Choosing a Major: 8 Common Mistakes

Did you know that 42% of people who pursue a 4 year degree do not graduate within 6 years, and 80% of students change their major (Horn, M. and Moesta, R., 2019)?  This increases the cost of college and delays their earning potential.  Below are 8 common mistakes that lead to these statistics.1. Picking a major and not a career.The number one mistake people make when choosing a college major is picking a major before they pick a career.  The importance of this mistake cannot be overstated.  This leads to many of the other problems that students face later on.  The first thing teens should do is to identify what they want to do in life – which jobs would be a good fit.  Then, they can research the best path toward accomplishing their career goals.  Picking a general field of study and then trying to figure out what they can do with that degree upon graduation can lead to delays and disappointments.2. Picking what is familiar.Another mistake students make when choosing a major is making a decision based only on what they already know. So many people pick a career based on the jobs they have been exposed to growing up.  If your parents were teachers or engineers, you will be much more likely to pick one of those career paths because they are familiar to you.  There are so many career fields out there, and it is likely that many students may never even have heard of some that they may enjoy most.  That’s why so many adults regret their career choice; they find out later about different options and realize that other careers may have been a better fit for them.3. Not seeing the bigger picture.Too many students (and parents) focus on just completing enough classes in high school to graduate rather than taking a step back and considering that the whole reason why they are doing all of that studying is to prepare for a successful, happy life.  It’s important to figure out what you want to do in life and then focus on the best path to get there instead of just pushing through all of the standard courses because that is what everyone else is doing.4. Just doing what they love.People assume that as long as they focus on what they like, they will be happy. There is much more involved with finding a fulfilling career than simply matching your interests.  There is a famous saying:  if you do what you love, you will never work day in your life.  Although there is some truth in this, every job has its downside; that’s why they pay you.  As Jeff Corwin, a TV biologist who gets to travel the world and explore amazing places, said:When I am exhausted from two days of travel, beat by sixteen hours of uninterrupted filming, or sick from an exotic bug that has set up camp in my lower intestine, I remind myself that I’ve got one of the neatest jobs in the world. – Jeff Corwin, zoologist and TV show host (Hestermann, 2015)Even really amazing jobs have their drawbacks.  Lights, a famous singer, once said, “It’s hard to escape when your hobby is your job.”  If your hobby is your career, then many times you have no way of escaping from your job and relaxing.  The very thing you used to do to relax is what you do all the time and there is now stress tied to it.  The fun diminishes when something you used to do by choice becomes an obligation.5. Believing that they already know what they are good at.As Business Guru Peter Drucker said, “Most people think they know what they are good at.  They are usually wrong…And yet, a person can perform only from strength.”Many times we do not realize what our true strengths are until later in life.  That’s one of the challenges with choosing a career path as a teen.  At that age, people just do not have the life experiences to really know what they are good at and truly enjoy.“People who use their strengths during work every day are six times more likely to be engaged at work and three times more likely to say they have an excellent quality of life”. (Rath, T. StrengthsFinder, 2007)“You are most likely to enjoy a job when the majority of what you do uses your main strengths and your favorite skills.”Christen, C.  (2015).  What Color Is Your Parachute?  For Teens (3rd ed.).  New York, New York:  Ten Speed PressIt is essential to find a career that utilizes your strengths because you will enjoy it more and get far greater satisfaction from your work.  Many of us struggle to accurately pinpoint our strengths, though, especially because we tend to take some of them for granted, assuming everybody is good at those things because they come easily to us.  It’s hard to truly evaluate ourselves.  Teens need help identifying what their strengths are before making a career choice because finding a good match will have a huge impact on their long-term career satisfaction.6. Not truly understanding the career before deciding.So many professionals we know, including doctors, lawyers, teachers, and engineers, have said, “I really wish I would have known… about my career before I chose it. I may not have chosen this career.”  No job will be perfect, but often people have an idea of what a career is like when they choose it which may not be founded on facts and real experiences.  That is why it is so important to understand what the career is really like before committing to it.  