College 101

Deciding What I Want to Do

There's one question that adults love to ask that's exciting when you're a kid, but gets more and more nerve-wracking the older you get. You know what question we're talking about: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Kids get to answer with exciting possibilities. Some answers they give are feasible: doctor, firefighter, teacher, etc. Others not so much, like cowboy, dinosaur, or motorcycle. But whatever it is they say, they arrive at the answer the same way. Think about what you like, and make a job out of it.

Like space? Be an astronaut. Do you live for bugs? Be a scientist. Can't get enough of pumping chemicals through dead people before dressing them up? Be a mortician. Okay, the last one might not be so common, but you get the idea. Is it really that simple, though? Can we all end up liking our work so much that our kid selves would squeal with glee seeing our adult selves get up every morning?

Reality: no. Some poor schlubs are going to end up stuffing envelopes or washing shrimp scampi pans and hating every minute of it. Don't be that schlub. There exists a more optimistic reality: some of us can like our work. So why not shoot to be that person? Alarm clock goes off, stretch, big smile, and you get to work doing stuff you can't believe they pay you for.

The tricky part is figuring out what that "stuff" is. To do it, you need to think seriously about two major questions. The first is What Do I Like To Do? This needs to be in in-depth analysis of interests, projects, tasks, and work that you actually enjoy and find rewarding. The second question you need to ask is all about skills. What am I good at? Don't lie to yourself here. Your buddies might think you are a great first baseman or an amazing chef when you pull out a perfectly-heated Hot Pocket, but will the rest of the world see it? No.

So don't freak out and start screaming and breaking stuff the next time Aunt Hulga asks what you want to be when you grow up (just don't tell her Bible salesman). Take time to do some down and dirty soul-searching. Figure out what makes you happy, create a list of stuff you're good at, and find a job that matches.

No idea where to start? Make a plan with Shmoop.

As usual, we don't have the answers, but we do have the questions. Have a look:

  • What careers interest you the most?
  • What kind of money might you make from your chosen career? (Shmoop's salary chart can help you compare everything from mob boss to mall Santa (spoiler alert: the mob boss makes more).
  • How important is a high salary for you?
  • To get the career you want, what are the majors you need to consider?
  • Which schools are best for the majors that will get you the best career? What does it cost to go to those schools?
  • Would going to a state school and saving some money make more sense? Or does going to the school with the fancy name that might help you get a higher-paying job make more sense? Basically, is going to an "expensive" school a good return on investment for your given career choices?
  • How much college do you need for your career? Do you need a professional degree?
  • Do you need to go to grad school for your chosen degree? If you do need to go to grad school, what grad schools and programs do you need? How much do they cost? What financial aid is available?