For many students — if not every one of them — college is the light at the end of the high school tunnel, a promised land of fun and opportunity that’s waiting as a reward for surviving the teenage years. There’s some truth to this; college is, indeed, the most fun you can have couple with the least amount of responsibility, and you’ll never experience that combination of low expectations and high benefits again. (Sorry.) But college isn’t just a way station, it’s a place to figure out what you really want to do with your life. The goal isn’t just to get good grades, but to educate yourself and develop a passion for a field. The sheer openness of the choices has a way of sending most students into a mild panic, but don’t worry. With a little work, you can start to find the right career for you.
Start with the basics: what do you love to do? Don’t think in terms of jobs yet (“I love to work for investment firms”) or perks (“I would love to make some serious cash”). Think in terms of what actually makes you happy. Do you like to write? Teach others? Work with numbers? Help people? What do you naturally love to do? What’s something you’d love to do if time and money were no object? What’s something you’d love to do even though you’ve never heard of anyone else doing it for a living? The key at this step is not to limit yourself. This isn’t about boxing yourself in, but thinking outside that box to discover what works for you.
Pay attention to your classes, too. What’s exciting? What’s boring? What are you naturally drawn to? Talk with professors or professionals in the field that’s sparking your interest to get a feel for what it’s like to work in the area, and what kind of educational and vocational paths you can take to get there. Be careful, though: there’s a temptation to rush through this stage in a fog of excitement and throw all your chips in with a career that you don’t love but that you think will earn you respect, prestige, or a fat paycheck. However, it takes patience to figure out what you like to do and what you’re good at doing. This is your career we’re talking about. This is not a decision to make in a rushed afternoon so you can get to the cafeteria before the good sandwiches are gone. Go slow.
Your advisor is also a great resource. He or she can talk with you about job options and even administer personality tests that can help you determine what your strengths are. The results of such tests aren’t set in stone, but they can be a helpful guide. Above all, remember that this is your life and career, and life’s too short to waste it doing something that makes you unhappy. Good luck!