Choosing a college major
Choosing a college major is one of the more important decisions a student will make. Ideally, a major should lead the way to whatever career path one may choose to take. It is important to understand what is involved with a given major (like prerequisites or electives) and what kind of job and salary one can expect upon graduation with said major.
Here are a few tips:
First and foremost, find your passion. Don’t major in something you hate or are even lukewarm about, because ultimately, you will not be very happy with a job you don’t like. If your passion in life does not make any money, you will need to find a balance, because in the end, you do need to be able to support yourself. For example, if you love to surf but are not good enough to make a living surfing, then find a career that will not only pay for you to travel to interesting surf locations but will also have the kind of hours that will allow you to surf before or after work.
If you already know what your major choice is, then make sure that the colleges where you are apply offer that major and have strong programs.
Do your research and see what kind of career counseling and success the school has in finding good jobs for students upon graduation. Some schools may offer the major but not have much in the way of career advancement.
If you think you know what major you want to pursue, but are unsure either because of academic preparedness or because you do not know what kind of career you can pursue with the major, then see if your college counselor can steer you towards graduates in that major. For example, if you want to major in math but are unsure about the career choices, see what others have to say about math and how they used that major to achieve their own career goals.
If you know what you want to declare as a major, or are even a little bit leaning in a certain direction, it is helpful to declare that major on your college application. Colleges will have a better idea about who you are and what kind of student you will be by giving them this extra bit of information.
Remember that at most schools it is very easy to change your major once there. The exception to this is if you wish to transfer into what might be a very competitive school or program within a particular college, like nursing or engineering. These programs can be harder to transfer into than out of.
It is also very important to know if an undergraduate degree is all you will need to be prepared to seek work in your chosen major area of study. Obviously, something like law school or medical school require further academic work, but other majors may need a Master’s or even a PhD before one can seriously pursue a career. Make sure you have a full understanding of what is available to you upon graduating with your chosen major.
Research salaries in different areas of study. Some, like business and engineering, can offer a high income at the onset but may plateau without further study. Some, like psychology, may not start out high, but offer a big bump after periods of working in the field and allowing for accreditation in social work. Don’t only focus on salaries, though — remember to keep your passion in mind.
This last bit of advice is for parents: let your children lead the way on finding the major that is best for them. Giving advice about career choices is best left to people in the field of study they are considering, rather than directly from a parent.
This is a time of growth for your child, and the more they do their own research, the more they will buy into what they are studying. If you send your child off to college with a major that you have chosen for them, it leaves a big opportunity for failure unless your child shares your same passions.
Finally, do keep in mind that whatever you choose, you can always change your mind. Look into procedures for changing majors at the schools where you wish to apply.
When one is 17 years old, it can be pretty daunting to think that the decision you make now has the potential for impacting career choices for years to come. Once you arrive on campus and take a few classes, your thoughts and choices make change completely. And that is just fine.
Maryanne Hogan is an Independent College Counselor working with students from Maui. For more information, or to make an appointment, see her website: Thecollegeauntie.com.