Career options for the passionless
February 19, 2011 2:50 PM   Subscribe

I've been through four majors and I'm no closer to figuring out a career. Now what?

I'm 28 and about half way through a bachelors but still have no idea what I want to do. So far I've tried social services (too high stress too low pay), anthropology (dead end), geoscience (didn't want to be a GIS cube monkey), and nursing (stress/personal involvement). Now I'm at the point where continuing to try on different programs is wasting a lot of time and money. Should I even finish?

I'm not particularly passionate about anything, and I'm not even sure what I'm really good at. At this point the options seem like:

1) Finish a degree in something I like but that isn't specifically useful, i.e. history or anthropology.
2) Look into a two year program with more job security, like radiography. However it seems like that particular market may be over saturated.
3) Get a cert in something like phlebotomy. Doesn't take very long and it's something to do while I continue to figure things out.

Most of my work experience is in call centers (sales/tech support). I don't want to make a career out of that but I can accept that I'll probably never love my job. I just don't want one that I hate, or one that will keep me living paycheck to paycheck. Something that isn't geographically dependent is a huge plus, which is what seems appealing about allied health jobs. If I do finish a bachelors, that'll probably be it for me. I have no desire to go to grad school.
posted by Roman Graves to Education (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you're okay with the idea of sticking with jobs that you just need a generic BA for, why not just study what you love? You'll enjoy the rest of your undergrad years more, probably get higher grades than you would taking classes that bore you (and therefore you'll graduate with a higher GPA), and you'll learn the skills to better enjoy history or anthro or whatever as a hobby once you get a job that'll pay the bills with your new BA.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:55 PM on February 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

I agree with oinopaponton -- study what you love, and definitely get a BA. Without it, you will find your options for a decent job very limited.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 3:01 PM on February 19, 2011

Finish the most complete 4 year degree and figure it out after you've gotten a job and a little life experience.
posted by rr at 3:05 PM on February 19, 2011

Finish your degree in a field that you enjoy. You may find that you'll want to extend you study, go for a grad degree, find a job with some related connection to it, or just enrich your life. Then, after school, get a certificate in something that will pay money. Hey, since you are considering several medical things anyway, why not consider being a medical technologist? Unless you are only considering medicine for the money.
But definitely finish your degree in something.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:11 PM on February 19, 2011

I'm going to be the first poopy-head to say finish not in something you love, but in something you like, that can be converted to a real job when combined with other skills or some experience (even as in intern). Anthropology is promising as you could use some of the same methods in marketing, multi-cultural coaching for executives, and cultural liaison work with hospitals, among other things.

Grad school is not for everyone, and I won't encourage you to go. Finishing a 2- or 4-year degree is generally a good thing. Also, a lot of people finish school not knowing exactly what they want to do when they grow up. But they do finish, get jobs, and eventually find their way.
posted by whatzit at 3:19 PM on February 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Stop thinking of picking your major as picking a career. Study something you're interested in.

But of course you may still want to think about what career will be suited to you. I suggest you do the JVIS test. It'll cost you $20, but you'll get a detailed report about both majors and careers, showing what majors and careers are commonly chosen by people who share your preferences. Note that this is about preferences (what you like/value, including both what you enjoy doing and what qualities you value in jobs (variety vs. security vs. money etc.)), not aptitudes (what you're good at), but for any given set of preferences it will give a list of occupations requiring quite different kinds of education.

I did this test in high school. I got the results, looked at the suggested occupations and said "HA! No way I'm doing something requiring that much school." and forgot all about it. Until I found it years later and realized that I'm doing exactly what the test suggested.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:25 PM on February 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

I feel for you. I really, really, really do.

I'm in Anthropology and Literature. I think finishing up with Anthro would probably be the best option for you: it applies to a lot of fields and is interesting. You just need that BA to be free of school. If you want to get a certificate afterwards in something that will pay the bills, go for it. But for now, I'd just focus on getting out of school.
posted by faeuboulanger at 3:34 PM on February 19, 2011

So far I've tried social services (too high stress too low pay), anthropology (dead end), geoscience (didn't want to be a GIS cube monkey), and nursing (stress/personal involvement).

Honestly, I think you are boxing yourself in very narrowly here, in unrealistic ways. Social services jobs can be high stress and low pay, but I have friends in that field who are earning well and seem very happy. Anthro is a dead end? Why? Again, I know plenty of people with that degree who are employed and seem quite happy with it. And there are a ton of geoscience careers that don't involve being a cube monkey (though pretty much all of them require knowing at least a bare minimum of GIS).

