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Exploration Strategies

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Self-Exploration

How can you really figure out who you are, what drives you, what you want, and what you have to offer in the context of an academic major and, ultimately, a future career? 

You have four strategies you can use, in any combination you’d like, to start building that picture:

  • Reflecting
  • Asking for feedback from people who know you well
  • Taking career assessments
  • Working with a CLA career counselor

Reflecting

You actually know a lot about yourself already. You probably just don’t think about it very much or, more commonly, you take it for granted.

Reflect on it all now so that you can get it out of your head and onto paper. Capture it, organize it, and look for patterns that will offer clues about potential academic and career paths for you to pursue—keeping in mind, of course, that both you and your academic and career interests will likely change over time.

Start the self-exploration process by thinking—really thinking—about questions like these (and writing your detailed responses in a notebook or in an online document):

  • Why are my interests? What captures your attention? What are you curious about?
  • What are my skills? What skills have you built—or could you build—that are transferable from one area to another?
  • What are my Core Career Competencies? Which of the Core Career Competencies that signify career readiness are you already confident in? Which ones do you need to develop?
  • What are my personality traits? Where do you get your energy? How do you take in information? How do you tend to make decisions?
  • What are my values? What’s most important to you? What will you fight for?
  • What are my strengths? What are you inherently good at?
  • What is the influence of my personal identity or culture? How has your identity or culture (i.e., race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, age, religion, family position, etc.) influenced your ideas about a major or a career path?
  • What are my needs and other influences? What are your expectations about factors like pay, location, and the education/training you’ll ultimately need?

Take a Career Readiness Course to Explore Majors and Careers

CLA provides a comprehensive career curriculum that is designed to meet all of your career readiness needs—including major and career exploration. Check out our many career course offerings to learn more.

Asking for Feedback from People Who Know You Well

If you’re like most people, you will inevitably overlook—or, worse, ignore—key characteristics about yourself that will be critical to your academic and career planning decisions. How can you address this problem? By purposefully asking other people in your life—people who know you well and care about you—for feedback. About you.

For example: What insights does your best friend have about your interests? skills? personality? values? strengths? How does it all look from your mother’s angle, or from your favorite high school teacher’s point of view?

You will be surprised, often pleasantly, by the things others see in you that you simply cannot see in yourself.

Taking Career Assessments

CLA Career Services offers formal and informal career assessments (for very low or no cost) in five key self-exploration categories: interests, skills, personality, values, and strengths.

Know, too, that if you haven’t already done so, you can also take (for free) the SuperStrong assessment, a tool that will help you see how your interests intersect with specific major and career options. Learn more about these career assessments.

Working with a CLA Career Counselor

The in-depth, one-on-one conversations you have with a CLA career counselor can give you the targeted self-exploration guidance you need, especially as you begin to see the breadth and depth of the information you’re trying to understand—and eventually act upon. It can be a lot to manage. 

Learn more about meeting with a career counselor and how to make an appointment.

Explore Your Academic and Career Options

As you continue learning more about yourself, you can begin exploring your academic and career options, too.

CLA offers more than 65 majors and more than 70 minors in diverse disciplines, with thousands of courses to choose from. Chances are you’re familiar with only a few of them. 

Likewise, the career possibilities for liberal arts majors are almost endless.

Having lots of possibilities can be liberating, of course. But it can also be overwhelming. So here’s a strategy you can use to explore your academic and career options in depth, and then make confident decisions about what path(s) you ultimately pursue.

As you begin exploring your academic and career options, it’s helpful to gather basic information about different possibilities available to you. Doing research—primarily through reading—is a low-risk, low-commitment way to do just that.

Resources for Researching Academic Options

Explore major and minor options at the UMN and in CLA:

Center for Academic Planning and Exploration (CAPE) Major Profiles explores all the majors offered at the UMN, including degree requirements, student profiles, and career information.

Highly Undecided or Considering Multiple Majors?

Connect with the Center for Academic Planning and Exploration (CAPE), which offers personalized services that will help you develop an action plan for major and career decision making if you are considering majors in multiple colleges.

Explore Options by Major: So many students ask "What can I do with a major in...?" These webpages showcase skills gained in each major, alumni profiles, and other resources to help you discover some of the many career options associated with the majors in CLA.

Resources for Researching Career Options

Explore Options by Career Field: Get advice from employers, see example internship and job titles, discover the best sources to find internship and jobs, and get tips for how to prepare for success in the eight most common career fields that CLA graduates work in.

