So… you don’t know what to study. Everyone around you is probably babbling about how they want to be a teacher, nurse, doctor, lawyer or engineer, but you’re just not sure. Mum and Dad might be in your ear about getting a good job and the careers advisor at school is probably making loads of really annoying suggestions… but nothing REALLY takes your fancy.
Don’t worry… you’re not alone. The article you are reading is by far the most popular post on uni101.com.au, which proves that there are thousands and thousands of people like you out there who don’t know what to study. It’s normal not to know what to study. It’s also normal for people to feel pressured into deciding on a career pathway before they are ready.
Don’t know what to study? Don’t panic.
There’s no rush to decide. Uni will still be there in a year or two’s time… and a year is, like, less than 2% of most people’s lives. Take a year off to experience a bit of life and think about what you want to do. Go get a job and stack up some cash. Or go travelling. Or start a business.
Think about deferring your studies. This means applying for a uni course and then, if you’re accepted, you can tell them to keep your place on hold for a year. Deferring is a great way to keep nagging parents at bay because they’ll feel like you have plan. If after 12 months you want to do something else, no problem – you can cancel at no costs. Check with your admissions centre and universities about the best way to defer your studies.
When you are ready for uni, you’ll be hungrier and more motivated. Go to uni when you have identified a career (or two) that interest you. Keep reading for some tips on how to decide on a career.
Deciding on a career
There’s no tried and trusted formula you can follow to figure out what you want to do, but here are a few tips…
1) Figure out what you’re interested in
Money isn’t the only key to happiness. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with making money… I love making money! What I am saying is that what you choose as a career should also be fulfilling. You should be interested in what you are doing.
Do an online test. These ask a series of questions to determine your interests and talents and then suggest careers that might suit you. The tests vary significantly in quality and are infamous for producing weird results. That said, it doesn’t hurt to give them a go. Worst case scenario: it recommends something completely ridiculous that makes you chuckle.
There’s a really great Aussie one called myfuture.edu.au. Easy and fun to do and it provides lists of suggested occupations as well some cool summaries of your personality traits. Highly recommended.
Consider volunteer work – it’s a great way to get an insight into certain fields of employment and what you do or don’t enjoy.
Get an admin or low level job in an industry that kinda interests you. This can help you get an insight into how the industry works and whether you’d like it. And you can earn money while doing so! Worst case scenario: you save up money for a spot of travelling. Win / win.
2) Consider what you will earn
There is no evidence to suggest that the mega rich are happier than everyone else. In fact, there’s evidence that once people exceed the amount needed to live comfortably, more money makes them no happier at all. According to one study, “no matter how much more than $75,000 people make, they don’t report any greater degree of happiness.”
On the other hand, not having enough money can increase stress and unhappiness. If there are no jobs or low wages in your chosen career, this could lead to financial stress which is a significant cause of unhappiness.
A uni degree isn’t a guarantee of a good wage. The average person with a uni degree earns an estimated between $800,000 and $1.1 million more over their lifetime than a year 12 student who completes no further study, according to research published by the Grattan institute. But this is an AVERAGE figure, meaning in some areas (like early childhood education) many graduates are earning less than they would in a retail shop. Yikes!
Check out average wage levels for jobs you are considering. I quite like payscale.com. The site asks you a series of questions to come up with an estimate of how much you would earn in different occupations. Make sure you play with it for a while – change one answer and the results can vary significantly. (Also: note that the default is USA, but the site gives you an opportunity to change this.) Graduate Careers Australia also publishes some helpful data on what university graduates earn early in their careers.
Info on average wages should be used as a guide only. What you ACTUALLY earn will depend on many factors, including what you study, whether you receive good marks and whether you have the communications skills and experience (via internships etc) that good employers want. What’s more, wages might change by the time you become qualified in two, three, four, or five years time. This is particularly the case in cyclical industries like mining and construction.
You need to decide whether money or love for your job is more important. Generally, it should be a bit of both, but exactly how much money or how much love you need is up to you. Some people are just happy with a reasonably good wage, secure employment and a job they don’t hate. Others are happy to be poorly paid for a career they are head over heels in love with.
3) Try something
Sometimes you can never really be sure until you actually try something. That something may take the form of a TAFE course, apprenticeship or a uni degree that you like the sound of cos it leads to careers that pay well and interest you.
Try a generalist degree. These are specific university courses that are good for people who want to go to uni but don’t know what to study. I’ve written a separate post about this. Have a read.
If you try a degree and hate it, don’t worry. People change courses all the time… or drop out of uni altogether. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
But most of all: Don’t panic!
Don’t be afraid of making the wrong decision. Get in there and have a go and if it doesn’t work out, you can change direction. Every mistake is another step toward finding what you really want to do.
Do you have a question?
Put it in the comments section below this article, or join the UNI101 Facebook Discussion Group.