What if Your Degree Doesn’t Match What You Really Want to Do?

Having or working toward a degree that doesn’t match what you really want to do can put you between a rock and a hard place. Do you abandon your education in favor of what it is your really want to do, and waste thousands of hours of study and tens of thousands of dollars? Or do you just ignore what it is you really want to do?

It’s a tough choice no matter which way you go.

Why your degree and your career choice may not match

Not many people truly know what they want to do when they’re just 17 or 18 years old—heck, you’re just a kid! But university is a program, and that requires you to make some decisions early in the process, maybe before you’re ready. It may turn out to be the wrong choice.

What are some reasons why your ultimate career choice might not match with the degree you’re pursuing (or have already completed)?

  • You entered a degree program that your parents wanted you to take, but you never felt strongly about it
  • You chose a major for the expected income, without giving much thought to whether or not you’d actually like it—and you don’t like it
  • You followed some influential friends into a major
  • Your passions are in another area completely, one that you never thought that you might be able to make into a paying career
  • Since you started university the employment prospects in the major have declined
  • You started a part-time job or business in a field that you not only enjoy, but discovered that you have a real aptitude for

The reason for the change could be any one of these, a combination of two or more, or one I haven’t even thought of. What ever the reason, what should you do now?

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The obvious answer

If you’re a freshman, sophomore or even a junior, the obvious solution is to change your major to the desired career choice. That may mean added time and expense to your education, but it’s an option you do have.

But this post is meant for those who either a) are recent graduates, b) too far along in school to change their majors (or the change would be too radical), c) can’t afford the extra time and expense that changing a major might involve, or d) the desired career doesn’t require a university degree.

Here are some things to think about…

If you can’t change majors, at least finish your degree

Even if you decide that you hate the major you’re in, finish out your degree anyway. Here’s why:

  1. You’re probably close to completion anyway, which is one of the reasons you can’t change your major
  2. An uncompleted degree program has close to zero economic value
  3. The time and money invested in your education to date will vaporize
  4. You might be able to parlay a completed degree into your career of choice
  5. As a matter of pride, you want to finish what you start

If you do complete your degree, how can you make it work in the career that you really want to go into?

Plan to work two or three years in your major field of study

OK, your major has nothing to do with what it is you really want to do with your life—but you still have a degree (or will get one soon). What can you do with it?

You can plan to actually work in that field for a time, and even if it isn’t what you ultimately want to do, it can still have benefits for you.

You’ll get work experience in a field in which you have specific training. Any kind of work experience can be good for what ever career you ultimately settle in, even if it’s totally unrelated.

Working in your major field will give you a chance to get on your feet financially. You probably have student loans to pay, a new car to buy, some credit cards to get rid of and an empty bank account to fill. Taking care of all of that will make it easier for you to transition into the career you want to be in.

Also, before entering your preferred career, you’ll have a both a degree and work experience in your original field. That’s a built-in Plan B, and you’ll be better off for having one.

Plan to move into the field that you really want on a part-time basis

If you plan to work in your original career major for a time you can use it as a springboard to ease into the career you really want, and you can do it gradually.

Many times the career you want to be in is one that doesn’t pay well, at least early on. You can use the paycheck from your career major to bridge the gap. You can work on getting into your desired career outside your job, by getting any training or certificates you need, or by working in it part-time to get the experience you need.

If you think of the job in your career major as something that enables you to get into the field you truly want to be in, then your career major will still be part of your larger plan.

Even if the career you studied for and first entered isn’t the one you ultimately want to stay in, the education will never be wasted.

Are you having second thoughts about your major? What do you plan to do about it?

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I think it’s actually pretty normal for people to go into a different career with their degree. Out of everyone I know, I’d say 90% of the people have degrees that have nothing to do with the career they are currently in. I think the best thing to do is just finish your degree, but also get some volunteer and work experience in the field you actually want to work in. Most jobs just require a degree, sometimes it doesn’t matter what type.

Really, 90%?! I think for Bachelor of Arts degrees the national figures usually say about 40%, and all other degrees are much lower than that, so I’m just a little surprised by that figure.

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