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The college program you choose can impact your college experience and help prepare you for employment opportunities after graduation. There are many things to consider when searching for a college program. Take time to explore the different careers you’re interested in, and what degrees often align well with them.

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So What Do You Do? Finding the Career

We've all heard it before: "So what do you do?" For many, it's a standard cocktail-party question, for others, it's an occasion for sweaty palms and evasive maneuvers. If you haven't got an answer yet, never fear--finding the right career may be easier than you think.

If you haven't yet decided on a career, one of the better way to start is to evaluate your existing skills. According to Richard N. Bolles, life planning expert and author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, the skills that may help you find and pursue a successful career break down into three broad categories.

  • Transferable Skills: So-called because they can transfer to many jobs, transferable skills are associated with verbs (planning, organizing, researching, etc). Often, these strengths are inborn; you might have met a few "natural salesmen"--people with an intuitive sense of how to pitch a product or idea. Although you can gain transferable skills through experience, they're best understood in terms of natural talent.
  • Knowledge Skills: Associated with nouns, subjects, and objects (e.g., literature, computers, or mathematics), knowledge skills reflect areas with which you are comfortable and love to use in your work.
  • Personal Trait Skills: Associated with adjectives or adverbs (punctual, driven, ambitious, etc.), personal trait skills describe your personal approach to self-discipline and self-management.

An honest evaluation of your skills in all three areas may be an excellent starting point for choosing a career. As a simple exercise, try writing a list of your skills in each area and matching it with job descriptions in your local classified listings.

If you're still stuck, consider getting professional help--check the yellow pages for career counselors. A career counselor may help you narrow your options through interviews, questionnaires, and personality tests (one popular tool is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, based on the work of Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung). Professional career counselors often charge a fee, but you can also find free advice through community centers or high-school guidance counselors.

Test the Waters: Degree Programs

Once you have a general idea of your professional goals, you should check out career training programs. The career training often depends on how close you are to knowing your goals.

  • A four-year degree program provides a well-rounded education, with coursework in the arts and sciences. If you're not sure where to go, the four-year degree can provide a flexible learning environment and a wealth of transferable skills.
  • If you have a more solid idea of your career goals, two-year career training programs might be a better fit. Available through community colleges and vocational schools, the two-year career training program is typically geared toward a particular career, like nursing or construction management.
  • Certificate programs, like two-year degree programs, are aimed at specific careers. However, because they require less time to complete (anywhere from a few months to a year of study), certificate programs allow you to test the waters without investing the same time and energy required for a two- or four-year degree program.

Of course, if you already have a full-time schedule, pursuing a degree program can strain an already tight calendar. If you don't have the energy to pursue a full-time academic schedule, you can find certificate programs and full degree programs online. Online programs allow you to study from home, according to your own schedule.

Although online degrees may not carry the same weight as traditional degrees in the professional world--63 percent of employers surveyed by Vault.com (an online job-hunting resource) said they would favor a job candidate with a traditional college degree over one with an online degree--this trend is already changing. The same survey revealed that 83 percent of employers and hiring managers consider online degrees more acceptable than they did five years ago.

However you choose to discover your career, remember to stay flexible. Half of all college students change majors in their first year, and while more than 40 percent of freshmen report a desire to attend graduate school, that number drops to 20 percent by senior year.

Most importantly, focus on what turns you on. When well-meaning friends and family members might try to dissuade you or set you on a "practical" path, only you can decide what's best for you. Or, to quote Jung's champion, Joseph Campbell: "Follow your bliss, and it will open doors for you where there were only walls."

Sources:
eJournalUSA / December 2008 Vol. 13 No. 12 U.S. Department of State, Bolles, Richard N. "What You Offer the World"
eJournalUSA / December 2008 Vol. 13 No. 12 U.S. Department of State, "McIntosh, Phyllis "Choosing a Career in a Changing World"