Helping college students choose the right major

NORTH COUNTY – Picking a college major is a big step for young students. Though many adults eventually find themselves working in fields that have little to do with their college majors, many more spend their entire careers in the same field they chose to major in way back in their college days.

Choosing a major is a decision that ultimately rests on the shoulders of the students who must consider a host of factors before committing to a specific field of study. But parents can still help their children, whether those kids are already enrolled in college or college-bound, as they make such an important decision that could very well affect the rest of their lives.

• Encourage patience. Today’s college students and college-bound youngsters are living in a world that’s significantly different than the one their parents or even older siblings might have encountered. Global and domestic unemployment rates remain high, and technology is changing the way many industries conduct business.

But students trying to pick a major should avoid picking one too quickly. Just because a certain field is experiencing job growth does not mean that field is ideal for all students. Encourage kids to be patient when choosing a major so they can find the field that’s right for them, and not just the major they feel will produce the best job prospects.

• Suggest a double major. Many of today’s students are fully aware of the difficult job market and the cost of a college education. As a result, such students want to choose a major they feel will put them in the best position to land a well-paying job after college. That’s a smart strategy, but it’s also one that overlooks the joy of studying a subject you are passionate about.

Parents can simultaneously encourage kids to be smart about their job prospects and pursue their passions by suggesting a double major. For example, if your child has a love of art but understands the difficulty in earning a living as an artist, suggest a double major in art and graphic design. This way he or she has more career options upon graduation but still has the chance to pursue a subject he or she is passionate about while in school.

• Encourage students to apply for internships. An internship is another great way parents can help kids as they decide on a college major. Internships are rarely easy to get, but some firms hire interns who are still in high school. Parents should encourage kids to pursue internships as early as possible.

Internships can provide young students with some real-world experience and give them an accurate glimpse into what their professional lives might be like if they choose a particular field of study. Some kids might be encouraged by an internship, while others might realize a given field is not really for them. Either way, the internship can help narrow down the field of prospective majors for young students.

• Let kids know a major isn’t the same thing as a career. The pressure to choose the right major can be overwhelming for some young students. But parents should let kids know that a major is not the same thing as a career, and many graduates end up working in fields that had little or nothing to do with their majors.

For instance, just because a student earns a degree in finance does not mean he or she will end up working on Wall Street. While parents should emphasize the importance of choosing the right major when speaking to their children, they should also let kids know that nothing is ever set in stone. That can help take some of the pressure off students as they make such an important decision.

Today’s college students have more to consider when choosing a college major than many of their predecessors. But parents can still take steps to help kids choose the right major without succumbing to the stress that comes with making such a significant decision.

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