As the 2023-24 school year comes to a close, students of the graduating class take a new step toward their future, whether it be the pursuit of higher education or the beginning of their professional career. The trajectory of one’s career seems straightforward: graduate from college with a degree in a particular major and then pursue jobs within that chosen field. 

In reality, about 80% of college students end up switching their major at least once. Furthermore, of the 53% of employed U.S. adults who quit their job in 2021, 61% of 18 to 29-year-olds shifted their field of work. The flexibility of career exploration throughout college and the workforce is common, yet also intimidating to many students taking the first steps in their journeys. 

Maya Jagota, a peer advisor for Career Services and a third-year statistics and data science major, described many of the situations students consult with her. 

“People come in and know exactly what they want to do. They’re like, how do I get from point A to point B. And then some people are like, I don’t even know, there’s nothing I enjoy doing, nothing sparks me, I just don’t even know what to do,” Jagota said.

In her personal life, she grew up in a “tech-heavy” family and has always known that she would go into tech. Her issue, as many other students face, was finding her niche in the field she decided.

“Major doesn’t equal career. You don’t necessarily need to be doing the most specific major or you don’t need to have it figured out right now. You can always change it,” Jagota said.

She explained the various resources that Career Services at UCSB provides, including a “What Can I Do With This Major?” guide, helping students explore all possible career options stemming from a major. Joining clubs — exploring new options — she emphasized, is a good way to find new opportunities unimagined before. 

However, the current job market appears bleak for many graduating students. While the unemployment rate of the U.S. is at the record low of 3.4% according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the unemployment rate for ages 20-24 sits at 7.1%, more than double that. For comparison, during the September-October market crash of 2008, the unemployment rate for ages 20-24 according to the Federal Reserve Economic Data sat at 10.8%, which is about triple the number of the total unemployment rate today. 

As the job market dynamics continue to change, recent graduates from UCSB face both challenges and opportunities in navigating their career trajectories. 

Russell Chia, a recent environmental studies graduate, shared his journey of discovering his major. He initially entered UCSB as an economics major but found his passion in environmental studies by exploring various classes and professors. 

“Getting experience in econ was good because it kind of opened up my eyes and made me realize I'm not really into that major … It's definitely a learning experience, and especially with loads of classes, you learn what you don't like, and you can, from there, decide what career path you want to take,” Chia said.

As an international student, Chia faces unique challenges in the post-grad job market. The reality of securing a full-time position is compounded by the need for employers willing to sponsor work visas. This additional layer can dramatically narrow the field of opportunities for non-citizen graduates. While the job market may seem daunting, Chia advised current students to focus on building connections and gaining practical experience early on. 

“It's not that simple and linear. You kind of realize that, especially as an entry level, you have to take what you get and be realistic in what you can get and where your experience lies compared to so many other people. Especially during these days, everyone has a bachelor's and everyone has a college degree, so you have to realize that you've got to climb the ladder rather than just going into your dream job.”

This complexity often requires international graduates like Chia to consider alternative pathways such as additional internships, further education or temporary positions that may lead to more stable opportunities. 

Reflecting on his UCSB experience, Chia stressed the importance of gaining practical experience through internships and part-time positions. He emphasized the value of alumni connections and suggested that current students take advantage of alumni events to expand their network. 

He also expressed that his internships were instrumental in providing real-world exposure, allowing him to apply his academic knowledge in practical settings. For alumni connections, he emphasizes that “attending alumni events and engaging with UCSB alumni really opened [his] eyes to the job market. These connections can lead to job recommendations and referrals, which is crucial in this competitive job market.”

Jagota echoed this sentiment, stating, “Staying connected with people on LinkedIn [is important], and then also just in clubs, organizations and really talking to the people around you, just because they have a lot of insight to offer your profession. Your peers are all doing a bunch of stuff and just with one conversation, you can kind of open yourself up to so many different opportunities.”

In addition, Chia advised that a graduate doesn’t have to immediately search for a job; they can also search for internships and do part time jobs in the meanwhile.

“So you have to start small,” Chia said. “You can still get an internship, you can still get a part time position, and whilst you're doing that, you can find a job, but don't waste your time.”

Both Chia and Jagota emphasized finding what one really wants to pursue and not placing such importance on major selection.

Economics has been the most popular field of study among UCSB alumni on LinkedIn, according to aggregated data from 1980 to 2023, with outcomes of approximately 189,000 UCSB alumni by graduation year found on the UC Santa Barbara LinkedIn page. However, for 2023 alumni, the most popular fields of work — apart from further education — were research and operations. 

Furthermore, the popularity of many fields of work tends to fluctuate. In general, most UCSB alumni on LinkedIn that graduated in the early to mid-2000s pursued a job in business, whereas engineering is the most popular field of work for alumni who graduated in the mid-2010s.

Along with the advice provided by Chia and Jagota, May Nguyen, a recent 2023 financial mathematics and statistics graduate, shared her success from networking and gaining valuable internship experience. Shortly after graduation, she started working at Chevron under the Finance Development Program. Nguyen attributed this success to her unconventional connections to Chevron through babysitting for families of the company.

“I feel now in the industry, it's all about who you know, really. I got a couple interviews through other companies just by cold applying, but it's hard for them to stick because they don't have any credibility for who you are and what experience you can do,” Nguyen stated. 

Nguyen also emphasized that, despite being early on in her career, she has other plans to explore the field of data science rather than sticking to finance analytics. She discovered this aspiration through both her courses at UCSB and side projects. 

“Right now I'm just trying to find pockets of time where I can implement data projects. And it can be as simple as improving an Excel sheet or creating a dashboard. But I do want to switch to data in the future,” Nguyen said. “I thought I wanted to do finance, so that's why I went into this position, but now that I'm here, I've actually realized that the field that I actually enjoy more is data analytics. So I think in the future, my goal is to switch into data, not really like finance.”

Much like Nguyen’s career exploration, Jagota stressed the importance of evaluating and experimenting with fields of study and interest. She said that especially during the years of undergraduate school, exploration is key for discovering personal interest, because it unlocks opportunities for potential networking and skill development.

“It's super common to kind of change your mind. We always tell people, ‘Do not feel the need to just stick to one thing that you don't actually enjoy doing. You never know where your career journey is gonna go,’” Jagota said. “So just being open-minded to anything that can come up and just like trying to learn from every experience you have, even if it doesn't seem like what you were supposed to go through.”