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Discovering your career

5 tips for exploring career interests in college (and when to switch majors)

One grad's story of exploring career interests in college–and her best takeaways.

About the author: Emily Curtis is a writer based in Boston. She graduated from Emerson in 2022 with a degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing, and is currently getting her masters in Publishing. You can find her on Instagram or read more on her website.

Whether you are just about to enter college, in your final year, or about to start your master’s degree, you know well enough that exploring your career interests and options is no easy feat. It takes years of figuring out what interests you the most. And even then, there’s no telling if something else may come your way and change your path again.

According to Frank, “at least 80% of college students change their major throughout their college education.” Take my story, for example. Entering my liberal arts college as a freshman, I signed up for Marketing Communications when in all actuality, I was interested in several other majors I believed I might enjoy more than marketing.

It took a semester and a half of college experiences to realize my options and see the major and minor combination I truly wanted to pursue.

So, I switched majors to Writing, Literature, and Publishing with a minor in Marketing Communications and pursued interests that might lead me to my dream jobs. But even then, I wasn’t sure what my career path would entail.

Throughout my four years of college, I took advantage of countless opportunities and experiences to reach where I am today. Read more to see what you can expect when exploring career interests in college–what to do and what not to do when branching out and discovering your career passions.

1. Attend career and job fairs as frequently as possible.

Although job fairs can be hectic and it can feel impossible to compete with all your school’s upper-classmen, attending career or job fairs as soon as freshman year is a great experience.

If you’re attending as a freshman, you typically won’t be getting job or internship offers with little to no experience under your belt—so treat it as a practice run for the real thing. Exercise your networking skills, brush up on your small talk, and practice your elevator pitch.

I attended my first career fair at Emerson as a freshman, and it helped me learn how to speak more confidently with professionals and ask specific questions. Talking with industry workers allows you to understand more about your potential career path. You learn how to network, which, as a college student, is something you may never have done before.

2. Leverage your school’s career centers.

Colleges across the country have career centers with counseling, networking opportunities, and even their own job search platforms. Leveraging these connections can help you network in your industry of choice.

At Emerson college, I took advantage of my Career Development Center for career counseling. I sought out a career counselor during my first year of college when I first debated changing my major. To my surprise, I realized my skills and interests could be utilized in multiple industries. Ultimately, the career counselors helped me decide what major and minor combination would best suit my ideal career path.

3. Talk with your professors.

Take advantage of office hours. Ask your professors about their time in college, what they did to discover their career interests, how they prepared for their career and generally speaking, how they got to where they are today. Their insight is more valuable than you realize, as they have personal experience in the career field you want to pursue.

Talking about your professor’s career may help you realize what interests you the most in a potential career path and if you’re in the right major for those interests. For instance, I spoke to a Marketing professor, and she explained that there are many creative marketing jobs in the field. I could still use my writing skills if I chose to follow the marketing path. This simple conversation helped me decide to keep Marketing as my minor.

4. Step out of your comfort zone.

It took me years of college experiences to realize what I wanted my career path to look like once I graduated. Coming to that realization took a lot of effort—and stepping far, far outside of my comfort zone.

As early as my first semester of college, I began joining clubs. At first, the positions I looked for were more marketing-oriented, like marketing for magazines and publishing clubs. However, as I began writing for more publications, I realized that I enjoyed it just as much, if not more. Branching out from club to club, position to position, helped me better understand my likes and dislikes, which ultimately led to a more solid understanding of my desired career direction.

Even though at first I knew none of the people in these clubs, and half of them were *gulp* upperclassmen, I knew that relationship-building would be worth way more than staying back in my dorm room watching reality TV and eating flavorless dining hall food.

5. Never turn down a good opportunity.

During my sophomore year, I was in a writing course that I loathed. The professor was hard to approach, which led to me opting not to seek his help. So when he advertised a potential internship opportunity to the class, I was quick to dismiss it at first. (I was also quick to dismiss the monthly newsletter from my major’s department advertising new job opportunities. Read your school’s newsletters!)

However, I read the job description and realized it might be a perfect fit for me, so I trudged my way to his desk and asked him follow-up questions. The job was an Editorial position at Scout Magazine, a local magazine based in Cambridge and Somerville. I ended up getting the job, and it quickly became a pivotal opportunity in my college years. It helped me gain real-world experience in the magazine writing industry and witness the highs and lows of a career I was interested in. I quickly learned how to interview and write articles professionally, skills I now use in my day-to-day work.

Had I turned my back on this opportunity—for frivolous reasons—I would have never gone on to write for other publications such as The Boston Globe Magazine and now Handshake.

The bottom line is this: take advantage of all your school has to offer. All its resources, connections, professors, and services. They are there to help you.

Photo courtesy of Brooke Cagle via Unsplash

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