While it is certainly possible to change careers later, it definitely isn’t easy.7. Choosing a major without knowing what career options it opens up.Many people just pick a major because it sounds interesting or it’s familiar, without understanding what kind of jobs that degree prepares them for until they graduate and submit applications. There are countless stories (just read reddit) of other students picking a major and then graduating just to realize after college they either cannot get a job with the degree they have OR they do not want the jobs that are available to them with that degree OR that the jobs that are available with that degree do not pay enough to offset the debt they have accumulated.  We know a student who majored in music and could play 3 instruments very well.  He graduated from a small college with a great music program only to get a job driving school buses.  He loves his job but he is finding it difficult to pay back the student debt for a degree he didn’t really need to for the career he ended up in.8. Choosing a college first.Many homeschool students have dreams of attending a specific college. This may be because this is a college they have grown up hearing about or maybe it’s where a friend or family member attended.  They set their goals on attending that school and then just pick a major from the list provided.  I recently heard a bright homeschool girl say that she got accepted into her dream school but didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do. She sat down with an academic advisor and they decided that she should pursue a business degree since that seemed to be the best fit among the college’s offererings.  However, this young lady also said she really loved organizing things, filing, tracking data, and doing math.  While some jobs that can be obtained with a business degree may utilize these strengths, a better fit for her probably would have been accounting, which leads to a different set of career opportunities.  Remember, academic advisors are in a position to help students find a program of study only within the offerings of their own universities, and may not be aware of other possibilities that could be better for the students’ futures.Avoid mistakes. Plan well.Homeschool 4 Real Life's career exploration and planning resources can help your teen prepare for a great future. The self-paced video lessons explain important aspects of career satisfaction. On-line tools identify personal interests, strengths, and preferences. The searchable database helps students learn more about careers and determine which ones would be a good fit. Short videos and in-depth interviews enable teens to understand what it would really be like to do various careers on a daily basis. Give your teen an edge. Prepare for the future with Homeschool 4 Real Life. Click here to learn more.

5 Ways to Get More Scholarship Money

You’ve heard parents say their kids all got scholarships, and you wonder, “Wow, are all of their kids just amazing, or do they know some sort of magic formula for college admission and scholarship awards?”  Here’s some good news:  your homeschooler will probably get a scholarship, too.  But it may not be exactly what you’re expecting…Scholarships are awesome; they’re essentially free money.  Who doesn’t want free money, right?  The full ride scholarship (covering the full cost of college) is everyone’s dream. Because college is so expensive, getting the entire education paid for is truly an amazing gift. The Chances of Getting a Full RideUnfortunately, the chance of getting a full ride is extremely small.  Unless your child is incredibly gifted athletically or within the top 1% academically, he or she will probably not get a full ride scholarship.  There are 80,000 valedictorians and salutatorians each year.  Thousands of students get perfect scores on the ACT and SAT, and hundreds of thousands earn a perfect 4.0 GPA (due to over inflated GPAs) [Washington Post]. In fact, only  0.1% of students (1 in 1000) get an academic full ride scholarship [prepscholar].  As for athletics, even if your child is the best athlete in the city and does receive a scholarship, many only cover a portion of the cost of college (unless your teen plays one of the mainstream sports like football or basketball) [Washington Post].  Bottom line:  it’s very difficult to get a full ride scholarship.  So most likely, those other parents who told you their kids got scholarships were not talking about full ride scholarships.The Good News About ScholarshipsBut take heart!  Don’t give up yet.  The rest of the stats are actually quite positive!  In fact, 82% of students receive some form of free financial aid (money you do not have to repay – usually grants or scholarships) according to market research done by Sallie Mae [“How Americans Pay for College, 2019”].  That means your child is more likely to get a scholarship than not (free money!).  So, while those other parents should absolutely be proud of their children, they should not make it seem like they have accomplished something that you can’t attain. There is no secret formula to getting tons of scholarship money.  In the end, colleges and universities are businesses; like all businesses, they have operating expenses they must cover.  Therefore, they cannot afford to give all students a free education.  In fact, all colleges expect that the primary responsibility to pay for college falls on the student and parents [Springer, Rieder, & Vining Morgan, (2017).  Admission Matters (4th ed.).  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass]. An average of 43% of college costs are covered by either the parents’ or student’s income and savings.  