Friday, January 12, 2007
Educated Advice Columnist
Gerald M. Bradshaw
Picking a college major is something many pupils do as an afterthought.
By the time they reach the junior or senior year in high school, they generally choose something they are good at, such as math or English. They want to major in subjects in which they got the highest grades in school.
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 the student with at least some doubt of what to major in, there is always the school guidance counselor.
For the average student, they provide a service. They do their best to make sure that students meet the minimum requirements for admissions to a state college or university.
But at many schools, the quality and quantity of time a counselor can spend with a student is severely limited. 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 universities. Students might find themselves at a huge disadvantage.
Leading universities have highly qualified applicants from which to choose. Changes in admissions policy happen more frequently at a selective universities. The need to meet regularly with a counselor, perhaps even as often as several times a year (with their parents), can make all the difference.
Another area of I find worrisome is the quality of advising students receive on the link between careers and possible majors. To students nervous about the adult world of work, the choice of what to major in can be daunting. Students typically fall back on the subjects with which they are familiar when choosing a major. This is a pity, because a great many variables should be considered when choosing a career--the job market being 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 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 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 financial services and investment banking have expanded. The trend is expected to continue.
I would encourage students to take their time when choosing a major. 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.
All of this requires careful discussion. High school and even college counselors are not always the best sources of information on choosing a major. Take some chances and find out for yourself.
Take classes in other fiends, not just the ones at which you excel. A liberal education means diversifying one's knowledge. The best way to find a link to a career is to try something different, look toward what the future economy may offer, then make a decision.
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