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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back to College: A "Major" Decision

Continuing with my Back to College series, I decided to write this "little" essay on choice of major. This is a subject that my husband and I have discussed a lot with each other and with professors. And because it's such an important topic for students, I wanted to share this with you just as a little food for thought:


(artwork credit - Trina Clark Designs - www.digiscrapkits.com)


To begin, I want to say that while it is important to pick a major fairly early in order to take the proper courses and and prevent yourself from taking extra courses that you do not need for your degree, students should not feel pressured to pick a major before they begin classes. It's perfectly okay to spend a semester or two taking the core courses that count for just about any major without focusing on a major. During this time you can access your experience and decide what your real interests are. I actually started as a secondary education major (specializing in English) but during my first semester, I had the privilege of taking a history course under an extraordinary professor, who really took my interest in history to a whole new level, and for a while I thought about taking the proper courses to teach both. Then upon transferring to a new college for my junior year, I decided to drop the education major all together and get a straight BA degree in history and English both, so that I could focus on the subjects I love rather than focusing on methods and other things that have nothing to do with the subjects at hand.

I've had a few visitors to my blog who tell me they were English majors too, and I'd bet that all of them got the same questions I got: "What are you going to do with your degree? Are you going to teach?" First of all, teaching is not the only job that you can get with a history or English degree. In fact, you can get a great paying job in any business as long as you have a degree, regardless of the major. Obviously you can't be a chemical engineer or lawyer, etc without the proper degree, but there are a lot of other options. A friend of mine who is a supervisor for 2 departments at a chemical plant actually majored in elementary ed. Another friend of mine is a manager for the research and development department at a major defense contractor, and he majored in journalism. And my husband is currently applying for positions that have nothing to do with his degree.

Again, while it may be prudent to have some level of knowledge or experience in a particular field in order to obtain a position, just having a degree tells an employer that you are educated and that you're able to take on a big project and see it through. And often your degree may be more relevant to the job you're seeking than you think. (Ex: A history degree helps you develop research and writing skills. A biology degree gives you research and lab skills. A psychology degree would help you to understand people and help to analyze and solve problems.)

Employers want workers with good written and oral communication skills. They want problem solvers and critical thinkers. They want workers who can get along with other people, who learn fast, and can teach/train others. And you can use just about any degree as evidence that you've developed these valuable aptitudes.

As far as deciding on a major, I would advise that you (or you child) choose to study something that you (they) really love (regardless of the availability of jobs in that field or the money that can/can't be made). If you really want to be a nurse or a teacher, these are admirable professions that provide steady work, income, and benefits, but it also takes a certain kind of person to do these jobs, and if you're heart isn't in it, than you will either leave the job after a couple of years or stay in it for security reasons and possibly be miserable. The same can be said for higher paying professions like doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers.

The fact is that college (higher education) evolved out of the ancient teaching of philosophy (meaning love of knowledge), and it began as a way to help students develop thinking and reasoning skills. It taught them to ask questions and ponder about the world they live in, in order to gain a better understanding of themselves and humanity. Unfortunately this no longer emphasized. We have become a more money driven society, and as a result of this, the purpose and intent of a college education has transformed into a means of getting a high paying job, rather than as a means of gaining knowledge and understanding about the world, helping humanity, and learning how to think.

Obviously we all have to make a living for ourselves and our family, and today the best way of doing this is by pursuing a degree or a technical certification of some sort, and I applaud anybody and everybody who attempts and succeeds at doing this. But for my post today, I'd like to encourage people who are in college (or those who are sending their kids to college) to keep in mind that young students have an entire life ahead of them. And whether you spend your life in front of a classroom, behind a desk, or at construction site or plant, it would be wonderful if more students spent their 2, 4, or 6 years (or more) of college learning something more than a trade, that is, finding something that their interested in and learning more about it, whether that means actually majoring in art, psychology, creative writing, etc. or simply taking a few classes in a subject of interest. A good education lasts a life time and is worth its weight in gold no matter what you "do" with it.





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