Thursday, August 4, 2011
Take time choosing college major
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
Surprisingly enough, choosing a college major is something many students do as an afterthought.
Having reached their junior or senior years in high school, students generally want to major in areas where they got their highest grades. Teachers and counselors reinforce this idea by telling students and their parents that the son or daughter “is a natural mathematician” or has a “real gift for English.”
For those students with doubts about what college major to select, there is always a visit to the school guidance counselor. Counselors do their best to make sure that pupils meet the minimum requirements for admissions to a state college or university, but at many schools, the amount of time a counselor can spend with a student is severely limited.
In fact, at most public schools, the actual contact time a student can expect to spend with a counselor is less than an hour per year. This can be troubling if the school does not normally send students to top-ranked colleges and universities and students may find themselves at a huge disadvantage.
Leading universities have highly qualified applicants from which to choose and changes in admissions policy happen frequently at the most selective universities. In order to keep abreast of these changes students need to meet regularly with their high school counselors. It also helps if parents can be involved in at least some of these sessions.
Another area I find worrisome is the quality of advising that students receive on the link between careers and their choice of college majors. To students nervous about their future in the work world, the choice of a major is daunting. Many variables should be considered when making a career choice and the changing job market is the No. 1 concern. Sticking with subjects you know best is not always the wisest decision.
For example, a student strong in math and raised in a manufacturing culture might be tempted to major in engineering. In Indiana, 85 percent of the engineering majors are from blue-collar families.
Most have parents that are machinists or hold other technical positions in manufacturing. Few students realize that their math ability also might be put to good use in other fields such as economics and the social sciences.
Job opportunities may be more plentiful as we turn away from manufacturing and move toward a more service-oriented economy. Engineering wages have stagnated over the last few years, while financial services and investment banking have expanded. This trend is expected to continue.
I encourage students to take their time when choosing a college major and caution that high school and even college counselors are not always the best sources of information. Sticking with the familiar can stifle creativity and prevent them from learning about other fields of study that, in many cases, may be more suitable to their personalities. Diversifying high school course and extra-curricular activity selections is sometimes the best answer in helping students choose college majors and in readying them for satisfying careers.