College is a time when many people engage in the exploration, self-discovery, and knowledge building that will shape who they are and what they will achieve in their future. During these few years, students are often learning for the first time where their passions lie.
Choosing a major that aligns with their interests early in their college career can have significant positive impacts on students’ engagement in the coursework and career preparedness. It can also decrease the amount of time that students take to earn their degree, which helps lower their student debt and increases their overall earning potential and career trajectory. These are some of the reasons The University of Texas at Austin has made graduating within four years one of its top priorities for undergraduates.
But deciding on a career early within the college journey can be a bit like building a road while walking on it. Students may not have the time or support to translate their interests into a viable career option.
One way to help ensure a speedy graduation rate is to have a well-thought out career plan, says Christopher McCarthy, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology. McCarthy teaches Introduction to Career Planning, a course that helps students map their future and get the most out of their degree. In the class, McCarthy walks students through the process, looking at the lifespan of a career, as opposed to simply focusing on finding a job out of college.
In addition to looking at the potential career’s lifespan, McCarthy emphasizes the importance of social resourcefulness as a way to manage stress throughout a career. “It’s essential that students to learn how to successfully cope with stress early on. Students need to be comfortable asking for feedback, talking about stress, and managing the natural loss/gain of jobs,” says McCarthy.
The class also incorporates social aspects into the process. Students evaluate how attributes such as their personality, values, ethnicity, and gender can help shape their career outcome. This process can help them narrow their options when choosing a major, which can often be overwhelming at larger universities.
McCarthy emphasizes two points to undergraduates who may be unsure about their career path:
- Find ways to test out aspects of a career to see what type of work you like to do. This could be anything from finding out if you like working indoors or outdoors, your preferred work-life balance, or if you would like to work for a nonprofit or private company. Even if you’re not doing the type of work you want, you can gauge how you might like the environment you will be working in.
- Explore ways to be a part of a professional community. Building connections within your field can be one of the most important steps in your career development. Interacting with people who are passionate about their work and having organic conversations with them can lead to opportunities that you may not have known existed.
Introduction to Career Planning is open to all undergraduates at Texas. Currently, students from several majors and years are enrolled in the course. The course is a hybrid course, consisting of in-person and interactive online assignments.