Academics

What To Know About Helping Your Student Pick A Major

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By Julia Dunn, Uloop

Whether your student is going to be graduating from high school soon or is already enrolled in college, picking a major can be overwhelming but exciting. College is a time when your student enters into an intellectually and socially stimulating environment that will help them grow in profound dimensions–but among the many decisions involved in the college process is the choice of a major.

Your student may have applied as an undeclared student if they didn’t know immediately what they wanted for their major, or they may have selected a subject that suits their tentative plans. It’s worth knowing that 80 percent of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

On average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career. A study by Inside Higher Ed even shows that “students who change their major as late as senior year are more likely to graduate from college than students who settle on one the second they set foot on campus.”

If you student seems stressed about choosing a major, here are four ways to help them out:

1. Reiterate the importance of exploring

One of the beauties of general education courses is that they expose students to subjects they may not have pursued otherwise. Many students report having taken GE classes that led them to discover fields they didn’t know existed. A STEM student could take a linguistics class and become hooked on phonology, and a fine arts major could discover the intricacies of engineering through a computer programming class. Go through your student’s general education requirements and help them talk through their options to see which subjects might peak their interest!

“Passion is the thing that will help you create the highest expression of your talent” – Larry Smith, TEDx, November 2011

2. Help them see their strengths

Has your student always been one to pull out a statistic in conversation? Do they enjoy making math calculations in everyday life? Are they great at arguing persuasively? Have they always loved taking gadgets apart to see how they work? Most students are successful if they choose a major that is both enjoyable and not terribly difficult for them. College majors are often (for some students) intuitive, or well-aligned with a subject that has sustained a student’s interest. As a parent, you can offer valuable insight to your student simply because you’ve been able to observe their interests across their life up to this point.

3. Map out pros and cons

Often times, students can benefit from simply talking through their thought processes and rationales for gravitating towards some majors more than others. You might even choose to take your student out to dinner and hold this conversation over a favorite meal. Bring a pad of paper and see if your student would be interested in making a short list of positives and negatives for each major they’re considering.

4. Remind your student that their major is their major

Encourage your student to share their interests and concerns with you and reiterate that you are proud of them no matter what major they settle upon. Make sure they know that their college major is their choice, not yours. Plenty of students go through college majoring in a subject their parents believe is a good source of prosperity and success, but if the student hates their major, they won’t have the passion and energy to pursue through the inevitable delayed gratification required by any course of study.

As advised in a piece by the Washington Post, “Pick a major that interests you, but allow it and external experiences to help shape, not dictate, your mission in life. While you should consider different majors, and you should keep your options open for a while, don’t think you can do anything you want. Talent and drive matter to success in most majors, of course. You can’t major in physics, after all, if you’re terrible at math.”

Most of all, encourage your student to major in whichever subject makes them most excited and energized. Our world is changing so rapidly that we can’t even predict the jobs of the future. The world needs college graduates who are passionate about their field, and as a parent, you are in a unique position to encourage your child to develop their own point of view as it relates to their academic and professional passions.

If your student is happy with their major, they will be well-positioned to seek out opportunities that will bring them prosperity, regardless of whether you believe the field is lucrative. The dynamic pace of today’s workforce means creative and technical jobs abound (and often intersect); the best way to help your child decide on a college major is to not obstruct their vision, but to help them realize and actualize their own aspirations.


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