Anxious About Your Career? UVA Has a Center for That

February 6, 2023 By Renee Grutzik, Renee Grutzik,

“What’s your major?” 

After moving into my first-year dorm in August 2021, nothing could have prepared me for how many times I would be asked this question. 

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This simple inquiry felt to me like an interrogation, carrying an indescribable weight and leaving a sour taste in my mouth. And the next question, about what I wanted to do after graduation, was even worse.

The truth was, I had virtually no idea what I wanted to do with my life, let alone what major I intended to declare. Anytime I thought I had it figured out, I abruptly changed my mind and started back at square one.

So that’s how I ended up at the University of Virginia’s Career Center, which has been an immense help in channeling my career anxiety into productive action.

It’s also where I found out my anxiety about my future isn’t unique. There is a host of unknowns about the future job market, and it is easy to get spun up by what’s in the news. Some reports declare this is a pretty good market for graduates, while other stories say the opposite.

But here I am worrying about a career when I’m still unsettled on a major.

I’ve been told college is the time to learn about myself and to develop my passions. I know it’s not uncommon for students like me in the College of Arts & Sciences to arrive in Charlottesville without an intended major in mind. 

Carrie Rudder smiling leaning on a railing

Carrie Rudder has worked at the UVA Career Center for more than 25 years, supporting students throughout the career exploration process. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

But in a competitive environment like UVA, with thousands of bright minds in one place, I felt the pressure to stand out – to seem sophisticated. I wanted to have my entire future planned out in front of me, ready to share at any moment.

As a naturally anxious person, making life-altering decisions like selecting a major can sometimes feel debilitating. I often find that the pressure to simply “know” what I want to do with my life hinders my ability to discover my passions. 

Additionally, if the pandemic taught me anything, it’s that the entire world can change overnight, and I must be prepared for the worst. Even if the job market is stable now, there is no telling what the future will hold. 

At the Career Center, they’ve heard all this worry before.

I sat down with two members of the Career Exploration Community on the second floor of 1515 University Ave., one of the Career Center’s advising locations, to discuss my feelings of career anxiety. 

Carrie Rudder has been a member of the UVA Career Center staff for more than 25 years. As the director of advising and career exploration, she leads the Career Exploration Community, which is targeted toward first- and second-year students.

“Anxiety often arises from fear,” Rudder said. “Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of not getting what you want. 

“Experiencing career anxiety is common and can occur throughout a lifetime. Students may face career anxiety engaging with career advising for the first time, just as they do in a first college course, semester or club meeting.”

Working alongside Rudder is UVA alumna Brianna Wilson, who previously served as a Career Peer Educator during her undergraduate studies.   

After graduating in May with a degree in sociology and a double minor in African American studies and social entrepreneurship, Wilson returned to Grounds as a career exploration fellow. 

Wilson’s position is meant to “bridge the gap between students and the Career Center” by helping students discover their strengths, what majors suit their interests, and career exploration opportunities. 

As a recent graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences, Wilson remembers feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about her future. 

“I definitely think at UVA, since there are a lot of talented and smart students who are very ambitious, it is easy to feel the pressures of choosing your career path,” she said.

Career anxiety can feel paralyzing at times, making it increasingly difficult to start the career exploration process. Rudder and Wilson gave me these helpful tips to combat my worries. 

Any Stride in the Exploration Process Is a Positive One

To Rudder, the first step in the career exploration process is simply stepping foot on Grounds. 

“The first thing is just to get to UVA,” she said. “Get here and see what the transition to a large school is like. Try different classes that pique your curiosity, get to know people, join some clubs and organizations.” 

Rudder notes that even if a student does not naturally gravitate toward a particular discipline, there are still ways to narrow down what career options would make a good fit for them. 

“Acknowledging what you do know about yourself is a great start,” Wilson said. “Maybe you know you don’t like working with kids. That’s a great way to get a perspective on yourself and to take away some of the feelings of overwhelmingness. 

“Be brave. Take your time coming to see us, but in the meantime, get started with the baby steps. Just know you are doing great, and don’t make it harder than it has to be.” 

Create Multiple Options for Yourself

The career exploration process is far from linear, which is why Rudder and Wilson recommend that students determine alternative routes for how they hope their future will pan out. 

“People feel the least anxious or stuck when they create options for themselves,” Rudder said. 

In making multiple avenues of career possibilities, Wilson notes that students often worry they’ll regret their decisions down the road. But with a change in attitude, students can view the future as an endless stream of possibilities. 

“I think sometimes the hardest decisions are when all of the paths or options you have could be really great options,” Wilson said. “Try not to look at one option as the end of your journey.” 

Brianna Wilson smiling and looking at the camera for a photo

After graduating from the University last year, Wilson returned to Grounds as a career exploration fellow, a position that helps bridge the age gap between Career Center faculty and UVA students. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Comparison Is the Thief of Joy

“Make a conscious choice to not compare yourself to what other people around you are doing,” Rudder said. “Focus on what works for you, apart from what others are doing, because everyone ends up on a different path.” 

Remember How You Got Here

Rudder notes that as students enter UVA, it becomes easy to forget all the hard work they put into getting to where they are now. 

“It can be really affirming to take a step back and look over your résumé and realize how far you’ve come,” Rudder said. 

Take Advantage of the Resources Available to You

The UVA Career Center has three locations for students to seek career advising. Scheduled appointments occur at Bryant Hall at Scott Stadium, while drop-in appointments are offered on the second floor of Clemons Library and at the 1515 University Ave. student center. 

Students meet one-on-one with a career counselor by making an appointment for the Career Center’s Bryant Hall location. In these sessions, students can discuss anything from discovering their interests to internships and job opportunities. These appointments can be scheduled through Handshake

What's Bigger Than Big Data? Brain Data.
What's Bigger Than Big Data? Brain Data.

Drop-in advising appointments are offered on the second floor of Clemons Library and 1515 University Ave. 

And when the time is right for a visit to the Career Center, Rudder says they’ll be waiting. “There’s no pressure, but the sooner you feel like you’re ready to start planning, come in.”

During my conversation with Rudder and Wilson, not only could I feel my anxiety subsiding, I had a sense of confidence regarding my future that I had not felt in a while.

It was extremely validating to hear that my struggles are shared by many students, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The University of Virginia has far too many resources available for students to be battling career anxiety alone. All it took was reaching out. 

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