12 Jun

Career v. Debt: Exploring a “Major” Decision

As of 2005, nearly 80% of college students entered school with an “undecided” major, according to the founder of MyMajors.com, and the problem hasn’t gone unnoticed. Colleges across the country have published web articles about choosing a major, and if you type “undecided college major” into Google, you’ll come up 654,000 responses. Yikes!

So, is it a good idea to go in with an “undecided” major? And what do students (and their parents) need to think about when it comes to this “major” decision?

Fear Factor

To a college student, choosing a college major is almost akin to making a marriage commitment: they feel like this one big decision will decide the rest of their lives. What a huge responsibility for an eighteen- or nineteen-year-old to take on!

The fear-factor has a lot of impact on how and when students make their major choice, but it is better–if possible–to go into school with a major and a general idea of career preferences. Swapping majors midstream can mean extra years of school to get the requirements finished, and that means higher college costs. But how should students make the decision?

Choose for Love

Our sister site, Surviving College Life, has an article about choosing a college major entitled “For Love or Money: How to Choose a College Major.” This article may be a helpful tool for your college-aged students.

My personal experience has made me a great believer in choosing a major–and career path–based on passion. Too many students try to take on a career because they think it will be a money-maker, only to end up going back to school later because they are miserable on the job. Students need to remember that true success means finding a career that marries their passion and the skills they are naturally good at doing (and that will pay the bills!)  Without those two things, one will end up spending the majority of their time working a job instead of building a career.

To discover more about potential career fields, I recommend that your student try to volunteer, find a part time job or participate in an internship in the career he or she is considering. This hands-on approach helps students explore what the day-to-day activities are like which can help them make a truly informed decision.

My son just finished his freshman year.  He was declared a microbiology major – which he is very interested in.  He was chosen to participate in a special national microbiology research project that his college is a part of.  He absolutely loved the project but realized he would not want to be doing this type of work eight hours a day.  He has since changed his major.  He still intends to stay current on the world of microbiology – but as a hobby, not as an intended career.  That’s the type of exploration every student should embark upon during undergraduate studies!

…And for Money

With the economy still on shaky legs, however, it is equally important for students to be practical about their career choices. Student debt is on the rise, and they will need to be sure they can pay the bills with the job they choose to pursue. Your eighteen-year-old son may feel passionate about testing video games as a career but that is, unsurprisingly, a competitive and limited market!

To get an idea of what he or she might make in any given field, you and your student can check out Salary.com, a great source of estimated salaries for a wide range of career options.

The federal government also offers an online 2008-09 Occupational Outlook Handbook, which can explain the outlook for future hiring, salary points, job duties, and more. This is a great resource for discovering more about a prospective career.  Ideally your student should have an assessment done to determine what careers would be appropriate based on his or her personality, skills, interests and values.  In the end, doing some pre-planning on majors and careers may end up saving you thousands on college costs.

All the best,
Deborah Fox

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2 Responses to “Career v. Debt: Exploring a “Major” Decision”

  1. 1
    Surviving College Life » What’s Hot at the Pay for College Blog - Survive College with tips about roommates, studying, and more! Says:

    […] finally, thoughts about Choosing a College Major. Quite some time ago I wrote an article about choosing your major, but Deborah’s article […]

  2. 2
    Ashley Says:

    I recommend going through the course catalog, marking courses that sound interesting. Then put all the courses together and see if there’s a pattern and what best matches what you like to do/read in your spare time. If it fits a major, go with that and if not, create your own major if that’s possible.

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