by Cassie Miller
It’s the first question people ask right after, “Where do you go?” The mind races trying to figure out how best to answer that question when you haven’t decided yet.
It may not be what parents, families and potential employers want to hear, but here’s why being “undecided” isn’t a bad thing.
Picking a major isn’t a choice that should be taken lightly. You and your parents are investing tens of thousands of dollars into college, not to mention time into your education. Many universities are now taking that into consideration by encouraging students to wait until their sophomore year (third to fifth semester) before declaring a major.
Go ahead, take a minute and exhale. You don’t have to decide right now. Institutions have seen the research behind choosing a major, which shows that first-year students are not developmentally prepared to make informed decisions that could, potentially, impact their future career path.
According to Liz Freedman, a student employment coordinator for internship and career services at Butler University, first-year students are beginning their college careers in the “exploratory stage.” Asking an individual who is trying to identify themselves what they want to be doing for 20-plus years can be unnerving and a source of anxiety.
Don’t fret. You’re not the first person to be undecided or change your major, and you won’t be the last. According to a survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute, more than 10 percent of students entering college did so “undecided.”
College Parents of America estimate that another 75 to 80 percent of students change their major at least once in their college careers. A study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) quantifies students who are choosing their major of study. Sixty-six percent of students surveyed said they chose their career based on their interests, 12 percent said they “drifted” into their field of study and another 9 percent said they were inspired by a professor. The other 13 percent were influenced by friends or family or by expected earning potential in that field.
Career Services Specialist for Harrisburg Area Community College Jean Tucker says, “While there is no magic wand to tell students what they will do with their life, the resources are available to help them get there.”
So how do you choose a major responsibly?
College students should consider the following when choosing a major:
• Doubts are normal – If you have doubts about your major or about the one you’re changing to, remember everyone is scared, but don’t be afraid to “jump.”
• Talk it out – That’s what friends and family are there for. Find someone who has career experience, and talk it out.
• Don’t stay in the wrong major – If you know that it’s not the field for you, don’t waste your time and money. You don’t want to dread going to school or your job.
• Ask questions – Why did I chose this major?
• Ask academia – Have more than one interest? Talk to your advisors about double majors or minors.
• Volunteer – Real-world opportunities can help clarify your interests.
Times are trying, and the future is uncertain, if you have questions or concerns about where your career will be in next 10 years, consult the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS).
Each year, the BLS compiles statistics from eight different occupational groups to study. The College to Career guide can help potential job-seekers know what to expect in that field. The BLS considers job openings, wages, on-the-job training and work experience when creating the College to Career guide.
The current guide shows that a bachelor’s degree in business is currently the most common field of study with an unemployment rate of about 9 percent. Humanities and social-science majors face an unemployment rate of 13 percent.
Citing a 2013 NACE survey, the guide states that careers in the engineering field have the highest average salary, starting out at $62,655 per year. In a close second is computer science, followed by business. Rounding out the bottom is education with an average annual starting salary of $40,000 and lastly humanities and social sciences at $36,988.
Remember, being undecided isn’t a bad thing; choosing the wrong major is. So be informed, ask questions, listen and learn. College is a learning experience in more ways than one.
This article appears in the September 2016 issue of Harrisburg Magazine