Picking a major requires some thought

As if high school juniors and seniors weren’t struggling with enough stress, here’s another item to add to the load:  choosing what to study in college. Few teens have the focus to know which specialty they want to spend the next four years working on.

And it’s not just high school students who find it hard to answer the question, “What’s your major?” College freshmen and sophomores are just as likely to be stumped. But it’s not because they lack interests, says executive coach Pamela A. Scott.

“The biggest challenge most kids have today is too many choices,” she said. “They can be overwhelmed by the options.”

The DeKalb-based Scott, who has a master’s degree in education and human development, offers one-on-one sessions with both high school and college students to help them sort through the deluge of information. But there are three steps students can take on their own to lay the groundwork for choosing a course of study.

“The first is to focus on the stuff you love,” Scott said. “What are you passionate about doing? That needs to be clearly defined. If social work or art is really what you’re in love with, and could do 24 hours a day without getting paid, then go there and you’ll be happy.”

In addition to zeroing on what they do like, students can narrow the focus by making an alternate list of what interests them least.

“If you can do that, it takes away a lot of the clutter and helps you look at things more realistically,” Scott said. “For instance, do you want to be outside? I spent 12 years working with engineers and found that there are some who want to be inside and a handful who want to be outside talking to people.

“Another young man I worked with was interested in forensic science because he wanted to make a lot of money, work alone and analyze data. That field gave him a work environment he’s comfortable with.”

The second step requires an honest evaluation of the skills a student has. That might range from the ability to solve detailed math problems to possessing highly effective writing skills.

Lastly, students should be frank about whether or not employers will hire someone with those skills.

“This is particularly an issue for nontraditional students,” Scott said. “They have an acute sense that they need to get paid, and they do need to support themselves. But at the same time, when you’re sweating through a tough class, it’s pretty hard to say, 'I’m doing this because I’ll be rich someday.’

“On the other hand, there are lots of things you can do with an art degree that don’t involve a paintbrush. There are ways to get paid even in those 'worst’ majors.”

Know what interests you

Nontraditional students, often those returning to school after an absence, may often be just as confused as recent high school graduates about what major or program of study to select.

“I think the kids who need help the most are those who have dropped out,” Scott said. “They often don’t have a clue, and the last thing you want to do is go back to school or start a program if you’re not really interested in that subject matter.”

If students have a clear sense of what interests them, selecting where to study is less of a problem, Scott explained.

“If you know what you’re passionate about, I don’t think the place makes a lot of difference,” she said. “What you want to study is more important than where you go to study it.”

Students can get started with individual coaches like Scott, or by taking advantage of career services at their schools. Information about careers is also available through the U.S. Department of Education.

For information about Scott’s programs, go to www.whats-your-major.com.

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