Declaring a major in college and making a career out of it: A college counselor’s perspective.
By Domingo Estrada, MA, Counseling – Higher Education
Program Coordinator, TRIO Lone Star College – North Harris
One of my primary tasks in working with First Time In College (FTIC) students is to help them declare, narrow, or find as they state the “perfect major”. I first caution students that a perfect major does not exist. Every career regardless of how glamorous or lucrative has its own pros and cons that should be carefully considered before investing years and a great deal of funds into to it. No one plans to go to college only to end up disappointed or not enjoying their career choice but not taking the time to sit down with someone like a college career counselor could result in just that.
In my opinion, choosing a major consists mostly of ability, interest, and job outlook. Ability is simply ensuring that you possess the academic skills needed to succeed in your career choice. Interest is having a passion for what you do and outlook is ensuring that there will be a demand in your career. In my almost ten-years of advising students, I have come to learn that these are the three key ingredients for ensuring you enjoy what you do and are able to sustain the lifestyle you desire.
For some students the choice is relatively an easy one. For example, a student may have always known they wanted to be a physician and therefore, challenged themselves all throughout school by taking the appropriate math and science courses to prepare them for the academic rigors of college life. In this example all three key ingredients are present (ability, interest, & outlook) because according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics “Employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow 18 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations”. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm.
For other student’s the task of advising them is more difficult where a student may have unrealistic or misguided expectations regarding a career. For example, a student may indicate engineering as their desired major yet lack a strong background in math and science a key requirement of all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. In this instance, I create an academic chart that helps student’s see and map out what courses they need, how long it will take, and how much commitment is required of such profession to successfully graduate and enter their field. It is then up to the students to decide whether they are able and willing to commit themselves to successfully become an engineer.
Students that know what career path they want to pursue before beginning college and who are academically prepared often complete their bachelor’s degree in four-years verse five or six when compared to undeclared students. However, regardless of whether students are prepared or not it is still possible to succeed in a chosen profession but students should also pay close attention to cost verses benefit and outlook when declaring a major. It is part of the student’s responsibility to explore different careers while in college to ensure they’re making the best decision from all the available information. However, students aren’t alone in this journey because most colleges offer career services to assist student’s free of charge but, it is completely up to the students to take advantage of the resources and career counselors available. I have found that most career service offices are underutilized with maybe
only half of the students enrolled actually using these facilities. When I ask students why they haven’t met with a career counselor to work on a resume, interviewing techniques, or career search the most common answer is “I don’t have time” and my answer is always the same “make time!”. There is a lot of information available out there from books, the internet, career centers, and librarians just to name a few. There really isn’t any excuse for anyone that wants and seeks help regarding careers to be able to obtain it.
Another important point to make is that regardless of the major a student’s chooses there are skills that can be transferred into any career which can be reassuring for undeclared/undecided students. For example, regardless whether you’re a nurse, teacher, architect, or accountant you will most likely be required to work with other people or as part of a team which utilizes the communications and interpersonal skills learned in public speaking and introduction to communication courses. Furthermore, the same can be said for algebra, statistics, and economic courses which require students to think critically and make calculations skills also required for most careers today. And last, there is writing, philosophy, and history courses that may not have a direct connection to a specific career but can come in handy when you’re asked to produce a quarterly or annually report about a specific project you’ve worked on. I advise students to try and correlate a course to a future career or to think how any course can help them obtain a future position and to place emphasis on courses that students may not find relevant.
Last point I would like to make is that in most cases people have the innate ability to succeed in whatever they choose to channel their energy into and are only lacking commitment. Understand that for every rejection there will always be an acceptance. If a college denies you admissions there is always one that admits you. For every teacher or professor that tells you that you can’t there will always be someone that tells you yes you can if you’re willing to work hard and long enough. Life can be full of no’s and disappointments’ but life can also be full of opportunities that can lead you to the career and lifestyle you want for yourself if you refuse to accept the status quo or the place that society says you belong in. Only you can dictate who you are or where you belong.