Monday, February 26, 2018
Selecting a college major is something many students do as an afterthought.
By the time they reach their junior or senior year in high school the impulse is to choose something they excel at, such as math or English — subjects in which they are getting the highest grades. Teachers often reinforce this idea by telling students and their parents that their son or daughter "is a natural mathematician" or has a "real gift for English."
For the student with doubts about what college to attend or what to major in, the school guidance counselor is usually the first stop. For the majority of students, they provide a service by making sure that they meet the requirements for admissions to a state college or university.
Unfortunately, the quality and quantity of time a counselor can spend with a student is severely limited. At most public schools, the actual contact time with a counselor is less than an hour per year. This can be troubling if the school does not normally send graduates to leading universities, and students might find themselves at a huge disadvantage. Top-tier colleges have an abundance of highly qualified applicants from which to choose and changes in admissions policies happen more frequently at selective universities.
Regular meetings with a counselor (and parents if possible) as often as several times a year can make all of the difference in matching skills with potential colleges and majors. There is a link between college majors and career opportunity — the job market being the number one concern.
To students nervous about the adult world of work, having to choose a major can be daunting. For example, a student strong in math and raised in a manufacturing culture might be tempted to major in engineering. This is not always the wisest decision.
In Indiana, the majority of engineering majors are from blue-collar families. Many have parents who are machinists or hold other technical positions in manufacturing. Few students realize that their math ability might also be put to good use in other fields. Math is used in economics and in the social sciences. Job opportunities might be more plentiful in those areas as we turn away from manufacturing skills and move toward a more service-oriented economy.
Engineering wages have stagnated over the last few years, while those in financial services and investment banking have expanded. This trend is in spite of increased emphasis being placed on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects in high schools and some colleges. I encourage my clients to take their time when choosing a college major and to explore their options by taking courses that expand their knowledge outside of their specific area of concentration.
While most schools do not require students to declare a major until their sophomore year, sticking with the familiar can stifle creativity and prevent them from learning about other fields of study — in many cases, more suitable to their personality and long-term success.
Gerald Bradshaw is an international college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting in Crown Point.
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