Questions Answered: I’m a junior; is it too late to change my career path?

Changing Career PathsQuestion: I’m a college junior majoring in accounting. When I got to college I didn’t know what I wanted to major in so I picked accounting because my dad is an accountant. My grades are decent, but the more classes I take and accountants I talk to the more I realize I don’t want to be an accountant! I am pretty sure I want to pursue a career in higher education, maybe admissions or student life. I’ve been involved in res life almost my whole time in college and I really love it. What should I do? Should I change majors? Is it too late for that? ~ Tyrel H., Anaheim, CA

Answer: Realizing that you want to change career paths can happen at any time; in fact, it can happen several times throughout your life. Taking time to speak with professionals in a prospective career field, as you have done, can really help you make decisions about the career’s fit with your interests, skills, goals, and needs (financial, personal, spiritual, etc.). Interning or otherwise gaining practical experience in the career is another excellent way to determine if the career is a suitable fit.

When planning to switch majors, there is typically some amount of time and extra money that will be needed to make up pre-requisite courses and take the required courses for the new major. While this may set you back financially and in terms of when you graduate, in the long run, you will have saved yourself the potential emotional and financial stress of working in an occupation that is the wrong fit. Changing majors is an important decision, so speaking with academic advisors, career counselors, your parents, faculty/students in the new major, and professionals in the new career path is also important.

That said, given your interest in higher education, particularly admissions or student life/student affairs, it is not absolutely necessary that you change majors. It is possible to get an entry level job in higher education with a combination of a bachelor’s degree (in practically any major) and campus work experience. However, a master’s degree, for example, a Master of Arts in Student Personnel Administration, would typically be needed if you wanted to eventually pursue higher levels of responsibility, such as a director’s or dean’s role. It may be possible, though, to pursue your graduate degree while working for the university, even bringing down the cost of your graduate education. A graduate assistantship, for example, might give you exposure to different university offices (admissions, advising, development, diversity affairs, student services, residence life, career development, to name a few), while covering the cost of your tuition and providing a small stipend – depending on the nature of your program.

If you decide you want to work first before going to graduate school, you will likely find job opportunities with titles such as Admissions Counselor or Admissions Representative. On the residence life side of things, look for Residence Director, Residence Hall Advisor, Residence Manager, or Residence Coordinator titles, and variations of these. These positions will typically ask for at least a bachelor’s degree, but will not specify a major. Since you are doing well in your accounting coursework, you may consider finishing your accounting degree, continuing your residence life work experience, and still be qualified for higher education jobs after graduation. I do encourage you, however, to make sure you are comfortable talking about and describing both your class and work experience in terms of their benefit to any future employer. For example, many higher education administrative positions require some knowledge of budget management. You could market your accounting background as a valuable skill set for handling these detail-oriented aspects of higher education jobs.

Since you’ve been involved with residence life on your campus, speak with your hall director and dean of student affairs. Ask for an informational interview and talk with them about their career path, graduate school experience and networking leads.

Here are a few resources that might be helpful:
The Chronicle of Higher Education
ACPA – American College Personnel Association
NACAC – National Association for College Admission Counseling

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