Six Considerations in Choosing a College Major

1 – Family Influence – Throughout our lives, parents and family members influence our considerations for college, advanced degrees and career outcomes.  Their involvement and discussions may or may not support specific areas of study the student finds of interest.  The work done by parents or extended family members may set an expectation for the college student and therefore the selection of a college major is predetermined by family dynamics.   Knowing where family influence comes from can support an open range of major areas of study or it can create an expectation that may or may not fit.

2 – Media Impact – Television programs like CSI, Law and Order, or The Closer have created increased demand for degrees in Criminal Justice.  However, enjoying a television program doesn’t make it a good career fit.  Understanding the requirements of the courses and the potential career opportunities that are related to these courses can help in determining a good fit and major area of study.

3 – Values – Knowing yourself and what you value is an important factor in choosing a major area of study.  Whether it is time management, making a difference for others, religion, recognition, physical challenges or spending time with family or friends, these and many others are key factors in considering career directions and major areas of study.

4 – Interests – Interest surveys are great tools for beginning a process of determining career direction and major areas of study.  Because interests can change due to our experiences, it is good to take them periodically.  While interests may shift, you may also find a trend develops with one or two.

5 – Natural Abilities – Natural Abilities are the way in which we are hardwired.  Like our fingerprints, they are part of who we are and they do not change.  They appear as the things we do naturally and easily.  They impact the way we learn, interact with others, the environment we feel most comfortable at work.  Natural abilities are driving forces within each of us and can be capitalized on for maximum performance and satisfaction or we can work against them and question why we are not as happy in our chosen careers.

6 – Goals – Having clearly defined goals can help in choosing college majors.  Do your goals require 4 years or 8 years of school?  Do you have a financial plan to support those goals?  Will the outcome of your major area of study provide career opportunities based on labor trends, where you choose to live and your social or cultural expectations?  Clearly defined goals along with a financial plan will assist in meeting the challenges of completing an “on time” degree as well as reduce potential costs associated with changing majors and prolonged graduation dates.

Avoiding America’s College Debt Crisis

On December 21st, CNBC presented, “Price of Admission – America’s College Debt Crisis.”  It was a great piece from the perspective of alerting the masses of a potential bubble similar to the one that fed our nation into the financial fiasco that has taken place over the last few years.  It highlighted individuals and couples that face a lifetime of debt based on education loans.  Other highlights included:

  • Two-thirds of students complete college with a minimum of $24,000 in loan debt, typical is $80,000
  • Student loans do not get wiped out in bankruptcy or death and cannot be refinanced
  • National student loan debt is greater than the national credit card debt
  • The Government only reports out student loan defaults for the first two years of default
  • The cost of college is increasing 2-3 times the rate of inflation
  • Students can no longer afford to “Discover” themselves in college

So what does all this mean to high school students who are getting ready to attend college or those who are already attending college with no clear direction of career path?   It means the price of a college education can no longer include the luxury of “discovering yourself” through trial and error of courses and career exploration at a cost of ten to sixty thousand dollars a year when student loans are involved.  It means completing a degree in four years may not be the national norm, but it needs to be your goal!

In my previous blog I talked about the importance of identifying career paths.  That path doesn’t have to be single minded, but it does need to capitalize on your natural abilities and provide options accordingly.  That way, your college “discovery of self” is targeted and doesn’t waste time and finances.  In a job market as challenging as the one that exists today it is equally as important that you put yourself ahead of the curve and completion of that degree gets you out there earning and reduces the potential of increased college expenses.

Choose Your College and Major Wisely

In June of 2008, The Wall Street Journal published an article referencing The Highlands Ability Battery and the importance of students being able to identify their natural abilities for the benefit of lifelong career management.  But it is also important to understand that the abilities that are measured at age 17 for a high school student, remain constant throughout your life.  Therefore, the results are applicable for a lifetime and serve as a great resource in career decisions whether that decision includes deciding on a major area of study, promotion opportunity, going back to school, or transitioning into retirement.

Selecting the right major can mean the difference between graduating college on time or becoming one of the national statistics.  Nationally, less than 40% of college students complete a four year degree on time and more than 51% require up to 6 years to complete a four year degree.  That frightening statistic impacts your ability to create a productive income after 4 years, but it also comes with a price tag that equates to a national average of $30,000 per student in loan debt due to changed majors.  Imagine being ahead of the game just by graduating on time!  Imagine saving $30,000 for an advanced degree or to open your own business!