What Courses Do I Sign Up For If I Don’t Know What I Want To Do?

By now you have probably signed up for your university courses.  Most students have a basic idea for what they want to do in school, but many do not.  Luckily at the University of Manitoba they have a thing called University 1, which is a program that is mandatory for all first year students and it gives them a chance to try out different courses to see where their passion lies.  Most programs require a certain amount of electives (courses that aren’t related to your program at all) so it’s not a wasted year.

I Didn’t Know What I Wanted From School


You aren’t alone, while living in residence, I’d say around 80% of the people there changed their academic goals in their first semester of school, some still changed them in their second year or school.  It’s okay to change things up, there’s nothing worse than spending the rest of your life in a career that you don’t want to do.  If you want you can check out my article “What Job Is Right For Me?” where I talk about how I used a career workshop to point me in the right direction.  Once I knew my general skills and interests, I took electives in that field.  When I did find my path, I already had a pile of courses required for the program.

Taking Motivating Courses To Motivate Yourself

When you don’t know what to do as a career or in school it can be hard finding motivation going to class or studying for such exams. Sometimes the best motivator is your bank account if you are paying for your tuition yourself.  I had a good laugh when I read Studenomics article “Financial Burden Of Failing A Course,” where he breaks down how much it costs to fail a course.  A good plan is to find study buddies who can keep you in line and have study sessions.  This method works well when you actually study when you get together and keep distractions to a minimum.  It’s much easier to stay motivated when you have other people relying on you to keep them studying as well.

You Aren’t Alone

There are many stats out there to show you how many students drop out of school in their first year.  When you are stressing out, keep it in the back of your mind that you will continue to go to school and you won’t become a statistic.  One good way to see how many people actually drop out is to count the people in class before the voluntary withdrawal date, and count the students after.  There will be a big difference, especially in first year required courses.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do for my first two years of school.  So I talked to my friends, and family, plus I also attended a career workshop to point me in the right direction.  Before that I felt I was definitely more at risk of becoming one of the “Voluntary Withdrawal” casualties.

Taking A Break

Some people recommend taking a year from school if you don’t know what to do; however, it is very easy to get caught in a rut and not want to come back.  It’s likely that if you aren’t in school you will probably be working, and making a bit of money while living at your parent’s place.  The money you will make will be good since you don’t have to pay for rent or food, and it’s hard to give that up to go back to school.  Soon, one year off turns into two or three years off.  If you do take a break, be sure to make it only one, and beware of the rut and try not to fall into it.

Did you end up getting the same degree that you wanted to get when you first went to school?  Did you drop any courses? Are you now in the career you thought you would be when you were 18?


Justin is the co-owner and grammarly impaired author of My University Money and Young and Thrifty. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

18 Responses to What Courses Do I Sign Up For If I Don’t Know What I Want To Do?

  1. Melissa says:

    Actually, I strongly recommend taking a break, if you’re not sure about your program, or you don’t know what to do. In my opinion it’s much better than wasting your time and money figuring it out. Besides, nothing will instil the value of a university education more than working as a cashier for a year while the rest of your friends are off at school. I get what you’re saying about, if you leave, you won’t go back, but honestly, in my experience, everyone I know who dropped out (myself included) who wanted an education, got one, and those who dropped out and never went back, probably wouldn’t have finished their degrees anyway, they would have just dropped out or flunked out a couple of years later, and wasted more time and more money than if they’d dropped out after one semester.

    • J.B. says:

      I guess it all depends on the mindset of the induvidual in question. Now that you mention it, some of the people I know who took a year off did come back to finish what they started and they were happy to come back once they were more “mature” (their words, not mine).

      I only mention it because I do know a few people that are still working and they wish that they never took that “1 year break” since it turned into 3 years, and they are still doing the cashier job and they are getting sick of it now.

      Thanks for commenting. I overlooked that part of taking a break.

    • I agree with Melissa. If you are not sure what course to take, I would suggest to take a break, get a job, think what you really wanted in life, and decide. You will be wasting more time and money if you enroll on a course then shift after a year or two.

  2. MD says:

    A break can be a good idea. I’ve just never been a fan of it. I see it as a sign of never returning.

    Thanks for the mention btw,

  3. krantcents says:

    I always knew I would go into business. I received a BS in Business and 7 careers later, I am a teacher! I remember my daughter’s orientation at college, when the Chancellor said we are preparing you for multiple careers. A college education is not preparing you for a single career.

  4. As Krantcents notes, you will likely have multiple careers in your future. Prepare for one now, including getting a general smattering of coursework. Don’t assume however, that a liberal arts or business degree will get you very far when you start out!

  5. FinEngr says:

    I’ve discussed this before with a few friends. We seemed to agree part of the problem was we weren’t prepared well enough to make such a big life decision.

    I ended up in engineering solely because of my own family who were in related fields, but I may have pursued something in finance had I been better advised early on. Another friend who has a family in finance is now looking to transition out of the field into real estate.

    You can’t simply have enough life experiences at 18 to fully grasp what you want, and plan, to do for the next 40 years (2x as long as you’d been alive!). Maybe the better solution is to delay the whole act of college until mid-20s with people engaging in different ventures between high school and then to help hone their interests and skills.

