Egirl Team

AddedWednesday, July 24, 2019 at 3:40 PM

How do I decide what path to take?


I am going into my junior year of high school and am starting to get a lot of (unsolicited) advice from my family and friends about what I should major in when I go to college. I really like math and science and I want to do something that has a positive impact. My dad wants me to study engineering, my mom wants me to be a doctor, my brother says I should go into computer science, my friend thinks biology would be a good path… it’s all a bit overwhelming and I don’t want to disappoint anyone. How did you decide what to major in or what career path to take? Am I supposed to know what I want to do already? Any advice for how I can decide?

Related to Choosing a Degree, Preparation for College, Self Doubt
  • Parika Petaipimol , Pandion Therapeutics
    Answered 13 days AGO
    Congratulations, Rising Junior! It's another step closer to finishing a huge life milestone of Graduating High School! But it is a stressful time and relatives (who have the BEST intentions) will always give you advice - whether or not it was solicited. 
    Instead of stressing over what major you should go for, why not ask yourself, what global problem do I want to help solve? What is important to you? And there are different solutions to solve that problem. I will admit, I am biased (I mean, this website is called EngineerGirl, right?). Engineering (any flavor of engineering) will teach you how to solve problems. Look at it in different ways. Collaborate with different people. Make the most of your resources. Having the fundamentals of engineering as your foundation, you can do some computer science or some biology, you can even get a law degree or a medical degree! Ultimately, the world needs problem solvers, so I would encourage you to be one. 
  • Lauren Gordon , State of California
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:18 PM

    This is a great question! I too was very interested in math and science through school. I started paying attention to what really piqued my interest and found myself very interested in earthquakes and geology. As I got older, I found interest in groundwater and finding clean water for people in third world countries. My parents were very supportive and found summer activities for me in the sciences which also helped me find these interests and narrow down what I was most interested in. When I was in high school, I started doing research on what degrees or fields would incorporate all of these interests and I came across Geological Engineering. I recommend considering what gets you excited with math and science and see if they tie into your values (like you said, making a positive impact). Seek out mentoring or networking opportunities to talk with people in the fields you're interested in (do your parents know anyone that's an engineer/doctor/computer science professional, etc?).

    And just as a friendly reminder, don't feel you have to figure it all out now. Life evolves and changes. Follow what feels good to you and the rest will come! It is very common for people to switch jobs and career paths several times over the course of your lifetime. And that is not a bad thing! Enjoy the process :-) Good luck!

  • Nancy Post , John Deere
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:16 PM

    My suggestion is to keep taking advanced classes in math and science because that appears to be of high interest to you and will support your future choices. You are considering several very fulfilling paths! So, please don’t worry about disappointing others. In the end, you will make people happy when you’ve chosen something you love to do and your passion drives innovation in your chosen field. I would suggest trying to talk with people in your favored fields to try to understand what you’d be happiest doing. There are many important factors: what is a “day in the life,” what, if anything, do you create in your career, what types of people do you work with, what types of influence could you have, etc? If you take this one step further, it may be nice to job shadow people. Don’t worry if you change your mind along the way. That is not failure, it’s growth! Good luck!

  • Peggy Layne , Virginia Tech
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:15 PM

    What a great question! I think young people worry too much about this kind of decision. A career path is the result of many decisions made through a lifetime, and it is impossible to predict what options will be available in the future. I encourage high school students who enjoy math and science to explore as many options as possible and keep in mind that tomorrow, the options will be different. Continue to study math and science and complement those subjects with some humanities to put things in context. Remember that no matter what path you take, there will be opportunities to change your mind.

  • Kim Linder , Honeywell FM&T
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:14 PM

    Choosing a career path can certainly feel overwhelming! The good news is, there are no wrong answers, just a lot of good paths to choose from. I would first stress to you that this is YOUR path for your future, so while friends and family are trying to be helpful and provide suggestions, etc., you need to get it solidified in your mind that you are doing this for yourself. Really everyone wants you to be successful and happy. If you don’t happen to choose what they are suggesting, it might disappoint them but that is okay. That is an issue for them to deal with, not you. So always remember you are doing this for yourself.

