Career vs. Major…Which Choice Comes First?
Conventional wisdom suggests the answer to this question is that the choice of major is the most important decision and consequently drives the career choice. Parents, friends, and some school personnel mistakenly have the student focus on a major. Consequently, the student is asked repeatedly…”What are you going to major in?”. Rarely is the student asked, “What do you want to do when you are older?” The student is encouraged to decide what their major is…everyone wants to know their major…and the student needs to decide the major early because they don’t want to enter college “undecided”. This forces the student to choose a major for the sake of choosing and ultimately is the reason they change majors so frequently, hence the increase in cost due to a longer stay in college. The choice of major will also typically direct the student’s career. What if the student likes the major, but hates most of the most common careers associated with the degree? It begs the question, shouldn’t the student in fact first attempt to decide what they believe they would like to do when they graduate? But can the choice of careers also impact college selection?
The college selection process involves many different factors when deciding what school to attend. Many families believe the decision on what school to attend is based on the competitiveness of the school for the major of choice. This is not the start…it is really closer to the end of the process.
When determining which school to attend, students should first start with their career choice. What is it they want to do when they graduate? Now that could be a tough decision for a high school student. However, it is important to begin the process of thinking about it and dialing down as close as they can to a decision. There are many tools and tests available to help students decide what career might best suit them. For the vast majority of students, there may be a couple of different careers on the list. Students can ask friends and family members for contacts of those individuals in careers they believe to have an interest in or that the tests indicate would be a good fit. Contact individuals in these fields and ask them if they will permit someone to shadow them for a day. It is one of the best ways for a student to see if they will like that particular career.
The sequence of choice is important because far too many students pick a major they “think” they want to study and then find out four to five years later, they don’t know what they can do with it. How many people are working in a field that has nothing to do with their major? Maybe they could not find a job (did they check the prospects for the career prior to choosing?) or they did not like the careers associated with the major so they find a different job. By choosing a career first, a student may find there are two careers they really like that maybe one major is the best fit for. In this way, students open themselves up to far more opportunities when they graduate. Upon deciding on the major, now they can pick schools that might be strong in that major if the student wants or is looking for the most competitive school for that degree. Others may want the school closest to home that offers the chosen major, while still others may want the school where they can get the degree for the lowest cost.
We talk about the three legged stool for college selection…the HEAD, HEART, and HAND. However, these three factors go into the selection of college after we have decided on the career. HEAD is the logical side of the stool or making a decision on college based on major or a degree because of its competitiveness or what it provides as opportunity for employment after graduation. HEART is the passionate side or better known as attending the same college that mom and dad did or most parent’s favorite, where the dreaded boyfriend or girlfriend is attending. It could also be attending the school because of a football or basketball team…better known as “tailgating” to parents. Finally the last leg of the stool is HAND, or the financial side of the process. What is the school going to cost out of pocket…cost of attendance, time it takes to graduate, etc. all play a part in the overall out of pocket estimate.
In the end, we want to stress the importance of helping your student determine as accurately as possible what they might like to do for a career. Career assessment tests are a great way to do this and we believe worth the investment so that your student does not make any mistakes in career choice and consequently the choice of majors. A mistake in any of these areas can cost you substantially financially.