Attending college is an expensive and circuitous way to learn a field. The first two years are spent on general studies, although more schools are trying to track freshmen more quickly into their interests. Changing majors is expensive. Changing schools is even more so. Many financial aid burdens could have been cut in half by some research before selecting a college or a field.
Some complain that they cannot find work in their degree field but that is not as big a
disadvantage as students might think. Even so, when jobs do open up, those with degrees are often called first. Degrees are necessary to move into management most of the time. Agriculture, manufacturing, and trades as well as health care require degrees to enter management.
Many so called non -practical degrees prepare students to function in a variety of fields. Drama graduates know how to work under pressure, are masters at image management, and great communicators. More companies are merely looking for the evidence of persistence, higher level thinking, and professional orientation that a degree provides.
Also graduates often find that their degree translates to careers they did not anticipate. Tinker Hatfield, Jr, one of the designers of Michael Jordan’s Air Jordans, initially worked in architecture. With more and more careers emerging from blending fields of study, any learning is beneficial and never wasted.
What are better ways to decide on a career before dedicating four years in college? Most cannot afford the unpaid internships offered to higher- achieving or financially flush seniors.
What You Can Do Right Now
- Volunteering during high school
- Non- fast food high school jobs
- Spending a day with a worker at the level you are interested in at a company in the field
- Analyzing the industries that your interest is in. Many different types of companies and industries employ people in similar field.
- Don’t close your mind. Don’t have one or two experiences in a field or company or talk to one or two people and makea decision.
- Attend Rotary, Kiwanis, or other civic organizations composed of the people who do the kind of work you are interested in.
- Joining professional or trade organizations in the field
- Read the trade journals in the field.
- Make every assignment you can relate to your career interests. One graduate got a job with a company in his field just based on a senior thesis.
Learning an Industry or a Company
- Understand organizational structures. What positions earn money for the company? These will be more highly compensated than support staff.
- Understand which sectors of an industry are leveraging or fulcrum, engine driver segments of the industry. Sometime there will be one small area that the entire industry depends on. It’s like the little man in the basement office without which nothing happens.
- What is the chain of operations in that field? By talking with people who work in the occupation, you will find out what holds them up, what stops them from succeeding, what does their real strategy depend on. In this way you can pinpoint the most critical positions or career fields in the economy. Computers are a good example. Once people thought hardware was the motor driving growth. Then we learned it was software. Then the processor. Then data mining. Then social media. Programmers are still critical but it is an intense field that not everyone is suited for.
- Research to see what the emerging fields are and try to prepare ahead of the curve or be able to adapt your expertise in new ways to new markets
- Ride the elevator or eat lunch in the workroom and listen to the people.
Then research schools.
- Attend alumni meetings.
- Sit in a classroom in a subject you like.
- Talk to a department chairman.
- Talk to graduates in your field.
- Do not assume the details. Each school is known for certain majors.
- Ask who hires their graduates.
- What is their first time student retention rate.
- Select a school that is known for your field.
- If you are not pursuing a field that is specialized, select based on class size, amount of academic and financial help available and know your needs.
The bottom line is to find out as much as you can before you commit your time, energy and money to a major or a school. Do not decide solely based on a friend, relative, or coworker’s ideas, since experiences with faculty and organizations are as individual as choosing a doctor, mechanic, or other person you need help from.
Patience at this stage will not only save you money but also put your mind at ease that you have made the most advantageous choice for your circumstances.
This is a jump up and do it world, click and ship. College is not like that, no matter what the slick ads would mislead you to believe.
It is not quick and slip out. It is also ongoing. People now work in several fields during their lives, and each one usually requires either refreshers, new training, or additional preparation at higher levels.
But expect to put your time, energy and serious attention into it, or pay more for less.
In the final post, we will explain whether certificate, two-year, four-year, or other training is your best buy.