The secret of success is focus of purpose.” -Thomas Edison

Before you go to college, you should develop a profile of your interests, abilities, values, and desired work environment.  Based on that profile, you should absolutely choose a career path. Notice I did not say,”choose a job?” Too often, parents and educators tell students, “Teenagers are too young and inexperienced to be able to chose a career!”  But that is a major disservice to you and not exactly right. The following two examples demonstrate the difference between having a career direction and not having a career direction.

Scenario 1: A family decides they want to go on a much deserved vacation.  Both parents arrange to have two weeks off so they can travel with their three children.  They plan to leave the following day on a great, two-week vacation.  When they wake up, they pack their clothes that are in their closets and dressers, get into the car, and start to drive.  The problem is that they haven’t decided on where they are going to go!  So when they hit their first stop light, they have to decide, “right or left?”  They decide to go left and then as they approach their next stop light, the decided they wanted to go south.  Because their first left headed them North, they needed to make a U-turn.  Finally, they decided to head to Florida.  Well, as they headed to Florida, they realized that they didn’t know how long it would take, that they would need to stop twice, and that they needed more cash.  By the time they got to Florida, they had wasted hundreds of dollars and 3 days of their trip (which means they needed to spend 3 days getting back).  Once they got to the Florida State line, they decided to go to Siesta Key.  When they got there, it was spring break and there were no hotels.  They had to stay in a hotel, with no pool, 1 hour away from the beach.  Imagine their surprise when they opened their suitcases and they found their winter cloths they packed before they left.

Scenario 2: A family decides they want to go on a much deserved vacation.  Both parents arrange to have two weeks off so they can travel with their three children.  They are leaving the following day on a great, two-week vacation. They have been planning their trip for 3 months and decided to go to Siesta Key.  They knew it would take 3 days to drive for a total of six days and that they would likely spend their first day exhausted on the beach.  So, they decided to fly direct to Tampa and drive one hour south to Siesta Key.  They left at 6:00 a.m. and arrived at their condo on the beach, booked months in advance, by 12:00 noon!  The kids were very excited to wear their new swimming suits and the family was on the beach by 12:30 p.m.  It was going to be an awesome vacation!

So the difference is that in Scenario 2, the family had a destination and planned accordingly.  This pre-planning led to a very successful and fun vacation that maximized the length of time at the beach and minimized costs.  In Scenario 1, the family neither planned nor enjoyed their vacation which cost them 150% over what the family spent in Scenario 2 with less time at the beach.  What does this have to do with choosing your career path?

Students who have a career direction going into college:     

  • Graduate in 4 years and spend significantly less money than those students who don’t have a career path and take longer to “find their way” in college,
  • Graduate with higher grade point averages because they are in classes that connect to their futures,
  • Are more prepared for their careers because they choose extracurricular activities that align with their career path, and
  • Are often gainfully employed within months after graduation or even before they graduate.

Choosing a major:

  • It’s OKAY not to know the specific job you want as a high school student.  That’s NORMAL!  What you want to do is choose a career path so you have a future direction and a starting point.  For example, you may not know that you want to be a patent attorney in the medical devices field, bu, after some self-assessment you may find law a perfect path for you!
  • It’s not about picking the perfect job; it’s about picking the perfect career path.  Once you have a career path, you look at what majors will take you down your chosen career path.  Once you pick your major, follow the MyCollegeMax Career Readiness Scale which will help you pick the extracurricular activities that will maximize your career readiness and introduce you to a ton of jobs that match your chosen career path.

Some things to consider when choosing your major

When you choose your major, you should take many things into consideration:

  • Many people don’t feel comfortable making decisions that appear to impact the rest of their lives.  I say appear because most students feel that choosing a major will pigeon hole them into a particular career, regardless of whether or not they change their mind.  What you need to remember is that a major will provide you with skills that you will be able to use in many different jobs.  So while you should be thoughtful in choosing your major, employers will place greater emphasis on the activities that your MyCollegeMax Career Readiness Scale recommends.
  • When you go to college, you will likely find a very diverse group of people who share the campus with you.  Many of these people will be in your classes, dorms, gyms, and student clubs. Likewise, they will be in your major.  However, even though you have 200 people in your major, they may have 200 different career paths.  This places the emphasis on you and not your department to determine your own career path.
  • Most colleges and universities require students to apply to their department in their sophomore year.  Some students don’t get into their major and have to select a different one. Hopefully this won’t happen to you, but if it does, you will have to re-examine your choice and select the next best option.  Likewise, you may end up not liking your major.  This will require you to take another inventory of yourself and redefine your career goals.  Career counselors at your college’s Career Services can help you with this process.
  • Finally, you need to know if your field requires a master’s or other graduate degree. This should be factored into what college you choose! The best college should be the one you earn your graduate degree from. If you have to go into debt, the graduate degree is the one you would get the most return on! So “leave space in your wallet” to pay for graduate school, especially if you have to use loans. Use your Future Monthly Income Calculator to help you determine the total combined debt you can afford for both your undergraduate AND graduate degrees!

These different factors should put choosing your major into perspective.  Yes, it’s an important decision but it’s not the end of the world if you need to change majors.  You can change your mind and your career will not suffer.  The goal is to do your best to choose the major that is right for you and minimize the chance of you needing to change your major.

Amy Quinde is the owner and founder of Head & Heart International, a unique educational consulting & curriculum company with an overarching goal of preparing students successfully and authentically for their future.  They aim to enhance students’ social-emotional, life, & language skills through creative and purpose development endeavors with a cross-cultural emphasis.  In doing so, they strive to fill the many gaps left by our traditional education system.  Head & Heart International currently offers enrichment curriculum programming for K-12 schools as well as consulting services focused on career and college readiness for high school students and their families.