College Majors Jul02

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College Majors

It’s simple. You want your kid to go off to college and explore. To take classes in subjects they didn’t even know existed, and find something they love. But you also want them to settle on a major that will serve them well after graduation so that they can find a decent job.

But what exactly does that mean? Every week it seems we are bombarded with conflicting stories in the news. One week you’ll read about how a liberal arts education provides students with the skills employers want (critical thinking, creativity and communication skills) and the next week you’ll hear about how impossible it is for liberal arts grads to find jobs. Articles about the best college majors and colleges that provide the best value abound. Everyone is trying to quantify the value of a college education – not surprising when you consider the shaky economy and the serious financial investment students and their families are making.

Deciding on a college major is not always simple. Some kids go off to college with no idea what they want to major in, and that’s okay. In fact, going in ‘undeclared’ is common at liberal arts colleges, where taking courses in a variety of disciplines is not only encouraged but required. At most schools, students don’t need to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year. However, at some large universities, students may be required to select a major and apply to a specific school within the university if they plan to study engineering, business, or performing arts, for example.

Some freshmen may already know what major they intend to pursue at college, particularly if they applied and were accepted to a specific program. Keep in mind that many kids who think they know what they want to study often change majors – in some cases more than once – when they are exposed to subjects they either never considered or have just discovered.

As parents, faced with the realities of today’s economy, we can’t help being worried about whether our kids will be able to get a good paying job after graduation. And with the high cost of a college education, we want to make sure they graduate within four years, if possible. Settling on a major in a timely manner has an impact on the graduation timeline. So, what can parents do to support their student in choosing a college major?

1. Remember that college is a time of exploration for our kids. It’s a time for students to discover new subjects and to learn more about what they like and don’t like. Encourage your kid to take a variety of different types of classes that first year. Remind yourself that they need to do this on their own in order to really discover their interests. To spark new interests, encourage your kid to look at the course offerings to see which classes appeal to them. Suggest that they make an effort to get to know their professors and to get involved in clubs or on-campus activities in areas they might not have previously considered. Once they start taking classes and getting inspired by their professors, they’ll begin to zero in on a major.  Just don’t be surprised if they change their minds over the next year or two!

2. Talk to your kids about balancing idealism with realism. We all know that there are some college majors that do not directly correlate with a specific career path or financial independence after graduation. In fact, President Obama recently sparked a bit of controversy when he made a comment about the job prospects for art history majors when speaking about students pursuing STEM majors. Encourage your student to do some research early to determine the job options associated with a particular college major, and how they might ‘market’ themselves after graduation. Double majoring or minoring in a complementary subject might be a smart option. Stress the importance of talking to their advisor and visiting the college career center during that first year (tip – career centers also have listings for summer jobs and internships!).

3. Utilize college major and career assessment tests to determine a way forward. There are a variety of resources out there to help identify a student’s strengths, weaknesses, interests, and career options before they head off to college, particularly where graduation in four years is essential. YouScience, for example, offers an online assessment that creates a unique profile of aptitudes, abilities and interests, along with options for possible majors and associated career options. In taking the assessment test ourselves, we were impressed with how easy it was to navigate (and it was quite accurate!). Having your student take one of these assessment tests may help them focus on areas in which they show a demonstrated ability and interest, saving them valuable time in the long run.

In the end, we want our kids to be happy, to follow their dreams and to enjoy the four years of college that go by so fast. But we also want them to graduate college with a good idea of what they want to do and the prospects of being able to get a paying job, preferably in their field of interest. Keeping the lines of communication open and arming our kids with knowledge (as well as the realities associated with their choices) can go a long way in helping them find their own way forward.



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