggestion, which is to do what my Dad claims he did. He read a poster in the science building that said "Careers with a Future" and Accounting was listed first, so that's what he changed his major to (from English). Now a dozen accountants are in our family, but he was the first. Sometimes choosing a new path can lead a whole family to a better and brighter future.


le35 said...

So, it's great have a plan. What's yours?

Robert said...

That's a great question, an excellent question, Ellie. And let me tell you, I really agree with you that it's great to have a plan, really wonderful. Plans can do so much to help a person look ahead in his life to where he wants to be and help him reach his goal. Absolutely that was a wonderful question.

(Yes, that was my best Bill Clinton/Barack Obama imitation)

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