(but it will go on your permanent record)

Do you know all of the types of jobs available in a particular industry and the best academic pathway to that professional goal? Easy question, right?

Say you are interested in politics. Sounds clear cut?  But wait — do you want to work at the local, state, national, or international levels?  Run for office? Work on a campaign? Work for a government agency, policy group, think tank, a non-governmental or advocacy organization, a lobbying firm, a law firm (and the list goes on — and on)?

To make matters more exciting, you can study political science, criminal justice, sociology, marketing, management, the natural sciences (and you will probably not be surprised to hear that this list goes on — you get the drift) to be prepared to work in the policy or political arenas.

There is not one direct or correct pathway into this field.  And guess what? The same is true for almost all professional industries.

Take the fashion industry — job opportunities in fashion can include designers, stylists, writers, photographers, buyers, operations managers, public relations and communications people, trend forecasters, marketing professionals, journalists, financial analysts and many others. A PR manager for a fashion company might have majored in business communications with a minor in writing or English.  She could have been an English major and have a minor in writing, communications, marketing, photography, or studio arts. Or another completely different mix.

The right blend of academic skill development will depend on your personal interests, skills, and professional goals. We know of an English major turned chief financial officer, an Art History major who designs wedding gowns, an English Education major who was a U.S. representative,  and a History major with a law degree who runs a start-up communications company. There are unlimited undergraduate pathways to reach your professional goals.

This is the rub though — finding what you love (in- and outside of the classroom) takes work.  Explore one industry of interest to you and seek out people already in this field — remember Aunt Linda’s friend’s cousin from Milwaukee who is a dentist?  What about your neighbor who is a teacher or your mom’s college roommate who works for a non-profit organization focusing on environmental issues?  Start with the people you know and ask questions.  Professionally speaking, how did they get to where they are now? What did they study in college and how did they decide on this major? What do they love about their field and what are the challenges?  What is a typical day like? In addition to the work they do, what are the other type of jobs are available in your field? What advice would they give their (fill in your age here) self?

Next you can investigate other ways to find out more about these professional fields.

  • Internship or shadowing opportunities through those nice friends and family we just spoke about above (think school breaks or late afternoons).
  • Find out from your guidance counselor whether your school participates in an internship for credit program and how you can apply.
  • Investigate career exploration summer programs for next year — typically offered by colleges but there are some great programs through independent providers.
  • Volunteer at an organization that focuses on an issue/industry that you might want to pursue–you can meet people in the field, learn networking skills, gain confidence, and understand whether or not the you like this type of work.

Take some time to think about this assignment.  Even though there are no wrong answers you should still ask yourself these questions.


Photo by Woodleywonderworks on Flickr Creative Commons License Photo used as is.  No changes made