What to do when your degree doesn't match your career plans

Erin Delaney
Team GradAustralia
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If you’ve started getting that sinking feeling you might not be on the right track, don’t let it derail you — you’ve worked too hard. You might have decided on a career that doesn’t quite fit with what you chose to study a couple of years ago, but that doesn’t mean all’s lost. There’s always skills you’ve learned in one degree that are transferable to another, and every degree teaches you skills you’ll take with you everywhere you go.

While there are some degrees that are irrefutably specific, such as medicine or dentistry, there are plenty of shades of grey when it comes to the rest. It all boils down to how far along in your course you are, how creative you can get and how well you can sell yourself.

Let’s explore the options:

Option one: Change course

If you’re not too far along in your degree, the most sensible and maybe also the easiest way to recalibrate is to simply change your course. A lot of your units might be recognised as prior learning for other courses, or you might be able to take a bridging course to allow you to keep your level of attainment in a new course. Of course, if you’re already a couple of years in, the degrees aren’t compatible for a transfer or you’ve already finished, you’ll need to try something different.

Option two: Postgraduate study

You might have completed an engineering degree but have since decided that becoming a lawyer is your dream. Postgraduate study is a way to tie the two disciplines together — you can apply to a juris doctor course that will allow you to practice law with the completion of any undergraduate degree. Look for postgraduate courses that will allow you entry based on what you studied and find a way to make a shift closer to where you want to go.

Option three: Volunteering/interning

Postgraduate study’s not the answer for you, and you don’t want your undergraduate degree to go to waste. So, what to do? If your degree is really left of centre of what you want to do, volunteering for a charity or organisation in the function you’re keen to get into is worthy of consideration. If you can list real, practical experience on your CV and can walk into an organisation adding immediate value, it will give you an enormous edge.

Option four: Start your own business

Sometimes you have to make your own luck! While you’re working in a job that might not be what you want to do forever, start getting busy on the side and make your dreams a reality. Set up a website, show the world what you can do and list all the experience you get on your CV. If you can prove to an employer that you’re an innovator who can follow through, you’ll be far more likely to get further than students with the “right” degree but the wrong attitude.

Option five: Learn to sell yourself

Sometimes, it simply boils down to a great first impression. If your degree isn’t quite the right fit for your degree, put a short blurb at the top of your CV and tell your story in a paragraph. Make sure you highlight the practical steps you’ve taken to overcome the barrier you face, and what you hope to achieve.

Something like: “I studied a Bachelor of Education, but I’ve since realised my dream is marketing. I’ve taken online courses with lynda.com to bridge my knowledge, and have interned at The Cancer Council  in their marketing department to get real-world experience. I’m ambitious, focused and full of great ideas about how to make your product the number one in its market segment. I look forward to sharing them with you at an interview.”

If you’re committed to making your dream a reality, a setback like the wrong course won’t stop you from getting there. Get focused, get creative and get selling!

This article was originally published on GradAustralia.