Keep These Four Ideas In Mind When Choosing a Major

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As an increasingly hungry job market seeks college students to fill positions after graduation, it’s easy to see college as a career mill, only intended to prepare students for a career as quickly as possible. Taking that approach to college, though, robs students of the opportunities and discoveries that a broader education provides. Many students arrive at college with one idea of their future only to realize that there are other roads to both personal and professional success. As a result, an increasing number of students change their majors while in school, leading to added coursework, pushing back graduation dates and creating more student debt.

Finding that balance between a focused game plan for a degree and being open to the new horizons that college presents can be tricky, with the choice of a college major being the trickiest part of all. The commitment to a course of study isn’t one to be taken lightly, but can make all the difference in educational success and financial efficiency in completing a degree.

A recent article in the New York Times takes a slightly different approach to helping students consider how to choose a major. Drawing on the college experiences of a diverse group of interviewees, including an Oscar-nominated director, a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer, a successful tech blogger and a producer of highly-successful podcast, the article helps distill some of the emotional elements of deciding on a major into four steps that are worthwhile for any student to consider and reminds them that the pathway to success during and after college is not always a straight line. Here are the four things the article suggests student bear in mind when thinking about their major:

CF006380Students need to consider their own goals, as well as the goals others have for them.
Yesterday’s blog post discussed the importance of understanding family and student expectations for college before students leave for school. While it’s important for students to realize family expectations, as well as those from the workforce that they hope to join after graduation, the most important voice to listen to about their education is their own. Parents might dream of a student being a lawyer, while the professional world might measure success in terms of “paychecks.” Students might even have their own doubts in their heads, but also need to listen to that same voice that has an idea of what will make them happy as an adult.

Don’t wait for passion, follow an interest.
The common advice students receive about “following a passion” can set an unrealistic idea of what will drive them to pursue a career field. Passions rarely strike like lightning and students waiting for an epiphany will likely find themselves bouncing from subject to subject (and from major to major) waiting for that moment. Students can start building the pieces that lead to discovering a passion by following an interest, no matter how small. The little things that spark a student’s curiosity are the that grow into much larger things, including a college major that can lead to happiness and success.

Look at decisions in a realistic context.
Whatever major a student chooses, be it because of perceived prosperity after college or a passion that can’t be ignored, students should be realistic about what their major means in the real world. What will a career in that field look like after graduation? What expectations should a student have about finances in that field and will they be happy living with what it provides? Finding opportunities to intern with companies in a possible field related to a major will also help students put their visions of a career into context with the reality of what that job really requires. Not only does interning offer a chance to supplement classroom learning with real-world experience, it gives students a chance to see the reality of their potential career.

Majors are a jumping-off point, not a life sentence.
The job market for political scientists isn’t exactly burning up and English majors aren’t going to be the first in line for mechanical engineering jobs. For many students, a major prepares them for a career, but also gives them a way to interact with a career from a specific point of view. Economic downturns, professional failures and disillusionment are all things that every person meets at one point in their career. Those who succeed are the ones who use their experience and knowledge to bend their vision or even reconstruct their entire career plans. Keeping a flexible mentality before, during and after college will open students to opportunities in school and in life more easily than living by connecting dots along a predetermined line.


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