How to Choose the Best College Major

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Overview

Many young people enter college today right out of high school with little or no knowledge of what they want to study. For most students, receiving a college degree in any field is the key to getting a good job with a business. Therefore, some kids will elect a relatively easy college major which allows them a lot of time for partying and having a good time on campus. Others who have the talent and interest and who have already decided on a career in life will enroll in such disciplines as pre-med, pre-law, or engineering majors. Based on previous lessons learned as an undergraduate, I suggest in this article important factors a high school graduate should consider when choosing a college major.

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Why Should Young People Go to College?

More high school graduates today are attending college than when I did in the early 60s. Unless a person has little or no academic talent, college is a must for most people in today's world. I make this statement for three particular reasons.

1. A College Degree Is a Requirement for Many Jobs

When I graduated from high school 50 years ago, a high school diploma could land you a fairly good-paying job in the manufacturing industry. With the outsourcing of many factory jobs overseas today, it is necessary to have a college degree to secure employment in the new high-tech medical, engineering, and computer fields.

2. A College Degree Furthers Educational Development

If the youth of today truly want to develop and enrich their artistic, musical, linguistic, mathematical, scientific, philosophical, and creative thinking talents, obtaining a degree is a must. An education at a good liberal arts college will certainly make a more well-rounded and educated person.

3. College Is a Preparation for Many Careers

Without attending college, one can never prepare for a career in medicine, law, or engineering. Colleges also train professional people such as teachers, businessmen, businesswomen, computer programmers, and social workers.

How to Choose the Best College Major

How Can High School Students Start Preparing For a Career?

It is not too early for junior or senior high school students to start thinking about careers they would like to have in life. If they put off this preparation, they will later find themselves in college not knowing what they want to do or study.When I was young, I wish had thought about and prepared more for a career. Young people today, however, can do this by paying attention to the four following items:

1. Take Notice of Your Interests

In selecting a career, it is very important for people to be interested in the work they will be doing for the rest of their lives. You should definitely make a list of the things you enjoy doing and try to match jobs which satisfy your needs. Failing to do this, you could most probably get a job where you hate going to work.

2. Explore Career Openings for Youth

After students know their interests, they must try to match these interests to career openings in today's world. The best way to do this is through the assistance of students' guidance counselors, family members and friends, and individual research. Guidance counselors, hopefully, will have resource rooms filled with audio-visual information on various careers, and also be able to schedule tours for students with willing hospitals, high-tech companies, or service industries. Family and friends could introduce students to established professional people in the community like doctors, vets, lawyers, pharmacists, and engineers. Students must also take the initiative by examining information about various careers found through the media of newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet.

3. Take Aptitude Tests to Discover Talents

Unless students really know what they are good or bad at, taking aptitude tests is not a bad idea for discovering special abilities. For example, when I was in the Navy, an aptitude test revealed that I had a talent for learning languages. A student's guidance counselor should be the person to help schedule aptitude tests, and then sit down with a student to discuss the talents or aptitudes a person has based on the results of the test.

4. Find Out Which Schools Offer Career Training

Once again, a student's guidance counselor must be an important resource for helping students find suitable colleges and technical institutes for career training. Students should also approach family members and friends who are knowledgeable about schools offering career training.

Choosing a College Major

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How to Choose a College Major

Factors to Consider When You Choose the Best College Major

After students enroll in college, they most probably will have to declare an academic major before the end of their sophomore or second year. This is a difficult thing for many young people to do. Unless you are really dead sure on your major when entering college, it would be best to take into consideration the following factors:

1. Interest in Subjects of Study

If you are interested in becoming a doctor, lawyer, or a pharmacist, pre-med, pre-law, and pre-pharmacy majors are easy to decide on during your freshman or first year. For those students who are undecided on a major, a sampling of a variety of introductory courses in the sciences, math, English literature, foreign languages, social sciences, arts, and music during the first two years should be of great assistance in helping students gauge their interests in subjects of learning.

2. Aptitude and Ability in Subject of Interest

In choosing a college major, it is not enough only to have an interest in your subject. Your aptitude and ability in the subject of interest are also extremely important. I did not discover or come to reality with this fact until I failed to gain admission to medical school. When studying courses in your subject of interest, be honest with yourself and ask whether you have the smarts to compete with your classmates and easily get "A"s. If you can't and are "studying your ass off" just to get a "B," it's like banging your head against a brick wall to get an "A." At this point you should admit that you don't have the aptitude and talent to really be top-notch and successful in what you like. For example, the student who struggles to get "B"s in chemistry courses as an undergraduate most likely won't be able to do critical thinking and get a Masters or Doctorate in Chemistry.

How can a young person discover specific aptitudes? As part of the college application process, students take college entrance exams like the ACT or SAT. These standardized tests are a good marker of whether a high school student has the verbal and math aptitude for critical thinking required in most college courses. If students scores are only average, it would seem highly unlikely that they would be able to compete in pre-med, pre-law, or engineering majors. Another way to discover aptitudes is by taking standardized chemistry, biology, and physics tests during high school. These tests should reveal any creative ability.

In choosing a college major, it is so important that there is a happy marriage between interests and aptitudes. Without this nexus, a college student will experience extreme frustration like I did years ago.

3. Finding a Job in Your Major After Graduation

When deciding on a college major, you must ask yourself whether you will be able to easily secure gainful employment after graduation. For those majoring in computer programming, engineering, or the biological fields, it will most probably be easy to get a job with a Bachelors. However, what will your chances be of getting employment with a Bachelors Degree in music appreciation, art history, or communications?

