While a great deal of energy goes into choosing which college we wish to attend, and where, and how much is it likely to cost, the matter of what major to pursue often receives less attention. If you’re undecided, you’re not alone; in fact, some two-thirds of college students change their major at least once. (In grad school, I did it three times!) Also, there are majors out there that will pop up that never before existed by the time you’re ready to graduate! And if you positively-absolutely-undeniably know-for-certain what you’re going to major in? Well, at least read on further: it’s always good to occasionally re-evaluate – and perhaps re-confirm — one’s directional course.
Here are some factoids that may muddy the waters: students who major in the arts and humanities generally find it much harder to find work directly related to their major; the fact is that for some time now, there are not enough sustainable careers in the country to accommodate all those majors. And remember that, unlike many European countries, we don’t substantially fund the arts and humanities for the public to enjoy. And yet, many educators in, say, medical fields, strongly encourage applicants to beef up and broaden their training in the arts and humanities and social sciences, in order to strengthen their perspectives, resilience and teamwork effectiveness. Folks majoring in professional fields such as nursing, engineering, health care specialties, business specializations, etc. often have an easier time of securing major/career linkage, assuming there are enough jobs open in those sectors. Social sciences majors (Psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.), generally, fall somewhere in-between. Interestingly enough, folks for whom a master’s degree is required often do just fine with a different undergraduate background, though they may have some coursework to “make up” before being accepted into a post-graduate masters program. As an English major, I needed two courses before acceptance into my master’s in education major; but never-ever regretted my English major background.
It seems to me that, in broad terms, there are two key areas to take stock of
when choosing a college major: Do I feel passion and strong interest in this field? Does it fit with my values, my personality, and the skills and education I want to use and develop ongoing? Or is this primarily some tv show or somebody else’s idea of what’s best for me? Secondly, how is the job-market both short term and long term for this field? Reality check: most students today will change their careers five to six times over a typical 40 year work-life: whew, take a second to absorb that! However, for a “starter” career, one has to ask: are there jobs forecast to open up in the area/region I wish to live in? Is there upward mobility and – as important as competitive salaries – ample benefits offered? Is the career sustainable over the long haul, or about to shrink for any number of reasons –such as sweeping Artificial Intelligence impacts — soon to occur throughout the marketplace of careers?
We may passionately want to resurrect the fine craft of blacksmithing, or excel in children’s musical theatre: it’s just that… oy… the jobs are awfully slim, kids…
So: Some tools to evaluate your passions and interests as well as the projected hiring needs for certain careers in states and counties. I recall that the career tests offered my twins, now 21, back at Benicia High School, were very helpful and accurate back when they were merely sophomores:
* Eureka: https://eureka.org/public/Students.php
* Career Key: http://www.careerkey.org/
* Keirsey: http://www.keirsey.com
* Career Projections: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
* Myers-Briggs: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes1.htm
Take a “test” or two above with another family member, and see how the results turn out. It’s even fun, as an older gent, to revisit these and see how accurate they seem in retrospect for me. But moreover, they can be a great set of tools to make use of in crafting out one’s academic/career choices.
Rob Peters is a semi-retired counselor at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. He’s both taught and counseled students for more than 30 years.