Exploring the Possibilities
Our career coaches can help you decide on a major, clarify your interests, and discover possible career options.
Are you just starting the process of considering what you want to do after graduation? A little anxious or overwhelmed by it all? The most important thing to do at this point (no matter what lies ahead) is to take a deep breathe and relax for a moment. The following information and resources should help you begin.
Some Considerations for Choosing a Major
Choosing a major can be a stressful decision, especially when it’s tied to career exploration. It’s important to remember that in many instances, your major is not directly tied to your career path. There are history majors working in marketing and computer science majors employed in the finance industry. Your degree and your life experiences such as involvement in campus organizations, community service, classroom projects, and internship/work roles, will be valuable to employers, regardless of your major.
Give thought to the following questions as you consider your major:
1. What are my interests and passions?
Try to look beyond your interest in athletics or hobbies and think bigger picture. Do you like learning about business? Are you concerned about climate change and the environment? Do you love drawing and painting? Think about what energizes you and what you enjoy doing so much that you lose track of time.
2. What kinds of classes did I enjoy and do well in in high school?
Were you especially good at math and enjoy anything to do with numbers? Did you enjoy writing stories for the school newspaper or taking pictures for the yearbook? It’s likely that you did well in many different classes, but consider not only where you excelled academically but also what subjects you found most interesting and engaging.
By exploring your answers to these questions, you will be in a better position to begin considering options for your major and making an informed decision.
Basic career exploration advice often emphasizes the importance of “knowing yourself.” And that's actually good advice, because understanding your personal values and goals for the future is a valuable tool for successful decision making.
Taking the time to examine what makes you happy will help to ensure that you will thrive in the career path you choose. Your level of awareness of your own preferences will determine how much self-exploration you need to do. A number of assessment tools are available to help clarify your values and goals, but you can conduct a quick assessment by asking yourself some fundamental questions, such as:
- What do I value? Social interaction? Learning? Leisure time? Being efficient? Monetary compensation?
- How do I like to engage with the world? Hands-on? Contemplatively? Practically?
The key to making this self-assessment a valuable exercise is answering these questions honestly. Once you affirm your own preferences, you can start comparing them to career options and potential employers.
Exploring Your Strengths and Interests
A critical first step in determining what you want to do after graduation is to explore your individual strengths and interests. Our Career Coaches are your best resource as you begin exploring your interests and determining next steps.
We coach by industry cluster (more below) rather than academic major. This approach allows you to think about opportunities across a variety of fields that you might not have considered. Coaches can help you develop a plan to learn more about these fields so that you can identify potential career paths of greatest interest.
First-year students and others who have not been to our office are encouraged to visit with our coaching staff during walk-in hours, held daily during the academic year. No appointment is needed.
If your questions require more time than can be answered during the initial walk-in session, you can request to schedule a one-on-one coaching appointment. Call our office at 615-322-2750 to request an appointment.
The Center offers a variety of formal and informal assessment tools that help clarify your interests, strengths, personality preferences, and values. Career assessments and exercises can also be beneficial in identifying themes and patterns in your life that offer clues for career direction. Coaches are available to meet with you and make recommendations regarding assessments that will be of most value.
Surveying the Field
The next step is to begin surveying various fields to determine how your interests align with opportunities. At this point, don’t get too wrapped up with in-depth examinations of a specific industry or company; you'll be doing that later. Instead seek to gain a basic inclination for the type of work you want to be doing. You may choose from a number of the tools and techniques discussed in our Researching section to get started. It’s helpful to write down your reactions and thoughts as you examine how your interests relate to these options.
This searching stage will probably lead you to say such things as, "Well, I know that doesn't sound like I would really like it," and "Now that sounds really interesting and engaging..." It is also important that you allow yourself the freedom to change your mind about anything at this point. This process should be fun, energizing and exciting.
To begin mapping out a career direction, we encourage students to visit the Center for Student Professional Development during walk-in hours to meet with one of the professional coaches on staff. If you are unsure about your career interests, the Center offers career coaching and resources to assist with clarification of your goals. When appropriate, a career coach will recommend a career assessment (e.g. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Career Leader) to boost your understanding of your interests and strengths. The coaching process often leads students to explore professional development opportunities through participating in Center activities.
If you already have a field in mind, we will connect you to one of our industry clusters (groups of related industries and career fields). A career coach may suggest that you conduct informational interviews with individuals in your fields of interest or that you investigate shadowing opportunities.
Exploring Industry Clusters
The professions pursued by Vanderbilt graduates are varied and are often not directly tied to a student’s major. By participating in coaching based on industry clusters (groups of related industries and career fields), you can explore your interests in various fields and investigate applying what you have learned through your curricular and co-curricular experiences to a field of interest.
Informational Interviewing & Shadowing
A great way to find out if you would like a particular field or job is to ask someone who is already doing that type of work. Sitting down with an industry professional can provide you with an insider's perspective, a stronger network, and sometimes lead to tips about job or internship opportunities.
An informational interview is simply a conversation to gain information and insights about a career, industry, or organization. This information can be used in choosing a major, exploring career options, or preparing for a summer or professional job search. Be clear with yourself and with the professional you are interviewing that the discussion is not for the purpose of requesting a job or internship. Learn more about informational interviewing.
Job shadowing is another great way to explore career directions. Shadowing gives you the opportunity to watch someone at work in a particular job and experience the nuances of the position, without having to perform the work yourself. This is a great way to test the waters before making a commitment to a specific career direction.