Career Tip of the Month


Choosing a major is difficult. Given the fact that most students starting college will spend the majority of their adult life working well into their 80's, it pays to choose your future work wisely. All of us want to be able to support our families, buy a few things, and in general, enjoy life. But what career to choose? Do we pursue what we love? Go for the money? Or stick with something more "practical?" Ideally, you would want to choose a career that you'll not only enjoy (or at least tolerate) but allows you to pay your bills.

Today, a four-year degree is not necessarily the ticket to a well-paying job or economic security. In today's world, the old adage of "Go to college and get a degree," has become "Choose the RIGHT major."

Ideally your career decision will be based on your personal interests, values, abilities, and personality style plus your research of current/future labor market trends. Your goal is to make an informed decision based on the facts and backed up by your feelings. Here are some tips for making an informed career decision.

1. Know yourself. Be able to identify your strengths, talents, interests, personality style and motivations. Be realistic about your abilities. Self-knowledge is the key to being able to choose a career (and by default, a major) that will compliment who and what you are.

2. Define success. What does success or happiness mean to you (not to your parents, your friends, or your teachers). What does a fullfilling life look like to you? How do you know when you'll be happy? What is more important to you (family, money, achievement, creativity, helping others, etc.)?

3. Read the fine print. Don't just follow the latest fad or go into a career because someone else thinks it's great. Narrow down your choices and then research what a person does in that career, all day and every day. What are the plusses and minuses of that job? What skills, education, licenses or certifications are required in order to be successful in that that field? Do those requirements match your interests, and abilities? Will you have the interest or persistence to complete the requirements of that field? Will you have the economic resources? If not, are there any alternatives that you can take to reach the same career or type of job?

4. Look at the data. Base your decision on up-to-date employment statistics, information, descriptions, and advice. Understand the employment situation for your chosen career. How are the employment prospects in your geographic area? What about salary (entry, mid, and upper levels)? Will it be enough to live on? What would you need to do to increase your chances of employment or increase your earnings in that field? Use a financial aid loan calculator and a web site like or to run the figures against one another and see if the jobs you might get after graduation will cover the cost of the loans you take out. The goal is to put not put yourself in a position where you cannot repay your student loan expenses.

5. Constraints. Motivation has to do with how badly you want a particular career and how hard you are willing to work to reach your goal. Are you willing to spend the necessary time, money, and effort to complete the academic and post academic requirements necessary to reach your career goal? Do you have family responsibilities that will factor into what type of major you choose? Are you limited geographically? The answers to those questions may affect your career choice.

6. Be actively involved in the decision-making process. Make a commitment that you will make a career decision (even though you may wish someone would do it for you). Be positive that you will be able to find a major, and career, that will make you happy and support the type of lifestyle that you desire.

Pursue your interests, but also do your research and make good choices for yourself. That way, you won't be surprised when you graduate. This is your opportunity to design the kind of life that you want. With all of the career options in the world today, you should be able to find something that you enjoy AND be able to make a living. The key is to have the facts and then make an informed decision.

(c) Mary E. Ghilani, 2016

Stayed tuned for my new book, How to Choose Your Major, coming out this summer!