The “Major” Question Facing College Students

What do you want to be when you grow up? 

Ask this question to a class of first graders, and their eyes will light up as they respond with magical answers such as a firefighter, doctor, or a pilot. Ask this question to a class of seniors graduating high school or a group of college students, and the results will be very mixed. Some will immediately rattle off a long and elaborated plan, while others will blankly stare at you and shrug their shoulders.

Personally, I was in the shoulder shrugging category. Even though people reassured me that I had plenty of time to figure it out, it didn’t really feel like it. So I took a gamble and decided to just pick something. Well, by the end of my first semester, I was already filling out a change of major request form.

According to research reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 30 percent of college students change their major at least once, and about 1 in 10 change majors more than once. While I hated falling into this statistic, I had to learn that it was OK (a hard thing to do when you live in a culture that is so career-minded and always focused on the “next thing.”)

So why are 1/3 of college students struggling to pick a major? Well, I think it’s because so many of them are trying to pick what they want to do before they know who they are.

Instead of asking children “what do you want to be/or do when you grow up?”, we should be asking them “WHO do you want to be when you grow up?” I think the solution is to focus on creating the person before we box them into a future. So many college students I know walk around clueless—unsure of who they are and what they believe now that they are living on their own. They have never taken the time to think about any of those things because they have been go, go, go since day one. It results in a lot of people “trying to discover themselves.”

Maybe if we helped people discover who they are from day one, we would have fewer college students stressed about what they are going to do, and more people happy with the career they chose.

And if you are part of the 1/3 struggling to pick a major, while there isn’t a “quick fix,” here are a few things that helped me:

Surround yourself with community. Oftentimes, the people closest to you can see things in you that you can’t see in yourself. Listen to them.

Seek professional guidance. I stubbornly refused to go to the guidance counselor at my university for a long time. Finally, I caved and took their strengths interest inventory/career aptitude test, which helped me select my new major.

Try new things. College is a time of great change and growth. Growth is only possible when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. The more I do this, the more I learn about who I am. Some things you’ll hate and other things you’ll love, but you won’t know what those things are until you try.

Check out this other blog by Dr. Steranko about feeling confident in who you are:

Guest Blogger/Intern: Samantha Hunihan

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