    To try and decide, I would try to take some walks, hikes, bike rides, etc. by yourself and clear your head of everything you are being bombarded with. After this, think about the subjects you find most interesting. If you truly like both engineering and biology, what about Biomedical Engineering? Also think about what type of environment you like to be in. Do you like to work mainly alone or in teams? Do you prefer getting your hands on equipment, working with your hands, or do you prefer mainly interfacing with others? While everyone works in teams at some level, engineers do have to spend time working on projects by themselves. But we do work a lot in teams too.

    Also keep in mind that if you start down one path and just don’t like it, then you can always change. Maybe you might stumble onto something completely different! Just remember this is about you, and while everyone wants the best for you, their way of trying to help you achieve this sometimes comes across not as they attended. Focus on you, not them. Easier said than done, but you can do it. Good luck!

  • Priscilla Bennett , Spire / Laclede Gas Company
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:12 PM

    You pose a tough question, but one that is often contemplated by young adults. Knowing you really like math and science, the choices others have suggested for you are ALL great careers. One thing that is awesome about math and science is you don’t have to be “stuck” on one career path for the duration of your working years.

    First, my suggestion for college is to certainly find a school that fits you and start with some general studies and math/science. Explore curriculums and explore a few classes on the different tracks – you will find engineering, pre-med, biology, and computer science all have many similar course studies for the first two years. Then talk to/visit/meet with the different instructors and professors in the different colleges fields and get to know more about the careers their graduates chase and the college degrees they offer. You will most likely learn (rather quickly) what interests you most from each and narrow down a college degree plan that most fits your own interests.

    I can assure you that you will NOT disappoint a single person in your life if you are doing what makes you happy and interests you most. Once others see you interested, learning, and doing what you love, they can’t be anything but excited for your success. And once you’ve graduated with a degree, you will find having a math/science/computer/medical degree is going to open up job opportunities in a wide variety of jobs and you may soon learn (while you enjoy your first job out of college) that companies offer many opportunities to grow and you’ll evolve into other jobs (if that’s what you’d like) or become an expert in your chosen field (if that’s what you’d like). Don’t worry too much about disappointing others, once those around you see you happy and confident in your college/career path, your excitement will flow to them as well.

    Good luck…I’m wishing you great success! Smile, relax and don’t stop learning!!

  • Andromeda DuMont , CH2M / Jacobs
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:11 PM

    You may feel pressured to choose a career path that you think you will love for your entire working life. In my experience, this is not the case. There are many avenues to take once you have a degree so the degree itself is less important. Choose something you enjoy studying where you like the professors and the students you'll be in class with. Having a STEM background will be beneficial for building your technical prowess and credibility. Then once you get your first experience you'll be able to tell if you like the technical parts, management, client relations, community outreach, etc. Many of the engineers I work with do very little traditional engineering in their jobs as engineers! Your career will take many twists and turns. Good luck!

  • Sangeeta Kodukula , Cisco Systems
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:09 PM

    That's a great question! You are probably feeling overwhelmed with all the advice from all of your friends and family. I would strongly encourage you to make this choice based on what YOUR interests are, and not what others may perceive for you. It's ok to not know what you want to do, but is there a particular field that drives your interest? There are so many options to choose from since you enjoy math and science – engineering, math, chemistry, or chemical engineering is a good mix of both! Do you have any people in your community that pursued a field your interested in? I would encourage you to make this decision based on what will make you happy, instead of worrying about disappointing others. I'm sure your family and friends want to see you thrive in a field that drives your interest. Good luck to you!

  • Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:08 PM

    I wish I could tell you the exact path to take, but it doesn’t work that way. There is a quote by Soren Kierkegaard that says, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I found this last year as I was preparing for a talk about my career and my life. One thing I realized in the reflection was that as you grow and develop, you will end up someplace far beyond what you could have ever imagined.