    • Teacher Man says:

      I think we should start job-specific training much earlier. Say 14, like they do in many of the Scandinavian countries. Right now our public schools don’t really teach a whole lot, and once students get into grades 11/12 they are often learning things that they don’t really need to. The option to go an academic route could still be there, but lets allow students a little more leeway to actually gain some life experience.

  6. Bret @ Hope to Prosper says:

    I always give young people the same advice if they don’t know what to take in college:

    Take Business

    A business degree is more respected by some employers than liberal arts or some of the majors ending in “ology”. It offers a nice transition into lucrative careers in related fields, such as Sales, Marketing, Finance or Management. Or, you can skip the corporate ladder and go into business for yourself. In that case, Accounting and Business Law come in really handy.

    I had no idea what I wanted to do until I turned 21. Then I switched from Business to a Computer Science major. Even though I took a bunch of programming classes, Accounting has been the most valuable course I took. I report directly to the CFO and I can support his group with inventory, reporting and other cross-department projects. I have also run a number of businesses on the side.

    • Teacher Man says:

      That’s some great advice Bret, I really like that. Your completely right in that a business degree would get way more respect due to its practicality. Once you make the money you can study the “ology” stuff on your own time for free!

  7. Sarah says:

    I took a break for 13 years before going back to school, in that time i worked out of the country and worked on my dancing. Im currently back in school, but still have no idea what I want to do, so I’m majoring in General Studies. Personally, I’m glad I waited to go to college, it allowed me to take advantage of other oppertunites which have granted me massive amounts of work experience…you know the other stuff you have to have with a degree. :)

  8. AnnJo says:

    Assuming you’re a decent student (there’s no bigger waste of time and money than flunking a course,and these are not all easy courses), here are some classes that will help you no matter what career path you choose:

    1. Accounting. Basic accounting (being able to read, understand and create financial statements) helps not only in a business career, but in many professions (law, medicine, politics, journalism, real estate, etc.), in any self-employment situation, and in managing your own budgets and investments as you build wealth. For the same reasons, a business math class and learning how to use a business calculator are useful.

    2. Logic. Being able to think clearly, and being able to tell when you’re being fed a line of hokum, are invaluable life skills.

    3. Expository writing: Being able to write clearly will be of help in almost every career.

    4. Oratory, speech, elocution, or whatever will teach you to speak clearly and coherently, and rid you of bad speech habits and, if not raised speaking English, heavy accents. I’ve had my hearing tested twice in the last ten years, wondering if I was going deaf because I have so much trouble making out what some people are saying. My hearing checks out fine, but I’ve come to realize that a) cell phone technology just sucks compared to land-lines for clarity of sound, and 2) many younger people seem to think it’s too much trouble to move their mouths when they speak and as a result, mumble rather than talk. When they talk among themselves, most of the time nobody’s listening, but in the work world, employers and co-workers will need to understand you.

    5. Basic economics. If you have any interest in the state of the world, the state of your country, or a political program of any kind, whether it’s “peak oil” or “climate change” or “social justice”, save yourself the embarassment of soundling like a fool when you promote your goals or talk to people who can influence those matters.

    6. Any class in any subject, that is taught by a truly world-class teacher. Nothing can create and nurture a life-long love of learning like being taught ANYTHING by someone who truly knows and loves a subject and can communicate that exceptionally well. Find out who the most widely acclaimed teacher is at your school and, whether they are teaching Milton’s Paradise Lost or the biology of parasites, take the class.

    • Lou says:

      AnnJo’s comment is the best advice I’ve ever seen on this topic (and I used to counsel Freshmen). Wish her comments could be widely disseminated. Ok if I use/discuss them on a blog post?

    • Teacher Man says:

      Well there are probably some bigger wastes of time and money, but I would personally agree with the sentiment. I know that many people claim that using university as a learning experience is a net positive for their life. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this as well. As far as your suggestions go:

      1) and 5) Definitely agree, good for everyone to know, no question.

      2) Could not disagree more. I took a course in logic and found that it wasted way more time asking unsolvable questions than in applying any practical reasoning. I felt that in general it just led to people having inflated opinions of their intellect.

      3) and 4), I agree for the most part, but not as completely as with suggestions 1 & 5. Basic writing and speech skills are getting more and more scarce in any work environment and consequently, are becoming more and more valuable. My only criticism here, is that there are much better places to learn these skills than in university (for cheaper too).

      I would add political science. No one understands political thought and the historical background of it these days, and so we end up with politicians that have to pander to lowest common denominators instead of actually addressing issues. Political science might have limited direct application to making you profit, but it is great for society at large!

      By far the most insightful comment I think you made is #6. I agree with it so much I will probably steal it for a blog post at some point! I always recommended certain professors to students regardless of what they wanted to do, and I have never had a complaint. It is amazing the difference a transcendent professor can have. There are some profs I would have paid to teach me how to cut crass they were so interesting and entertaining! I say forget about acclaimed professors in the academic sense, look for profs who have won student-given awards, and even better, check out websites that allow students to truly give reviews of a teacher (perhaps another blog opportunity!).

  9. Khanna says:

    Its not gud to take a year break to know what u want to do.

    I stead of that keep trying new things and u,ll find ur passion.

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