“What should I study?” is a question every college student faces, and it comes sooner than you might think. Even before you choose your major, you'll want to select classes that bring you closer to your goals. But when you don’t know what you want to do with your life, how can you figure out the right path?
Answering “What should I study?” isn’t easy. However, tackling this question will help you know yourself better and feel more confident that you’re moving in the right direction. Don’t worry -- you don’t need to have all the answers yet. You just need to do some reflection and soul-searching to discover the major that will work for you.
What Should I Study? Getting Started Toward the Answer
The best answer to “What should I study?” is usually “Whatever feels right.”
This may seem to go against all the advice you’ve heard before, though. Your mentors, teachers, and parents might suggest that you study something that will guarantee you a job, or something in a field that pays well. But that’s not always the best way to go.
The age-old advice of “following your passion” also applies when choosing your major in college. That doesn’t mean you won’t think about it practically, though. What you need to do is pinpoint the place where your passion meets your talents. This will get you started on a career path that you love, and that you can excel at.
Why Not Choose a Major for Security?
The advice you’ve heard that steers you toward security probably sounds reasonable. Pick a major that will land you a steady job, so you’ll never stress about employment. Choose a high-paying field, so you’re guaranteed a good future income.
But there are two problems with that way of answering “What should I study?” Let's take a look at what they are.
You need passion
First, when you don’t factor in your interests or passions, you could end up in a career that makes you deeply unhappy. A steady job and paycheck can’t entirely make up for the fact that you don’t find your work interesting. This can lead to burnout and poor performance at work, which will hurt your career in the long run.
Next, and maybe even more importantly, is the fact that you can’t predict the future of an industry, because the world of work changes far more quickly than it once did.
You can’t count on the future
Thanks to the Digital Revolution, technology now advances exponentially every year. The rate of technological change happens faster than we can keep up with. This means there’s no way to predict how new tech will change an industry a few years from now.
You could choose a major that offers lots of jobs in the field. But by the time you graduate, a new tech solution might have rendered most of those jobs obsolete. You might still be able to work in that field, but it will be much harder than you thought. Unless you’re seriously passionate about the industry, you won’t have the motivation to make that career path work.
Take the legal field, for example. Once, going to law school was a reliable career choice that led to a steady job. But then, new technology caused the legal job market to shrink. Suddenly, the promise of a reliable job after law school disappeared.
So, since no field offers guaranteed job security anymore, you might as well answer “What should I study?” with "Whatever I'm passionate about." That way, even if new technology changes things, your passion will keep you committed to weathering the changes and finding a job.
Finding the Nexus of Passion and Skill
With that in mind, though, passion won’t be enough to get you a job. You also need to have some relevant skills. If you want to be a graphic designer, but you have a hard time expressing concepts visually, you might not be able to find a job.
The good news is that college can help you grow your skills. So, when asking yourself “What should I study?” you should consider what skills you need to pursue the field you’re interested in. Then, take classes that let you test and develop your talents.
Once you have an idea of the kind of job you’d like to do, research what you’ll need to know to do that job. This will help point you toward the right major. Your classes can teach you the skills you need to turn your passion into a career.
You might also find some classes so difficult that you rethink your choices. That’s okay! As you discover what comes naturally and what feels like a struggle, you’ll see which major will put your natural skills to their best use.
For example, maybe you love the idea of working with science and understanding how the natural world works. But when you take physics classes, you have a hard time learning the equations. Switching to biology might help you use your passion for the natural world, while also matching it up with your skills.
How Much Exploring Should You Do?
As you work on finding the intersection of passion and talent, you’ll definitely need to do some exploring. After all, you can’t know what you’re passionate about, or what you’re good at, unless you try it.
Even if you feel like you know exactly what you want to do, it’s a good idea to explore. Take classes in different subjects. Try new things.
In fact, even once you’ve chosen a major, your exploring might point you down a different path. Almost a third of college students will change majors at least once. Exploring new options as much as possible is a good thing. So is changing your mind when it feels right. But how much exploring is too much?
The only time exploring your interests in college becomes a problem is when it sets your graduation date back. If you’re so busy figuring out your passions that you can’t graduate on time, you’ll end up spending a lot more money on that extra time. However, there’s lots of room to explore without delaying your graduation.
Set up a meeting with an academic advisor to talk about your options. They can help you know how much exploring you can do before you need to settle on a major. They can also guide you toward the right classes that match up with your interests. Then, you can try new things without worrying about getting off track.
Ideas to Help You Decide What to Study
Asking “What should I study?” looks different for every student. Some might need lots of alone time to self-reflect and find the answers. Others might talk to all their friends about their options.
However, there are also some other things you can do to help you answer “What should I study?” If your classes leave you feeling uncertain, try some of these methods.
Make a mood board
Mood boards are creative projects that help lead you toward a personal goal. A mood board is basically a creative collage made with a concept in mind.
Many professionals use mood boards at work. A fashion designer will make one to nail down the vibe of a new collection. A web designer will make one to show a client the concept for a new website. And you can make one to help figure out your career-related interests.
You can make one the old-fashioned way, with a foam board. Gather magazines, photos, old calendars, fabric scraps, and anything else you want to use to make your collage. Or, you can also make a modern, digital one using websites like Pinterest.
Either way, use your mood board to define the career ideas that interest you. Collecting words and images that inspire you will give you new perspective on your passions. Then, looking at your mood board can help you see where those interests might match up with a career.
You don’t have to explore career options just through your coursework. Extracurriculars and even part-time jobs can also help you answer “What should I study?”
For example, if you think you’d like to be a journalist, get involved with your college newspaper. This hands-on experience can help you see if it’s a job you’d really like, even before you take any journalism classes.
Talk to professionals
Finally, you can also narrow down your major by talking to people who work in that field.
Use your connections to find people to talk to. Your friends’ older siblings, speakers on campus, and even LinkedIn connections can all be valuable resources. Reach out to people in the jobs you’re interested in. Ask them if they’d be willing to share their experiences over the phone or over coffee.
Approach the meeting professionally, but don’t be afraid to ask all your questions about that job. There’s nothing like the advice of someone in that career to show you whether or not it’s a good fit for you.
Ready to Find Your Purpose?
Today, many jobs will hire people who have unrelated degrees. It’s easier than ever to make career changes by taking free online courses or using skills you never studied in school.
Still, it’s important to ask “What should I study?” Knowing how to match up your passions and skills will let you get the most out of your time in college. Then, no matter what path you follow, you’ll have a solid understanding of what you want out of your career.
Talking to your fellow students about your choice is always a good idea, so let’s get the conversation going! Leave a comment and let us know what you’re planning to study next.
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