1. If I could have any career in the world, what would my dream job be?
It’s okay to do a little daydreaming when you’re just starting to think about career options. If your imagination leads you to lofty places (Hollywood, major league sports, the White House) don’t dismiss those dreams right away. Even if you don’t have the money or the personal freedom to spend years chasing hit-or-miss opportunities, you can still learn something from these inclinations.
Maybe you’re attracted to the limelight, to work that is physical rather than office-based, to socially impactful roles, or to job titles that command respect. Many other professionals—besides movie stars, ball players, and Congresswomen—can enjoy these job perks, too. Zero in on what seems most enjoyable to you (job travel, potential income, paid time off), then look for more everyday careers that may offer similar advantages.
2. What are my aptitudes, abilities, and areas of expertise?
Maybe you’re a great storyteller. Maybe you are the family peacemaker and a level-headed source of advice. Maybe kids gravitate to you. Maybe you take great photos, are a whiz on the computer, have a knack for bargain hunting and haggling. All these traits can translate into career ideas. Pay attention to your strong suits, and use them to inform your career choices.
College is about learning new things, but there’s no reason to study totally foreign subjects—especially if you’re only doing it in hopes of earning more money after graduation. Bachelor degree programs are designed to let students explore various disciplines—math, science, literature, art, history, psychology, etc—before starting advanced coursework in a focused area. So if you’re not sure about which subjects you naturally enjoy, a BA in Liberal Arts may be a good option. You could also try sampling individual online courses in subjects that you’re considering for your eventual degree.
3. Where would I like to be one year from now? Two years from now? Five years from now?
If you want a big, dramatic change in your life, and you want it quickly, a fast-track diploma or accelerated certificate program could be your ticket to more immediate options. Some certificate programs are designed to be completed in less than one or two years. They are often geared toward a specific job title—for example, medical office administrator, medical assistant, insurance biller and coder, web developer, etc. Many students prefer these clear-cut college options because there’s less guesswork involved in terms of what type of job they might pursue when they graduate.
Of course, delayed gratification is sometimes a good thing. If you're willing to hang in there and tackle a program that could require two, three, or four years of effort, you might enjoy a wider variety career options. Bachelor degrees are quickly becoming the required, entry-level credential for many fields—including teaching, social work, and certain areas of business. If you’re the type of person that needs room for growth, advancement, new assignments, you may not want to lock into a technical/vocational program that offers a fixed set of job skills.