The Second Year of College and Selecting a Major

Published by Wendy Nelson on

This past week, we took our oldest daughter back for her second year of college.  It was a good drop off.  I was glad to have the first year separation over and done as the second year drop off was much easier emotionally.  We had survived one year apart, we were ready to do it again.  It did scare me that after this year, there are only two more years (potentially) before she is out of school and off on her own.  It’s hard to imagine her living and working on her own.  I can’t picture what she will be doing, mostly because she has no idea what she wants to do.

Our daughter has not decided what to study yet and she is very stressed out about this as she starts her second year of college.  As with most schools, her college requires her to declare a major by the end of her sophomore year.  She is worried that she won’t pick a major that will lead her into a good career field – one that pays well and is also something she enjoys.

I read an interesting article this week that questions the value of a student’s field of study, grades, and school selection for potential employers, The Thing Employers Look For When Hiring Recent Graduates.  According to the article, even the college major takes a backseat to internships and employment during college.  Unfortunately, that will be of little comfort to a student like my daughter who is looking for a “sign” to point her to the right field of study.  She has great aptitude and interest in Art History, but is worried that this will not lead her to a successful career.

So what advice do you give to a kid who is afraid of selecting a major and making the wrong choice?

According to Carmen Varejcka-McGee, an academic adviser at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, in a US News article, “”The tough idea for students today to grasp is that they can choose to study something that they are passionate about, an academic area that they love, without knowing what vocational path that might lead to.”   She also says, “Many students get stuck on the idea that they have to have a clear vocational goal in order to choose a major.”

I think this is the key point to get across to your child.  Many of the jobs of the future don’t even exist today.  Just because a field they are interested in doesn’t look like it will result in a “dream job” doesn’t mean there isn’t one just waiting to be invented.  It is often about combining the right mix of skills and experience into something someone never would have thought of doing.  Or it’s about using your skills and experience in a position where it wasn’t obvious these skills would even apply.

The best advice you can give the child struggling with selecting a major includes the following:

  • Major in something you really enjoy
  • Don’t worry about how much money you will make
  • Apply for internships early in your college career
  • Meet with professors who teach a class you really love to get their thoughts
  • Go for supplementary areas that will give you a well-rounded skill base (second majors and/or minors)
  • Get a job during college that will also round out your base of skills (especially “soft skills“)
  • Look for other opportunities that will help shape your future – off-campus/study abroad programs, volunteering, summer jobs, on campus leadership, etc.

I am confident that the classes my daughter is taking this year will help her in her final decision.  She is taking classes with two professors she really clicked with last year and they sounded more than willing to help her mold her course of study.  Selecting a college major isn’t the only key to your student’s future.  It’s really important to look for opportunities to build a great skill base that goes beyond just the major field of study.