Me: "What are you interested in studying?" Student: Blank stare..."Public health....?"
Me: "Right, so what area in public health most interests you?"
Student: "I'm not really sure. I guess just general public health"
I can't tell you how many times I had this conversation as a graduate admissions advisor. These are smart kids, who I'm sure are destined for great things, but are nearing the end of college and had NO clue what they wanted to do with their lives. What's the safe option when you don't want to have to make a decision? Stay in school.
Here's the crux of the problem - we're so focused on getting into school - to be able to say, "I've got a plan" - that we don't take the time to carefully craft that plan. Shoot how do we make that plan even? I was told I'd figure it out. And if I didn't I could go to the career center. Or I'd intern (granted, I'd have to find that internship, get it, and like the position) and have this epiphany about my life's work. That's how I was supposed to plan my career.
There was a girl I was in grad school with at Michigan. She entered the master's program straight from undergrad. At the end of our two-year degree she had already submitted her application to law school, effectively locking down the next three years of her life. I'm curious to see where she lands at 27 never having worked a day in her life.
I might sound jaded. That's fair. But I've also seen the incredible emotion toll that not knowing what to do next has on young people. (Read this article for the psychological effects of not knowing how to fend for yourself.) Twenty-two year-olds with a college degree are a dime a dozen. Employers have their pick and they're choosing people whom are specialized with experience already under their belt. If you haven't been lucky enough to get that experience than most likely you're going to a) get a job that's just that, counting down the hours 'til 5:00 every day; b) avoid getting a job just like my good ol' pal from Michigan; or c) you'll enter a job doing something you may not see yourself doing forever but at least you're getting a paycheck and gaining some solid skills.
I'm hoping you can leave school - whether that's high school, college, or grad school - with a clear picture of who you are and where you want to go. It may not be an immediate step and your path WILL CHANGE. But if you have a clear picture going in you can tailor everything according to those goals. This self-awareness, motivation, and direction will get you where you want to be faster and with less pain than if you just figure it out along the way.
Be brave. Take the leap. And I'll be here to pull you up if you're having trouble figuring out just where exactly to start. Cause you and I both know you are going to kick some major booty along the way.