4. How Much Can I Earn in a Job With My Major?

Most incoming freshmen don't have wealthy parents, and therefore they must depend on student loans for college expenses. For some students, the amount of student loans might approach more than 100,000 U.S. dollars. Needless to say, students want to get good-paying jobs so that they can easily start repaying these loans after graduation. Do students want a position of that as a teacher or social worker that starts at 30-35 k per year or that of a computer programmer or biological technician which pays twice as much?

5. How Long Will It Take to Complete the Major?

Students must be aware that professional programs in medicine and law usually require 8 years. They should also be aware that most majors require taking a certain amount of credits which usually require four years and sometimes summer session study.

6. Is There Opportunity for Foreign Study Abroad?

For foreign language study, there are opportunities for summer or year-long study abroad. When my sister took a pre-vet major in the 70s, she had the opportunity to take three months of summer work and study in Norway with a participating veterinarian.

7. Whom Am I Trying to Please With This Major?

It is extremely important for the student to understand whom he is trying to please by majoring in disciplines such as pre-med and pre-law. If the student is doing it for himself and has the talent and aptitude, fine. On the other hand, if someone with no talent is trying to become an engineer because his dad is one, that person is making a big mistake.

When I was young, I decided on becoming a doctor in high school and majoring in pre-med in college. In retrospect, I made a big mistake because I did not carefully consider all of the important factors before making a decision. My biggest mistake was not coming to grips with the fact that I didn't have the aptitude and talent to become a doctor. When choosing a college major, hopefully, students will consider the factors which I have outlined. A happy marriage of both interest and aptitude is so important for success in study.



How to Choose the Best College Major

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© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn

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Comments 20 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

When I was teaching middle school and high school I would always advise choosing a career path in a field you could be passionate about. Working forty years is a long haul if you don't enjoy what you are doing. :)

Great suggestions and tips.


NCBIer profile image

NCBIer 3 years ago

While I don't quite agree that college is a must in these times, given that there are lots of successful and happy people who have not done so, I completely agree that interest and abilities are key to choosing your career path. There are so many considerations when choosing a college major and you've done a thorough job of exploring those!


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Billy,

Thanks for stopping by again. I really appreciate your comments and praise.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

NCBler, Thank you very much for reading my hub and I really appreciate your insightful comments.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

College IS very vital. I believe young men and women should be encouraged to go to college. However, I'm also aware that not everyone is cut out for it. It's reassuring that there is such a huge assortment of Technical schools, Trade schools, Community & Junior Colleges.

Your hub is a mountain of interesting and important info! A must-read for High School Juniors and Seniors...........UP+++


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Paula,

Thanks so much for stopping by again and your great thoughtful and encouraging comments. I agree that not everyone is cut out for college, and that is one big reason why every high school student should take aptitude tests.


StegToDiffer profile image

StegToDiffer 3 years ago from New York, NY

I'm a young person trying once and for all to decide on a college major. This Hub was very helpful, especially the bits about aptitude tests. Thanks so much for the advice!


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

StegToDiffer,

Thanks for reading this hub and your great comments. If it's all possible, I hope someone can learn from the mistakes I made as a college undergraduate.


kschimmel profile image

kschimmel 3 years ago from North Carolina, USA

Interest and aptitude are certainly better to use than trying to predict the future job market. Those who love what they do and are the best will always find some way to be gainfully employed.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

kschimmel,

Thanks for reading this hub and your comments. I really appreciate them.


ChristyWrites profile image

ChristyWrites 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

A very comprehensive list. Great questions for people to ask themselves (perhaps I should have read prior to attending schools myself)


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Christy,

Thanks for stopping by and your encouraging comments. I certainly didn't follow my list when first declaring a college major!


torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 years ago

I agree with you as well and feel that college is important and that kids should go. As of now, I am in college majoring in nursing. It is hard but I am sure that I can do it. Thanks for your hub. Very inspirational. Voted up.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

torrilynn,

Thanks again for reading my hub. If you study hard and know that you can do it, I am sure that you will finish your nursing studies and become a good registered nurse. Good luck to you!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

Some very good advice and information here. A lot of the people I attended school with declared a major only to change it 2-3 years down the road. That meant taking additional classes which took more time and cost more money.

It isn't required at many universities that a student declare their major. I didn't until I was a junior when it was required -- that was just 5 years or so ago.

I recommend college freshman complete a year or more of the core curriculum before declaring their major and completing more than 1 or 2 of the required classes for the declared major. That way they won't have spent so much time and money on classes that may not count towards their final major choice.

Sometimes life experience and exposure to subjects a person has never considered before can change a person's mind about what they want to do with their lives.

Voted up, useful, and will share!


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Au fait,

Thank you for the very insightful comments of one who has recently attended college. My life experience of learning Chinese and being stationed on Taiwan and in Japan definitely changed my mind about what I wanted to further study and do with my life. I agree that for most students it is too early to commit to a major in either the freshman or sophomore year. I appreciate you sharing this hub.


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Paul,

Very good guidance and suggestions in here. Love and aptitude are two different things and a right balance has to be struck between the two. Thanks for stressing on this point.

Voted up, useful and interesting. Pinning and sharing.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

rajan,

Thank you very much for commenting on this hub. I wrote this hub so that other people, hopefully, will not make the same mistakes I did when initially choosing a college major right out of high school. I appreciate your supporting comments, and I am also grateful to you for pinning and sharing this hub.


Arran Christie 2 years ago from USA

Choose carefully, STEMM ?


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Thanks for commenting! No, I didn't choose carefully when I threw myself into pre-med for four years and stayed there even though I wasn't getting top notch grades.

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