Have you ever thought about the probability that the job you get after graduation might be unrelated to your degree of study? Heck, your entire career might not be related to your career of study.
Imagine you're in third year majoring in biology - you're specialization is supposed to prepare you for work. You’ve heard so many great things about working in research and you want to pursue it after graduation. At least that's the plan until your first internship experience. Now you’re wondering what you're going to do with your life. To think that after studying a subject for 4 years, not being able to utilize the knowledge, not to mention the money and time spent, it would be a huge waste.
I was in this exact situation last year. I was two years into business school at UBC, going into my third year with my sights set on Business Technology Management and Marketing. It was not until after I completed an internship that I realized I wanted to pursue a different route. My friend had recommended a public relations program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Needless to say, it was a difficult decision to leave a prestigious program that I was not interested in in order to pursue a less prominent program at a smaller school. Many of my peers questioned why I would “downgrade”. But, I’m happy to say that deciding to change programs half-way through my first degree has taught me a lot.
I regret nothing from my experience at UBC. After all, it taught me about time management and I made many new relationships during my time there. However, when the decision to leave came down to whether or not I was interested in what I was learning, I decided that pursuing a new program would be new and exciting. I would be going from a 4-year bachelor’s program to a 2-year diploma program, large lecture classes to a small cohort or 15 people - but not without the doubt in my mind that I was making a very wrong decision.
During the entire process I went through many existential crises (I mean, REALLY overthinking everything and all the potential worst-case scenarios). I was fortunate enough to have mentors who had been in my shoes and friends who would encourage me to pursue what I truly had a passion for--writing, digital media, and crisis management.
I was constantly weighing the pros and cons of every scenario. It was an internal conflict between being safe and comfortable and the possibility of other exciting opportunities. I had to calm down by telling myself that whatever decision I made, it would not dictate the rest of my life.
More Than Academics
If any of this is resonating with you - first off, take a breath. You are definitely not alone. There will always be a doubt of whether or not what you choose to study in university will be a “waste”. I’m sure that we can all agree that the things we learn in university are beyond just academics. We learn how to calculate what we'll need to get on a final in order to pass (am I the only one who has been there)? We learn how to manage our time and balance between studying, our social life and our jobs. We meet new friends and make stupid decisions. University is the time to do just that.
You’ve made it into university. We all know that is a process all on its own. Now is the time to explore and to stand behind your decisions. I’ve learned that although I sometimes fail, I’ve learned from those mistakes and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what degree I have graduated with. University is an experience that teaches us so much more about ourselves than we realize. We learn how to be more self-aware, distinguish and acknowledge our strengths and work on our weaknesses. Everyone learns differently and has different interests. University is the perfect place to celebrate that, and no one is in it alone
I found that the best way to get out of my university crisis funk was to talk to a mentor. I am fortunate enough to have mentors who have been in similar situations and can speak to my experience. Many of my mentors have pursued careers that are completely different from their area of study. In fact, according to a Washington Post article in 2013, most people (73%) pursue careers that are unrelated to their university major.
So, it’s okay to experiment and figure out what you truly enjoy. Take elective courses that you are interested in and learn more about other industries. You may be surprised by the subjects you enjoy and are good at. Explore and find mentors who can speak to their experiences. Find out how you can turn your passions into a career and hear the different perspectives from people who are going through the same thing. Opportunities will come your way only if you look for them, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!
Traveling, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures and having the right conversations can also shift your perspective. Maybe there are jobs abroad that you never knew you would be interested in until you travelled there. Or you fall in love with a country and wish to relocate there.
The key takeaway is don't let your major get in the way. There must be a reason only 27% of graduates have a job related to their degrees. Have you ever considered that what you're passionate about studying might not be the same as the type of work you'll find meaningful?
Plan for Change
A wise mentor once told me, “The reality of life is that almost nothing goes as planned. That doesn't mean you shouldn't plan - but the earlier you embrace this reality and embed this expectation the more open to opportunities you can be. The plan is driving you towards your goals but ultimately if and when those plans are derailed, you are more easily able to adapt. You can get back on track or embrace a new opportunity and jump on a new track.”
It’s easy to have tunnel vision during university. We’ve all been there. You’re studying for an exam as if the outcome is between life or death and there is so much going on that it’s hard to think that all the time and effort you put into those classes may not result in a job related to that particular field. Be prepared and open to opportunities that may not directly align with your studies after graduation, and keep in mind that we are always growing and sometimes that means changing your mind.