Things to Consider Before Choosing a College (or Major)

stressed-studentThe month of May is the time of year when thousands of college graduates will receive their degrees and head into “the real world.” Studies have shown that most of these graduates will find work in fields that are not directly related to their undergraduate program of study.

This is information that those who are at the beginning of their undergraduate studies should pay close attention to when considering their choice of major.

While there has been much said (and written) about the process of choosing a major, this article is an attempt to simplify that process and put the focus on what should be the primary concerns of those who have yet to select a major, or enroll in college, by posing the following questions:

1. Is college right for you?
As simple (and to some, absurd) as this may sound, you should honestly – and carefully – evaluate whether college is right for you in terms of the investment of money, expenditure of time, and use of energy that it will inevitably cost.

I need to make one thing abundantly clear with this question: I’m not advocating not going to college. I’m advocating the analyzation of career options which may not entail a college education, or obtaining a college degree. Some may fair better attending a vocational school, obtaining a certificate in a niche area, or undergoing specific job related training. For example: Air traffic controllers make over $100,000 in some cities and their job does not require a college degree; but it does require extensive training.

Many of our nation’s top companies were started by those who did not have college degrees including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Founder of Dell Computers, Michael Dell, and entertainment moguls David Geffen and Sean “Diddy” Combs. All possessed uncanny skill, talent, and vision and were en route to millionaire/billionaire status by 19.

Do you have what they had: an idea or a belief in an idea? Extreme focus and discipline in developing your idea so that it can blossom into a real business opportunity? An opportunity that others would be willing to contribute to or pay to help develop? An opportunity that solves problems for consumers?

With modest financing, you too could be on your way to millionaire/billionaire status. And like those above, if you drop out of college and make your mark the way they did, the university that you briefly attend may give you an “honorary” degree.

2. Are you doing what YOU want? Or what someone wants you to do?
Every semester I hear my students say, “I’m here because my parents say I have to be.” Good college professors can always tell when that’s the case. Great college professors inspire students to find their own motivation and career paths. If you don’t choose a path that corresponds with your values, interests, and motivations, it’s very unlikely that you will succeed and/or find fulfillment in your vocational endeavors once you graduate.

3. Have you thoroughly researched your major?
Most students don’t. Most people put more thought and research into buying their first car or renting their first apartment. Researching your career means getting as much information on your career choice as possible including employment forecast, job prospectus, and salary range. In addition to getting real-life exposure to the industry and professionals that comprise it. Proper research should take 6 months to a year at the very least.

4. Do you know your core competency?
It’s estimated that most people will change careers four or five times over the course of their lives. Students who choose a major that speaks to their core competency (a deep proficiency that enables a person to deliver unique value to others), tend to be happier in the long term with their career choices. The best way to determine your core competency is to closely examine your passions, and closely match them against the professions which hold the strongest appeal to you.

5. What do you love enough to do for free?
This is perhaps the best question I pose to my students. Researchers say that the number one factor in developing expertise and prominence is purposeful engagement. That is found through having intense interest in something that your passions allow you to fully immerse yourself in. Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, and Michael Dell serve as shining examples. They took the motto “Do what you love” to heart and made a fortune. The money was the byproduct; not the goal.

Hopefully your choice of a college major will be contemplated with significance. After all, it’s not just your degree we are discussing, it’s your life.

Gian Fiero is a seasoned educator, speaker and consultant with a focus on business development and music/entertainment industry operations. He is affiliated with San Francisco State University as an adjunct professor and the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) where he conducts monthly workshops on topics such as career planning, public relations, and personal growth.

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2 thoughts on "Things to Consider Before Choosing a College (or Major)"

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  2. Wilson Hill says:

    Some very valid points raised by the author as far as searching for college degrees are concerned. Personally, I believe that you should pursue a career that you really and truly feel strongly about since that will guarantee longevity and fulfillment. If you are a whiz at computers, then computer degrees may be the best way forward for you. On the other hand, if you see yourself as a caregiver or a nurturer who feels passionate about helping others, healthcare degrees are more suited for you. Finally, people who see themselves as entrepreneurs or leading organizations should look to pursue business degrees for a rewarding career.

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