    When I was your age I was determined to be a Cardiothoracic Surgeon because it wowed people when I said it, I knew it was something my parents could brag about to their friends, I loved hearts, and I wanted to help people. I was always told I was good in Math and Science so I should go into a STEM field, and chose Chemical Engineering with every intention of going to medical school afterwards. I wasn’t alone – there were at least four other ladies in my freshman class with the same goal. I never went. By the time I reached senior year my focus had changed. I learned some things about myself during my schooling and internships and a trusted professor gave me the advice to “go live” (meaning try out this degree you’re earning before heading back to school). It’s been 20 years and I’ve never looked back.

    My parents and most others don’t get what I do – but that’s ok. I lost friends along the way because I took jobs in places they would never come and visit. I took different positions because I thought I might enjoy them and when I didn’t I made a measured plan to try something else. I had friends say you’re moving around too much, changing jobs too much, but that was their lens and some of their fear. I’ve worked for three companies and have experienced so many different things because I was open to trying them. I could have never foreseen that this is where I would be 20 years later and I only have an inkling of what the next 20 will be. Choosing a major now is an entry point to life, if you don’t like it, you can change it – but only you can weigh the pros and cons. You need to trust yourself and choose what you like. Don’t be afraid to even go in undecided – you’ve got some time to figure it out. The people in your life who love you will support you no matter what. No one is likely to say 20-30 years from now, “See? I told you, you should have listened to me and majored in…” and if they do it’s only their unfulfilled selves talking. Think about it this way: College is a four or five year experience. What is that compared to the 70-80+ years you get to live or the 40+ years you will have an opportunity to work? Leap forward. Trust yourself. You’ll make the right choice.

  • Ying-Ja Chen , Pronutria
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:06 PM

    If you like math and science, there are many majors that may be suitable for you. That includes the sciences like math, physics, and chemistry, and also engineering, including computer science. Although in many universities you may need to choose one major in the beginning, you always have the option to switch or start from a broader field and narrow down later.

    When I was in high school, my favorite classes were math and biology. I did a science fair project in biology and did that research in my mom's lab in a research institute. Surprisingly, my biologist mom/mentor did not encourage me to major in biology, because she thinks that there is too much memorization in biology coursework, whereas my aptitude was more in logical thinking and comprehension. Because there are a lot of big data being generated in biology, she suggested that I can go into computer science to eventually analyze that data. My dad, however, was an electrical engineer. He told me that in the school that I was considering, electrical engineering is a broader discipline that also includes computer science. Therefore, I chose electrical engineer over computer science. I ended up enjoying the courses in the computer science track the most and later went into bioengineering for graduate school.

    My advice is that you can choose what you like the best at this moment. Science is the foundation of many engineering disciplines. Most science and engineering majors share the same set of foundational courses. You can always focus on a particular discipline later when you figure out.

  • Nicola Asker , National Grid
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:05 PM

    Choosing your career path is a big and important decision, but it's also one that you can change later if you really need to, and there's a good chance that multiple careers will suit you so you don't have to pick the only perfect one for you. Try to find people (friends, family) who work in the areas you're interested in and talk to them about what their work involves, what they like about their jobs, what they don't like, what skills they use, etc. That should help give you an idea of which ones you might like. You can also research them online. If you're still not sure, keep your options open for as long as you can.

  • Esha Singh , Life Science
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:03 PM

    I would suggest that you should analyze your own interest sand the future of that specific career. There is no harm in accepting the suggestions from near and dear ones, but following them blindly would also be a trouble as you may end up taking a career which was not your cup of tea. Start looking for the career options around, learn from the experiences and choose wisely.

