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The pros and cons of changing your course

Asking a 17-year-old to choose the direction of the rest of their life has always seemed like a flawed premise to me.

 “What are you studying now?” became the go-to question for most of my relatives whenever I saw them. I am a serial student, and, honestly, it was one of the best career decisions I ever made.

I started in journalism, changed to a dual degree with business, started a marketing major, started a public relations major, completed a music studies minor, dropped out of my business degree, finished journalism, added an Honours year. Yes, my HECS debt is just as big as you imagine. I blamed the volatility of the graduate job market and the instability of the economy, I threw around phrases like “future-proofing” and “up-skilling”, and wondered if I’d ever wear that stupid mortarboard hat. Year after year, I watched my Facebook feed periodically fill up with happy graduation photos, full of parchments and proud parents. I grappled with the fact that I may be a commitment-phobe or have ADD when it came to my future career, or lack thereof. I did eventually graduate, my parents’ sigh of relief could be heard around the hall, and was then faced with an even bigger task: actually getting a job.

Funnily enough, this proved not quite as difficult as six years at uni. Through the extensive networks I had built up throughout my studies, I landed a job not too long after graduation and went from there. Despite the thousands of hours spent studying, attending lectures and obtaining adequate levels of caffeine for these activities, I do not regret a single part of my experience.

The varied nature of my studies has ended up mirroring my chaotic career so far. From event management to broadcast journalism, my résumé is as haphazardous as my academic transcript. Now, working as a consultant, I make use of the different skills and experiences I’ve picked up over the years on a daily basis. They’re what make me good at my job and competitive in a world that expects one-stop-shop solutions and increasingly multi-skilled employees.

Not that I would advise anyone to spend six years doing a three-year degree, but if you’re considering picking up a few electives in a different field, I was absolutely recommend it.

Most lines of work have sets of hard, professional skills which are basically required to be able to do the job. Journalism is an incredibly diverse field with each employer having their own style guides and ways of working, but the fundamental skills of newswriting and interviewing underpin everything. Make sure you get a good understanding of the basic requirements of your industry of choice, then start to think about more transferable skills. I was fortunate in that the majority of my studies focussed on skills that are transferrable to a range of industries and situations. My music studies, well, I’ve mostly used those to win bar arguments, but there has been one client where I was able to apply them. These ‘softer’ skills can be what makes you stand out in a pile of résumés on a recruiter’s desk. As a starting point, consider marketing or a persuasive writing class. Being able to sell yourself and communicate in a compelling way are skills you’ll use for the rest of your life.

Outside of the classroom, what you may not realise at the time is that just surviving uni is an incredible learning experience on its own. You learn to work with different people (yes, the group work is actually helpful), you learn to manage your time effectively and prioritise. Between studying, working and maintain some semblance of relationships with friends and family, even non-medical students become skilled at triage. Which aspect of your life is in need of attention first? Pro tip: it may not be the loudest one, it could be the one unconscious on the ground, which for me was unfortunately my social life. In your career, you will constantly be battling competing deadlines and interests. Whether it be the accounts department chasing invoices or your boss wanting that report on her desk 10 minutes ago, you can rest assured knowing that if you juggled exams, a part-time job and regular hangovers, you can handle this.

So if you’re unsure about the course you’ve chose, my advice would be not to stress about whether you’re in the right place, but instead consider the skills you’re learning and how you might apply them. This may not be as relevant for those in more specific courses like physiotherapy or dance, but if you’re having doubts I would recommend dabbling in a double degree if you can. You can try out your other option while still chipping away at your original plan. Even taking a few elective classes can help you figure out which course is for you.

As my dad was so fond of saying, the job you end up in may not even exist yet. The career option of marketing/editing/creative consultant was never mentioned in lectures and will never appear in job ads, but here I am.  Your best bet is to pursue what you enjoy, regardless of the piece of paper you end up with after three or four (or six) years.

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