Approximately 31% of the cost is covered by free financial aid and the other 26% is covered by loans (either parents or students) [SallieMae]. More Good News About ScholarshipsThe encouraging news here is that roughly a third of the cost is covered by free money!  So, with an average kid (by definition, most of them are), you can expect to get about one third of college for free.  There’s a really good chance you’ll be one of those parents telling people that your kid got a scholarship.Now let’s talk details.  There are different forms of free money.  Grants are usually free money given by the federal government based on the families’ need.  Filling out the FAFSA is the first step toward getting need-based money.  You can get an idea of how much you might receive by clicking the “Estimate Your Aid” button and using the FAFSA4caster tool. are usually given out by the universities, state, or local communities and businesses.  These are given based on merit (because of academics, special interests, leadership etc.).  This is where hard work pays off.  Five Ways Your Teen Can Get More Scholarship Money1.  Apply to as many scholarships as possible.  It’s simply a numbers game. 2.  Perform as well as possible in school, getting the highest grades possible.3.   Take as many higher level classes as possible.3.  Show leadership skills by being active in community service activities, team sports, etc. 4.  Get great letters of recommendation from coaches, pastors, and especially from those who know your child as an academic student.5.  Finally, your child should apply to schools where will he/she will be in the top 25% of the incoming class (in addition to your child’s dream school, if that’s different). Finding ScholarshipsAn incredible variety of scholarships are available, ranging from those for duck calling [], being  vegan, being tall, being a rural student, to those for being left handed [] and many, many more. There are even scholarships specifically for homeschool students []. Free websites can be very helpful in finding scholarships for which your teen may be eligible (some listed below).  You should never have to pay for help finding scholarships.  If you are, then it’s probably a scam.  There IS NO SECRET METHOD to getting a scholarship. The Reality of DebtThe fact of the matter is, even with a partial scholarship, time is still money.   More and more students are taking longer to finish their 4-year degrees.  Families planning to pay for 4 years can end up with 50% more debt than expected when it stretches to 6 years - as it does for 59% of students [National Center for Education Statistics].  Why are they taking so long to finish their undergraduate degrees?  One major reason is that 80% of students change their major at least once [Local News 8].  These changes can mean that classes they have already taken no longer count toward their major, and additional classes are required.  So even though the majority of students are receiving some scholarship money, the student debt still adds up.  The average student debt for graduates in 2020 is close to $30,000 [My Credit Summit]. What’s really disappointing is that once they graduate and enter the workforce, only 13% of people are truly engaged at work, enjoying what they do.  Most are disappointed, stuck in career fields they don’t enjoy [Gallup].  Then, they spend their careers moving from job to job, trying to find something that motivates and inspires them, something they can feel good about doing. The problem is, they still have no idea what that might be. The SolutionThe best way to minimize college debt and maximize career satisfaction is to have a clear, well vetted career plan before you start paying for college classes.  The best thing your teen can do is spend time now to identify personal interests, strengths, and talents as well as what type of career field will fit them.  This will pay huge dividends down the road as they will spend less time in college and have higher career satisfaction later.  Choosing a college and planning how you will pay for it is important, but your teen’s first priority should be figuring out which career path will be a great fit.  Many students head off to college thinking they have it all figured out, only to find out that their chosen path is not what they expected.  This leads to regret - either while in college, or after they get a degree and enter the workforce.  Don’t assume that because many teens “know” what they want to do in the future, they are immune to changing their minds later.  The more time teens invest into figuring out which careers will be a good fit, the more satisfied they will be with their choices. We created the career exploration resources at Homeschool 4 Real Life to help your teen figure this out before they start paying for college.  In addition to helping your teen choose a career, we provide details about choosing a college and applying to college.  We also outline many different methods of paying for college.  Whether your teen is just starting to look into careers or has been thinking about it for a while, the career exploration course at will give them an edge in planning for a great future.  Come join us; we can’t wait to meet you!Websites where you can begin searching hundreds of scholarships:Scholarship.comCollegescholarships.orgScholarships for homeschool students

what you need to know about applying to college

Applying to college: How you can stand out!

