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How should students choose a college major?

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A generation ago, teenagers often chose college majors based on what their parents went to school for. If dad worked as a partner at a law firm, chances were his son would major in pre-law on his way to taking the law school admissions test (LSAT) and enrolling in law school.

It seems that more of today's students are choosing college majors independent of their parents' careers. Unlike past generations, many college students are no longer geographically bound to attend universities close to home, thanks in major part to available financing from the government and lending institutions.

However, many college-aged kids also become confused in terms of what to major in.

Most don't interview real world professionals working in their field of study. Thus, students often don't gain insight what it's like to have a job in a certain profession or industry.

Switching Majors

Selecting the right degree is a big deal for young adolescents. The process makes a huge impact on their outlook and expectations for the future.

Unfortunately, uncertainty and fear become obstacles in the early stages of college. Many students realize that fields they want to major in turns out to be not what they want to major in.

Some realize they lack the proficiency in math and statistics to take more challenging electives in engineering. Others realize that biology may not offer as many job opportunities after college than does a pharmacy degree.

A business major with a love for accounting software may switch to computer science and help design the software itself.

Tough Choices

Changing majors while deep into a technical program can be very costly in terms of money and time. Additionally, there are opportunity costs associated with lost wages for the extra duration a student must stay in college to complete the new degree requirements.

Thus, students entering a university program should ideally know what they want out of college. How will their chosen degree advance their personal interests once they look for career opportunities out in the real world?

The real world offers a rude awakening if a kid does finish his new major. Lacking experience, he'll probably find himself ill-equipped to face the job market of his chosen major. There'll also be thousands of competing applicants, many of whom possess work experience, in his chosen field.

Undecided Students

Then there are the undecided kids. Nearly two-thirds of both male and female students who registered to take the ACT exam noted that they would need help to decide what they would like to major in.

Some education advocates suggest that undecided students should go to a local community college to get their core “101” courses out of the way.

Here's one suggestion. If you can't decide what to major in, pick a classic liberal arts degree or a general major like business management. Both majors will broaden your horizon while you decide what career path to take.

You can even work for one or two years to discover what real world skills you want to possess and where your interests are. It's critical that you be honest with yourself. Tune out the outside pressures. This is about your life, not theirs.

Generally, kids should limit the amount of time they spend in an undergraduate program. Unless you want to stay in academia, it's not wise to be a perpetual student enrolling in your 14th semester while your friends have moved on to satisfying jobs.

Prepare Early

High school seniors should assess what their calling is. If they have aspirations to work in a hospital, perhaps they should major in nursing, pre-med, or pharmacy. If they are interested in solving mechanical problems, a trade school might be more appropriate than university.

If you love your summer sales job at the local mall, perhaps a marketing degree would be the best route. Picking a college major should be a reflection of your interests and planned pursuits.

Love what you do and find out how it adds value in the marketplace. Customers love to work with young people who genuinely care about their work product. And so do hiring managers at big companies.

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