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?

Leave a Reply

9 Comment threads
9 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
12 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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,

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.

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!

I completely agree Marie. As a future parent, I would definitely encourage my kid to figure stuff out sooner rather than later as the bills started piling up.

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… Read more »

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.

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.

Bret @ Hope to Prosper

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… Read more »

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!


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. :)

Sarah, just out of curiosity, why decided to go back to school if you have no idea what you want to do? Isn’t that an expensive way to do general learning?


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… Read more »


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?

It’s ok, by me, but it’s her comments! That being said, I do definitely disagree on a couple of the points (although I admire the passion and articulation).

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… Read more »


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.

Share This