You’ve just completed what seemed like a daunting four years of schooling, decked out in a graduation gown with flowers in both hands, and garlands of all sorts draped around your neck. Before you head home for a more intimate gathering, you’ll snap hundreds of photos with friends and family, and maybe even later on in the week have a grad party. In another four or five years, you’ll walk off a stage again with your name called out, but without all the rowdiness and hollering, just because of how big the school you’re at will be. At that point, you may decide that’s enough schooling in one lifetime, or even postpone it for later, but when you set foot onto the other side, life awaits, and it’s up to you decide what’s beyond the door. With the word college comes another word major; the aspiring college freshman knows maybe a few and the third year undeclared has gone through the list three times and counting. Thankfully for you, here are five points to think about in choosing your major.
1. Plan In Advance
Understand what you want to do after college before you actually get there. This means, if you’re already graduated from high school, take the summer to educate yourself on the major you’ve picked, or explore other opportunities. If you’re pursuing a definitive major such as Engineering, Science, or Business, one you need to find out what you’re getting into, for the workload can be strenuous if you’re not organized. Two, is this something you want to do for the rest of your life? Think about it, you’re sacrificing eight hours or more of your life, five days a week, sometimes weekends, and it’s up to you to figure out the motivation behind your career that will require you to miss spending time with your kids on certain days. Are you passionate about medicine, ambitious to grow a business, or maybe want to go in a completely different direction? These are questions that need to be addressed early, and the answers are usually found in your personal experiences from childhood. Figure out what makes you happy and ask yourself what it is that will make you work for a third of your day every day. There are a bunch of free resources such as volunteering at clinics, taking art classes, attending conferences, and more, just make sure to be proactive about it. It’s your life, seize it.
2. Take Advantage of Junior Colleges
A couple of years ago, California community colleges had TAG, transfer agreement guarantee, programs with UC Berkeley and Los Angeles for students who maintained a 3.5 grade point average. While the community college system isn’t as forgiving as it was before, with schools only allowing students one TAG, it’s still a great place to figure out your future plans with a much feasible tuition. The great thing about community college is it’s a two or three year contingency plan for students who may have not performed as well in high school or got passed up on their school of choice. You can afford to make a couple of mistakes, in terms of testing the waters with different majors, and while it’s not advised, if you do fail a class, credit recovery is always an option. There’s no shame in attending a community college, and while it may seem miserable at times feeling like it’s high school all over again and your friends are living the college life, stay patient with the goal in mind. This is your chance to find yourself at a very low-cost and mellowed out environment. You will come out of this stronger as opposed to someone following this strategy at a university.
3. Short term and Long Term Goals
Know your goals. If you’re expecting 60,000 out of college and you’re not majoring in a highly technical or quantitative field, get out of your fantasy land. Today’s job market is tech and financially oriented. That’s not to say English, History, or Political Science majors can’t or won’t be as rich as their engineering counterparts, it’ll just take longer. Many companies in tech and financial services have a host of jobs in communications, marketing, content production that require skills taught in liberal art studies, but the competition is rigorous and making really good money takes a lot of climbing and struggling. However, skills like writing, critical thinking, and problem solving are still just as valued as coding. Take for instance the New York Times or Bloomberg who pay very well, but these jobs are not for everyone and require a great deal of hard work and persistence. Money will be there, but decide when you want it.
4. Have Thick Skin
You’ll find your college experience will at times be more than just an individual experience but a group one as well. As you advance through the ladder from freshman to senior, many of your decisions will be commented on by your family, friends, and mentors. You may even find yourself continuing down a road where you’re the only one walking on, and that’s okay. Remember, not everyone’s cut out to be a doctor or engineer, and it’s not that you’re not competent or capable enough but you’d just make a better something else in a different job. Don’t allow majority rule to sway you from your decision, but more importantly don’t let yourself get out of what you started. On the flipside, if you really want to be a doctor, and made up your mind after staying up all night researching, then don’t let that organic chemistry or physics class put you down. Yes, it’s tough, but you have to keep the light at the end of the tunnel in focus. Stick with it even through bad grades, and it will pay off.
5. Ignore 1-4. Don’t fret, and get good with people.
Relax, feel free the break the rules once in a while. You’re going to mess up, you’re going to not follow everything on the list, and even if you do follow this to the T, you still might not be employed and wonder where you went wrong. The cool thing is, people are always changing careers and finding themselves late in life. The great point guard of the Celtics, Bob Cousy, was pumping gas before he lead Boston to multiple championships, and Jon Hamm, the star actor of the hit series Mad Men, was a waiter after being dropped by an acting agency. If there’s one thing you should do, it’s getting good with people. People are the ones who are going to hire you, people are the ones who you’re going to work with, and people will be the ones to fire you. Find a way to do two of those, and you’re gold.