To some, college is the next logical step of your journey to functional adulthood after high school. To others, it’s an incubator to get you ready for your career. Either way, during the course of your college education, you’ll make some of the most important decisions for your financial and professional future as you choose your major, make your class schedules, and meet new connections.
Unfortunately, many college freshmen end up making a career decision based on one or two factors, when in reality, it’s much better to focus on many factors—including how those factors connect.
The Most Important Factors to Consider
Broaden your decision-making criteria by considering all these important factors:
1. Availability. First, consider how easy it is to get a job in your respective field. Some career paths are in higher demand than others; for example, jobs in healthcare and finance are always in high demand, whereas jobs in paper publishing are on the decline. Look to see how many openings per year there are, and how easy it is for someone with a college degree to get into the field.
2. Pay. Obviously, you’ll also want to consider pay. Many people mistakenly use this as the only factor for consideration, or the most important factor for consideration, but it should only be one of several factors for consideration. The higher the salary, the higher the appeal, especially if that high salary is attainable within the first few years of working. You’ll also want to consider how much you’re going to pay for your degree; some jobs pay significantly more, but also require several extra years of paying off student loans, partially negating the benefits.
3. Stress. Don’t forget about the role that stress and job satisfaction can play in your life, either. For example, nursing is a career with many available openings and good pay, but it also comes with extreme stress—to the point where ongoing self-care is considered part of the job if you want to stay sane. This doesn’t mean you should stop considering jobs with high stress (since every job is, to an extent, stressful), but you should be prepared for how you’re going to handle that stress.
4. Future options. What options are you going to have in this job in the future? For example, if you decide you don’t like your specific role, would it be easy to switch to a different role in a similar field? Can you, with the education and experience you’ll get early in this career, be poised to take on another career? If this is your dream job, you might not want to consider the possibility of not liking it, but that possibility does exist, and you should prepare for it.
5. Personal interest. For most new college students, this is the most important consideration, but again, it’s only one of several that should factor into your decision. How much are you personally interested in this area? Are you truly passionate about this job and this work? If not, you may not be able to tolerate it for long. Of course, your interests are also subject to change, so don’t invest too heavily in only one area.
6. Flexibility. How much flexibility does this career offer? For example, if you’re into writing or accounting, you may be able to work from home, and choose your own hours by being an independent contractor. But if you’re an engineer or a doctor, you may be required to work certain, inflexible hours.
7. Longevity. It’s estimated that 73 million United States jobs will be replaced by automation by 2030, and that may be a low estimate. Many jobs are already falling to the wayside due to new technology, so it pays to consider careers that aren’t as easily replaced. Jobs that require high-level critical thinking, those that involve creating and testing new technologies, and those that rely heavily on emotional intelligence and human-to-human interactions are less susceptible to being replaced or displaced by AI. That said, we’re on a somewhat unpredictable trajectory of machine learning, so there are no guarantees.
Avoiding Analysis Paralysis
Looking at these complex factors can be intimidating, especially if you aren’t sure what type of career you want to pursue. But try not to stress about the decision too much; you’ll likely change your major at least once or twice as you get through your college education, and after that, you’ll change jobs somewhere between 10 and 15 times. It’s good to think critically about your future career, and choose the direction with the most potential in the most areas, but there’s always time to change your decision in the future.