My point being, if you are dismissing everything before you get far enough to see your options, you will never get anywhere. There's no perfect answer -- like a lot of things in life, at some point you either actively choose something or your lack of a decision becomes your choice, and you go on and make the best of the situation you are in. Every career path you named has high earners/achievers, and people suffering through low pay and crappy conditions. In a lot of fields having a BA (in anything) is a necessary prerequisite for advancement; it's generally more important to just have the degree than it is to have it in the perfect subject.
posted by Forktine at 3:52 PM on February 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

oops, I meant to link to the JVIS test web site. And here is an example of the kind of report you get. It's a multi-page report, so note the "next" buttons.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:53 PM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you should quit school (if you're at a 4 year uni and don't know what you want to major in and are just taking classes, you're paying too much money) and enroll at a community college. Do a certification in phlebotomy, get a job, and figure out what kind of money you want to make and what you're willing to do for it. I know a lot of people with BAs in the arts and humanities or social science majors who majored in something they liked and are flailing about in the job market as receptionists or administrative assistants, and feel pretty low. There are the odd arts and humanities and social sciences majors who did get into a career track, but either they got lucky or had parents/friends/relatives who got them those kinds of jobs that end up as actual careers.

That certification could be a very valuable backup to not having to work as a receptionist/secretary and put you around practical people who understand the importance of being career focused. I know a lot of Mefites would disagree and think a BA is a means to getting a decent job, but at this point you're wasting money at the university and need to be practical (unless your parents or a trust fund is paying for school and living expenses). Get the cert and go get a job.
posted by anniecat at 4:37 PM on February 19, 2011

There is a small (but growing, in North America) archaeology niche in the geophysics field - ground penetrating radar, magnetometry, etc. These techniques have been used much more widely in Europe than in North America. I am always surprised they haven't penetrated North America to as great an extent because they demonstrably save money (for businesses) when applied to archaeology impact assessments. My hunch - based on not much, really, but I did a blog post on it once upon a time - is that we will be seeing more and more of these techniques becoming required parts of regulated professional practice.

You'd probably need a M.Sc., but the best ones would be one year UK degrees from a school like Bradford archaeology - terminal M.Sc. for, yes, substantial tuition but only a one year opportunity cost of being in school.

If you could throw in a bit of remote sensing expertise, especially Lidar data manipulation, and a basic, applied knowledge of EDM-based mapping and Digital Elevation Models, then you would be employable in many parts of the world.

This would marry your geosciences and anthropology in way that is not strictly cubicle-based.

you might even apply it to Roman graves, which would be suitably eponysterical
posted by Rumple at 4:51 PM on February 19, 2011

Talk with a career counselor. They will help you assess future areas of employment and their correspondence or divergence from your goals, skills, and hopes for the future.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:09 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Sidhedevil. I started, and then dropped out of, no less than five different degrees (and two trades!) before I had the bright idea of sitting down with a psychologist (I found one specialising in career transitions - she told me a lot of her business was with burned-out middle-aged men) and figuring out what the hell I was doing. I'm now going into my second year of Engineering, and I love my degree. I'm actually planning to get some research experience over vacation, go on exchange, maybe do postgrad. Before, I was trying to find the shortest degree possible so I could get the hell out.

A career counselor isn't going to give you some multiple-choice test and say "voila, here is what you would be perfect at doing." But they are great for helping you flesh out, as Sidhedevil says, "your goals, skills, and hopes for the future" and suggesting possible education and career paths that might satisfy you.

One other piece of advice: every single major has a potentially crappy job attached to it. Stop focusing on cube monkeys and bedpans and broken families. Actually get out there and talk to people in those fields. I know nurses and social workers who have awesome jobs. (And I know people with more exciting-sounding degrees in media or psychology who work in call centres.) If you're doing something you genuinely like, you'll be way more motivated to get out there and do work experience and network and study harder for better grades. This is how you get those awesome jobs.
posted by jaynewould at 9:03 PM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a bit hesitant to chime in here, because I'm still in undergrad myself and in a very different part of academia, but one thing I've noticed is that if you're good enough in chemistry or computer science [1], someone will find a reason to pay you. Is there a department where you think you could consistently ace the exams, make your name known to professors, and generally exceed expectations?

The neat thing is, this will frequently also be a department you enjoy, if only because people enjoy being good at what they do.

[1] I say chemistry and computer science not because you should choose one of them as your major, but because those are the departments I'm familiar with. I hear it's also true in economics, physics, biology, and math. Unfortunately, I know nothing about history, anthro or sociology.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:04 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got a job working at a bookstore when I was in your position, and it played a huge role in what I later decided to major in (Art History). I was exposed daily to a multitude of books on subjects (and possible careers) that I would never have considered otherwise. Probably not the path for everyone, but it certainly helped me.
posted by lrrosa at 2:27 PM on February 20, 2011

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