Many students begin university with a clear career path in mind: “I will complete my degree in X years and get a job in X.” However, your path can become unclear once you start your courses.
Take me, for example. When I graduated high school I just *knew* I was going to be a child psychologist. I had the entire path laid out for myself. And then I started classes and discovered the wide range of opportunities that psychology offered. I had no idea that there would be the opportunity to research sleep, or rats, or the brain, and that so many psychologists never got involved with counselling at all.
I completed my psychology degree, but I did so with the knowledge that I had no longer had any intention of becoming a psychologist. After graduation I drifted off looking for a job, engaging in a wide variety of failed vocational experiments without any particular direction or goal. I have a firm belief that no educational experience is ever wasted, but one might question as to whether completing a program I had no intention of pursuing wasn’t a rather privileged and somewhat financially irresponsible decision to make.
As reported in a Globe and Mail article “[f]orty-four per cent of students said that preparing for a specific job or career was the most important reason for going to university, according to a 2016 first-year university survey by the Canadian University Survey Consortium.” With this view in mind, a far more productive strategy for me would have been to visit the campus career services office early in my academic journey. Perhaps then I would have received some direction on how to achieve something I could really feel passionately about. I don’t think the vast majority of students recognize how these services can be valuable at the beginning of their scholarly program and not simply upon approaching graduation when you need a job. Career services can intervene at a stage prior to making the decision on which major to choose – allowing you to target your choices towards a job you are actually interested in and will be properly suited for. Assessment tools are readily available that will measure your interests, skills, values and personal styles. These are not tests that grade you or judge you for your choices – they simply offer a means of guidance towards making a choice that will impact you along your career life journey. And this counsel can also have a great impact on your academic satisfaction and whether you ultimately complete course of study.
Not only can career services administer assessments, but they can also offer resources that offer a perspective on what various vocations entail on a day-to-day level through sites such as Glassdoor.com, Career Cruising and the Canadian Job Bank.
While I chose to complete my undergraduate degree knowing that I did not intend to pursue work in the field, I was questioned by my professors along the way – asking me why I was putting myself through the hassle when I didn’t intend to do anything with it. For me, it was a stubborn sense of wanting to complete what I had started, and not wanting to “waste” the time that I had already invested. But in retrospect I can appreciate the idea that another person in my position may simply have chosen to walk away from their degree in frustration; at a loss with what to do next. While I choose not to regret the journey I took to get where I am today, I will admit that some proper guidance and assessment could have perhaps gotten me here a little sooner.
A note on academic advisors
Most students understand the usefulness of visiting academic advisers – however there is a significant difference in the services that they offer, compared to career services. Midway through my degree I visited an adviser, and they were indeed helpful in outlining all of the requirements I needed to successfully graduate with an honours psychology major. However, this did not help me make an informed career decision, it simply offered me course selection options when pursuing the program of study I had already chosen.
Deanna England is an academic and career adviser at the University of Winnipeg.