When I began college three years ago, I entered as a physics major. There was no rhyme or reason behind my decision. I had only chosen physics because most of my high school friends were entering STEM fields. Of course, because physics was not what I was truly interested in, I was miserable. So, I changed my major to electrical engineering, which I also did not enjoy. Finally, I completely changed paths and began studying economics, history, and government.
Choosing Your Major
I recount this story to explain that college is a period of your life meant for exploration. After switching my major three times and having to deal with the administrative difficulties that entail, I am a big proponent of entering university as an undeclared major unless you have a clear idea of what you want to do. However, I would wager that more than half of us are not completely sure of our career paths when we enter university. Thus, coming in as an undeclared major will allow you to explore all the different fields that are available. If you know you want to pursue a policy-related career, for example, you can take courses in various liberal arts to determine which aspect of policy you are interested in without committing to a major.
It is important to also keep in mind that completing a degree in college is not the end all be all of your career choice. Your college major is a foundation, allowing you to gain the necessary knowledge to become a critical thinker. I know several engineers that attend law school, historians that become doctors, and even biologists who are now wedding planners. Choose a major that you will enjoy and classes that will be the highlights of your day. You will have no choice but to be successful when you live your passion daily.
Activities on Campus
Becoming involved with activities on campus is an excellent way to supplement your coursework and further explore career options. As women, we are often pigeonholed into societal expectations, such as joining a sorority or a spirit group. If this is what truly interests you, go for it. However, there are endless other opportunities to get involved on any given campus. Explore honor societies, pre-professional clubs, campus publications, and even research groups. There is a niche for everyone.
Joining these groups will allow you to meet other like-minded people and explore career paths. For example, if you are interested in journalism and join the campus newspaper as a writer, you will be able to get a glimpse into the world of print journalism. If you want to become a lawyer and join the undergraduate law review, you will meet a supportive group of people that have similar career goals as you. Finally, joining a club or group related to what you want to do after college will serve as an important aspect of your resume when applying for jobs and internships.
Finding the Right Internships and Professional Experience
Another important facet of the college experience is finding the right internships. While I do not suggest completing unpaid internships, working at a non-profit or with a local company is a great way to gain exposure during your freshman and sophomore years of college. Your junior year is when you will begin looking for internships in your chosen field. These can be at a corporation, with the government, or whatever industry you are interested in. For those of you planning on attending graduate school, speaking to your professors to find a research apprenticeship is also a good idea.
Finding an internship, however, can be daunting. I personally applied to as many internships as I could, was invited to interview for six and received offers for all six. I ended up choosing a finance internship with a large semiconductor company, which has taught me necessary skills like Excel, but also working in an office. Apply to as many positions as you can in your chosen field, and you will find the perfect fit.
Beginning the internship can be daunting. Do not be afraid to speak to your manager or mentor during moments that you do not understand what you are doing. You will not be looked down upon. Rather, asking questions is appreciated because it shows interest in your work and it is the only way you can learn. Treat your internship like an important class necessary for your professional education. Completing an internship will equip you with important skills that will make you successful when you enter the workforce.
Each piece of advice I have given should be customized to fit your needs and desires. All too often we are pressured into following certain paths that are considered monetarily beneficial or because others around us are following similar paths. Remember that college is a period of exploration for you to understand what you want to pursue, and that you should not let anything stand in your way. I wish you the best of luck!
Ananya Dwivedi is currently in the final year of her undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at Austin, where she majors in Economics, Government and History. Her academic focus is on US-EU trade relations and political economy. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Past in Process, which is UT’s official undergraduate historical studies journal and engagement initiative. She plans on becoming a lawyer. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @quantumananyad and on LinkedIn.