Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: Using Design Thinking in the College Process, Part Two: Careers and Majors

by Dr. Ann Wagner

Last week we gave a general overview of Design Thinking and how you can use it in your decision-making process. This week we will cover how the process can assist you with a career path and college major.

Some students are fairly sure what career they want to pursue early on; others have no idea. The fact is, certain or uncertain, many students change majors in college and no matter your major, it is likely that you will have more than one career in your life. How then do you go about making such an important decision when you are still in high school? Design Thinking can help.

As a reminder, Design Thinking is a way to approach a problem, consider possible solutions, create prototypes, test prototypes, and then evaluate the outcomes. The process is circular, meaning that once you have tested and evaluated a possible solution, you return to the problem with new knowledge to consider your next steps. We use Visualize, Ideate, Prototype, Test, and Evaluate as our terminology. Let’s walk through how you can use the process to narrow your choices for a career and major.


This first step is to think about, and then define your problem. In this case, we are looking at narrowing in on a career choice and college major.  Part of that visualization is thinking about what kind of life you want to lead. 

planning notebook

Do you want a career that is intense and consumes a lot of your time or do you seek something more balanced? Do you want an urban, suburban, or rural home base? Are you willing to work internationally? Do you seek to earn a lot of money? How important is helping others to you? How many years are you willing to commit to your post-secondary education to achieve the requirements of your career?

These are all questions that will help you visualize your future career path and university major.


Now, come up with as many potential solutions as possible. Think about the classes you enjoy in school, things you are good at, and extra-curriculars you enjoy.  How might these translate into a career?  Do some research.  Put down as many ideas as you can—remember, no idea at this stage is too crazy or too risky. What excites you? What do you dislike?


Now, take a few of these career ideas and pursue them further.  How do they fit into your visualization of you career and life priorities?  They don’t need to be a perfect match, but you should be aware of the potential sacrifices you might have to make to pursue that career choice.  For example, perhaps you would like to pursue a career in the medical field that will require a master’s or doctorate degree.  That might be more years in school than you desire.  Or perhaps you would like to go into social work, but the salary may not be as high as you would like.  These are all important things to consider as you start to narrow your choices. Remember, this process is circular; you can always come back and try a more careers and majors if the initial ones don’t suit you.

man walking away from office building


Now you have a developed idea. How can you test it? You can certainly learn more about a career and college major by doing a more in-depth research through the internet. This should help you understand requirements such as licensing, salary expectations, employment demands, and many other important facts.

However, some of the most valuable information you can obtain is by speaking directly with someone who does it. Thinking about becoming an attorney? Talk to your uncle, or your neighbor, or others who practice law. You might ask about the type of law they practice, what they do in a typical day, how difficult passing the bar examination was, and how many hours a week they work. Perhaps you can find an internship with a local law firm that would allow you to get a feel for what goes on in a law office.  Maybe there is a course at your school, or online, that will further your knowledge. As you can see, there are many ways to test your career prototype.

medical researcher


So now you have tested your prototype. What is it like? Is it what you thought it would be? Is this something you want to continue to pursue?  Maybe you like some aspects of it but not others.  Perhaps you thought, for example, that you wanted to become a medical doctor, but you learn that working in medical research is more in alignment with your interests.  This is the point in which you can cycle back through the process and develop a new prototype.

But what if I still can’t decide?

That’s okay! At least your decision to wait on a decision is based on research and understanding of yourself.  That might mean that you simply choose a liberal arts major.  It could mean that you take a gap year (with a plan) or start your post-secondary education with an undeclared major. It might also mean that you choose to work for a while, or that you pursue a technical career and education.  These are all valid options, and you can still benefit from viewing these choices through the Design Thinking lens.

As you can see, there is a lot that can be learned through this systematic process. Next week we will look at how you can use Design Thinking to develop your college list.

Happy Thinking!

Dr. Ann Wagner

Ann Wagner, EdD is a founder and the Vision Engineer for Launch Education.  Dr. Wagner has led international schools around the world and currently teaches at the university level, working with educators earning their master's degrees.