  • Vanessa Li , Novelis
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:02 PM

    Some people know at a very early age what they want to do later in their life and they stay with the plan. However, it is perfectly fine not knowing. A lot of people are in an exploring stage in their life – students especially and some adults into their 30s are still exploring what they want their career to be. Exploring is good because you get to learn more about different job functions. Throughout this process, you will learn more about yourself and find out what interests you and what does no. It is just as important to know what does not interest you as what interests you. Even if you end up deciding what you want to major in, it does not mean that you have to stick with the same area forever. For example, I majored in materials engineering. After a decade, I am a metallurgist working in metal manufacturing. Looking at my college classmates, some went into banking, some went to develop plastic materials, some became lawyers specializing in patents and working with engineers who developed new products, some develop medical devices, some work in research and development, some went into the aviation industry and develop composite materials, some went to food industry, some went to electronic companies, etc. Clearly, even people who major in the same thing can all end up with different jobs. Nobody will end up with an exact same path.

    My advice is to simply go with what interests you at this time and enjoy your time exploring different areas. Engineering is a good start, and you can pick out a specific type of engineering that interest you most after your freshman year in college (by that time, you will have learned a bit more by talking with professors and friends). You don't really need to know what you specifically you want to do to pick a major. Maybe at some point in your life you will meet a good mentor who inspires you to try something new, too. There are always possibilities in life that one can never expect and this is the beauty of life.

  • Natalie White , CyberSource
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 4:00 PM

    If you're interested in the medical field, several engineering disciplines can help you make an impact to patients without having to go through med school and residency. Biomedical engineering can help you get into the world of prosthetics and research, electrical engineers design medical devices (even implantable ones for pain management and neuromodulation for patients with Parkinson's, for instance). Software engineering spans nearly every industry today – everyone needs a software engineer! You could work on applications that help track medication regimen adherence or treatment outcomes, or get into Data Analytics and Machine Learning for genetic processing and research.

    I would say that if you want to go to med school with the goal of becoming a physician or a specialist, you probably DO need to decide that now, since your undergraduate work can heavily determine the caliber of medical school you are admitted to in the future. But if you're open to engineering, you do NOT have to know what you want to do right now. There are many entry-level courses that most engineers have in common, and you can continue to research and decide what specialty you want to focus on while you get the basics out of the way. Many engineers started out in a different field and changed their minds later, for instance if they took an Intro to Programming course and unexpectedly hated (or loved) it.

    The best way to decide, in my opinion, is to get involved in your university's SWE section (or start one if there isn't one) and attend local and national conferences where you can hear from those who have gone before. If there's a Professional SWE group in your area, reach out to the officers there and see if anyone has time to be a casual mentor regarding what a day in the life of a software or biomedical engineer looks like. You'll find that there are many, many ways to use your STEM talents to change the trajectory of your life and the world!

    Good luck!

  • Molly Lebowitz , Propeller Consulting
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 3:59 PM

    I recall feeling the same way. I had broad interests and it was hard to pick a path. One thing that I noticed once getting to college was that each group of students really had a different vibe. After hanging out in circles of pre-med students, engineering students, and physics majors, it became so much clearer where I fit in. I really enjoyed the teamwork and practicality of engineering. I'd suggest trying to get exposure to groups of students in these areas. That can really help you feel where you might fit in best.

  • Kara Kockelman , University of Texas at Austin
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 3:55 PM

    If one goes into engineering, then I have always felt that civil engineering is best for ensuring a professional life of serving the larger world. If you really enjoy biology & human health AND engineering, then I recommend biomedical engineering strongly. If you really prefer biology & human health to engineering, then you might skip engineering and go pre-med.

    I think computer science is a wonderful tool to use in many other fields, but it does not lead as easily to careers with direct social contribution. So I recommend doing a CS minor, if you like that field and want to use it in your primary field of contribution. So glad to see you interested in making a real contribution! Such motivation means a life of much more meaning and value, for you and for others.

  • Nandika D'Souza , University of North Texas
    Answered Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 3:49 PM

    I recommend looking at senior design or capstone senior design project abstracts that are typically available as collections. Look at what graduating students complete and see what appeals to you. Our school has computer science in engineering and they do design projects too. can always change your major. Go for the most competitive and it’s easy to change from there.