When I work with students, we always have the conversation about potential majors pretty early on. Not because I expect them to have a plan for the rest of their lives ready to be laminated and hung up on a wall but because I want to know what they are thinking about and why. I’m a firm believer that the first steps to a happy and successful life are grounded in identifying your VIPS.
If you don’t know what your VIPS are, check out this post I wrote a couple months ago.
Once you have a good handle on what you’re good at, what you’re most interested in and why it has meaning to you, narrowing down the endless possibilities of majors is easier. Note that I didn’t say it’s easy. Just that it’s easier to do.
Picking a major is never easy. Especially when you have your whole life ahead of you. In fact, what you end up doing as an occupation 15 or 20 years down the road may not even exist today.
Because of this, I often tell students not to worry too much about what their major is. Granted, if a student is interested in pre-professional programs like nursing, education, accounting or engineering to name a few, then yes, choosing the right major is important. But it must match up with your VIPS if it’s going to be the right choice. There are plenty of articles out there talking about majors with the highest starting salaries and majors who will have the most lucrative careers. Go ahead and read them and let them help inform your decision, but please don’t think that just because a major has the potential to lead you to a high paying career that it’s automatically the right one for you.
Let’s say you read one of these articles and find out that computer engineering is a hot major right now. Graduates are earning upwards of $70,000 right after graduation and since you’re good with computers, you think this is a good choice for you.
Not so fast.
First, look up computer engineering programs online. Pay close attention to what the program is designed to do, what kinds of courses you will have to take and then ask yourself if it still sounds good. If you’re psyched about taking Calculus I and II and two courses in General Physics your freshman year, then you might actually be on the right path. But if it doesn’t sound so great, that’s when you have to head back to the drawing board and think a little more about your VIPS and how they might help you find majors and career paths that make more sense for you.
Another great way to find out if you’re cut from the right cloth is to do a job shadow or informational interview.
In a typical job shadow you’ll spend a few hours or, if you’re lucky, an entire day with someone who does what you think you want to do. You get to actually see what a day in the life of a professional in your intended field is like. In fact, this is probably one of the smartest things you can do to start clarifying what it is you want to do with your life. Work through your family, friends and teachers to identify individuals who could host you for a job shadow.
If you can’t secure a job shadow, an informational interview is a great back-up. Think of a job interview where you have to answer questions about yourself, why you want the job, what you can bring to the table and why the employer should hire you. Now, turn it around so that you get to ask someone questions about what they do, what they love and hate about it, where they went to school and if their degree helped prepare them for their job. Cool, huh?
At the end of the day, do some homework in your intended majors. Talk to people who are doing now what you think you want to do in a few years. Ask honest questions and really listen to the answers. I promise you it will be one of the best things you do for yourself on this crazy journey.
If you have any questions about choosing majors, your VIPS, securing job shadows or informational interviews, please use the comment section below.
You can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for help with any aspect of your college search and application process.