Universitas Blog

Ano Kors Mo / What's Your Major

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

My dear friend and colleague, Brian Marana, told this story to an audience.

A bunch of students were filling out application forms for local Philippine colleges in class. Brian noticed something curious:  when they got to the part about choosing what degree program to apply to, some students had no idea.  A lot of them turned to their friends, asked them what program they were applying for and just followed suit!  I realize that some high school students copy off their neighbor's test paper during exams but this is ridiculous. Copying someone else's major?  I had to laugh.

But seriously, choosing a major can be serious business.  But I think a lot of students (and parents) put way too much pressure on themselves to choose just the right major.  A lot of people think that this choice is going to spell life and death for their future job prospects.  I have to disagree.  As my friend Dylan Kirk once said, "A job is a job and an education is an education."

Think back to your college days...or if you are a student, consider an older person who is a college graduate.  Think about what that person is doing for a living now.  Now think about their college major.  Do the two necessarily have anything to do with one another?  The answer here is usually no.  Life being the way it is, people usually finish college then drift off to do their own thing.  Eventually what they end up doing ten or twenty years after graduation has little to do with what they studied in college.

Given that, I normally tell people not to focus primarily on job futures when selecting a major. If you study history, you will not necessarily become a history teacher, a museum curator, or a lawyer (history is popular for prelaw).  You can do almost anything.  You might have to work harder or do some extra training for some (especially technical) jobs but your history degree will not explicitly exclude you from pursuing most career paths.  

All a major really does is frame your college education.  For example, I have a degree in physics.  What this did was it made my college education very technical.  It taught me how to do math well and it developed my scientific thinking ability.  But perhaps more importantly, it taught me not to fear studying anything that may be difficult or technical.  In the mid 90s I found myself having to make a career switch into information technology (IT).  Because of my technical background, it never crossed my mind to think that IT could be difficult.  I was confident in my ability to absorb technical material.

Does this mean that choosing a major is no big deal?  No, I didn't say that.  Because it provides an overall focus and direction in your college education, choosing a college major is a pretty big deal.  Just don't overly worry about this or that major tying you down into this or that career or way of life.  It won't.

So how does one go about choosing a major?  For a very few, it's extremely easy.  These few will have an intense interest in a particular field.  A good example is my son, Tyler.  Since he was in tenth grade, math has been his abiding passion.  When time came for college, it was an easy choice:  it was math or bust.  For me, I became interested in physics as a senior in high school.  Even though I was not the best math student around (and physics requires a LOT of math) I decided I was going to spend four years (and later another two years) studying physics and to do my best to learn the math I needed.    But for most people, there is no abiding passion or sudden interest in this field or not.  Most are unsure or have interests in more than one area.

For these people, I say keep an open mind.  Go into college without a declared major (an option that is not available in the Philippines, unfortunately) and see what's available.  If you attend a large university, be a student in its college of arts and sciences to keep your choices as wide as possible (and yes, even if you think you may be interested in business).  Take the general education classes that your university requires and look around.  Again, keep an open mind.  If you find you really like political science or philosophy then explore a major in that.  Again, don't worry explicitly about your job prospects.

But what if you *are* worried about your job prospects?  Well, that's another thing entirely but something I would advise all students regardless of major (or lack thereof) is to be a fixture in your university's career guidance or placement office.  Make sure to supplement your formal education with practical internships and work experience (paid and unpaid).  More than your actual major, what you learn from working at an internship will determine how successful you are in landing your first job.

So relax.  Don't let the stress of finding "just the right major so I can land that six figure job at Google" ruin a great four years in college.  Choose a major that you are genuinely interested in and attracted to and you will have taken a big step towards securing your college...and future...happiness.

Good luck!

 







John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

johnsy@universitasph.com
+63 (917) 833-3825


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John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

johnsy@universitasph.com

+63 (917) 833-3825

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