Read and Watch Career Profiles

Learn about Alumni Careers

University of Minnesota Alumni Association’s Maroon and Gold Network: This tool allows you to explore the career paths of alumni, you can search by major or industry to see the diversity of roles and experiences alumni have pursued.

LinkedIn Alumni Tool: This resource has search functionality to help you sort profiles of UMN alumni by college, major, location, industry, and organization they work for. The data may help you identify industries, roles, or organizations you may want to learn more about. You can read profiles and connect directly with alumni to learn about their career paths.

Explore Options by Major webpage and the Explore Options by Career Field webpage also include some example alumni careers as a way to inspire ideas for your own future. 

Engage with Employers: Connect with employers to discover what kinds of internships and jobs are available that may be a good fit for your interests and goals. There are many ways to meet with employers right here on campus!

Read Job Descriptions

Reading through job and internship postings will help you discover:

  • What types of jobs are most frequently listed, and where.
  • Which industries seem to be doing the most recruiting.
  • What qualifications (education, experience, skills, Core Career Competencies) tend to be required for various positions.
  • Salaries or salary ranges for particular jobs.

Use GoldPASS powered by Handshake, the University of Minnesota’s free search database for jobs, internships, and volunteer positions to get started with searching for and reading job descriptions. It is truly an amazing resource, offered exclusively to UMN students and alumni! On a typical day, you’ll find some 7,000 postings for jobs, internships, and volunteer positions on GoldPASS, submitted by thousands of active organizations and companies. What does that mean? Lots of job and company descriptions, all of which lend themselves nicely to your career (and academic) exploration pursuits. You can use GoldPASS’s search boxes and filters to refine (by geography, for example, or by keyword) what’s presented to you on the page, making it even easier to explore careers with precision. You can even save these customized searches so that you don’t have to set up filters every time you’re on GoldPASS.

Observe Work Environments and Discuss Your Options

You can only gain so much insight from reading about your options. So find opportunities to connect with people in your field(s) of interest, and to observe various work environments in that field.

Request an informational interview with someone in a career of interest to ask them questions about their career, for example, or shadow a professional in their workplace, or talk to employers at a career fair.

Resources to Observe and Discuss Options

University of Minnesota Alumni Association’s Maroon and Gold Network: This tool allows you to explore the career paths of alumni and connect with them. On the profile pages of the alumni in the network, you can see what they have indicated they are willing to help students with, and many of them have indicated they are open to helping students explore careers. Through the system, you can reach out to alumni via messaging them or requesting a meeting. Through your conversations (i.e. Informational Interviews) with them, you’ll gain valuable perspectives as you explore your academic and career options.

LinkedIn Alumni Tool: This resource has search functionality to help you sort profiles of UMN alumni by college, major, location, industry, and organization they work for. You can read profiles to identify contacts to reach out to request an informational interview

Center for Academic Planning and Exploration (CAPE) Major Network: The Major Network is a University of Minnesota cross-college network that connects exploring students with upperclassmen who are passionate about their majors. As an exploring student, it gives you the opportunity to learn from a student mentor about what the major is like, such as coursework and internships.

Attend Alumni and employer networking events, such as career fairs!

Engage in Meaningful Experiences

Sometimes, the best way to clarify a potential path is to try it for yourself.

There are literally hundreds of ways to get engaged on or off campus to get some actual experience doing whatever it is you’re exploring, such as by doing internships. A nice side benefit of these experiences is that they also help you build the Core Career Competencies that employers and graduate/professional schools consistently desire in their candidates. Some ways to get started include:

Feeling Overwhelmed and Anxious? Help Is Available—Right on Campus

Student Counseling Services offers individual and group counseling, classes, workshops, and other resources covering a wide range of topics—including career uncertainty as well as related mental health concerns.

Of course, you can also meet with a career counselor in CLA Career Services.

Reflect on What You’ve Learned

Always remember to reflect on what you’ve learned from any given activity. Be sure to consider what factors have contributed to your overall impressions.

Remember too that, when it comes to experiences, in particular, those that turn out to be less than enjoyable still give you insights that help you narrow down or expand your academic and career options. Nothing is ever a “waste.”

Consider meeting with a CLA career counselor and/or your CLA academic advisor to reflect upon your options and experiences in more depth. It’s often beneficial to do your thinking with someone who can ask you insightful questions, help you spot patterns, and offer suggestions from a different perspective.

The CLA Career Readiness Guide can help you explore your career options, go to the Explore section to learn more. Access the guide online, or pick up a copy in CLA Career Services or in one of the CLA Academic Advising offices.