The college admission process can seem intimidating, and sometimes it’s impossible to figure out why some students are accepted while others are denied.  The truth is, you can be an amazing student with impressive achievements and a long list of activities and still not be admitted to many universities.  There are some things you need to be aware of when applying to college. During the development of our career exploration course, we talked with a college admissions officer to learn more about the process and to find out how homeschooled students can maximize their chances of acceptance.   Read on to find out how to make your college application stand out.One of the major points that he wanted us to understand is that admissions officers are responsible for crafting a class.  Their task is not simply to admit the “best” students as defined by a set of criteria, but to choose the right mix of people who will contribute to the university in desired ways.  Students applying to college are evaluated not only on the basis of their individual merit, but by how they fit into the mix of students who applied that year. Of course, looking the best you can on paper is a good idea, but don’t be insulted if you aren’t accepted to some of the places where you apply.  A rejection letter is not proof that you are any less awesome than you had previously believed, just that you didn’t fit the profile that the university was looking for at that time.So how can you predict what colleges are looking for and make sure you write your application to match that?  You can’t.  Instead, your goal when applying to college should be to show them the best version of yourself that you can.  This is done in three ways.  First, you have to be the best version of yourself that you can.  Then, you need to write well and include the things that make you awesome in your application essays.  Finally, you must provide ways for the universities to see you stand out among other students.  Let’s take a closer look at each of these.Be the best version of yourself.This means working hard through high school.  Challenge yourself academically.   Get involved in activities that interest you and try to make sure that some of them are aligned with college majors that you’re considering.  Take on leadership roles.  Serve your community.  Do something unique, that most of their applicants probably haven’t done.  This is where homeschooled students have an advantage.  With more flexibility in your schedule, you can volunteer or intern while other students are in school.  You can do an in-depth exploration of a topic that interests you.  Just make sure to complete basic high school curriculum requirements as well.Rock your essays.When filling out your college applications, the essay portion is your chance to shine.  Use this to let them know more about who you are, what makes you exceptional, and what you can contribute to their university.  Admissions officers read a lot of essays.  A LOT.  This essay cannot tell them that you love math and work hard on your assignments and enjoy orchestra.  They will never remember you.  Tell a compelling story that highlights important aspects of your character and personality.  It should be unique, so that people who know you would recognize you in the story, or be reminded of you, even if it was anonymous.  Show your value.This last point requires some extra consideration for homeschooled students.  Though grades, test scores, and statistics are not enough to get you in, they are very important.  These measures are how admissions officers compare students with their peers.  Students who attend schools are compared to the rest of their class.  Homeschooled students must take care to provide ways for admissions officers to get unbiased data on their performance.  The best way to do this is to take the SAT or ACT.  If those are not a good option for you, then you could take some graded courses, perhaps at a local college.  If a parent has been your main teacher, you should absolutely include mom’s or dad’s letter of recommendation.  However, you should also provide at least one other letter from someone who can speak about your academic abilities (for example, from the instructor of that community college course you took).  When applying to college, it's important to keep your audience in mind. Admissions officers work hard reviewing all of the applications they receive, so do your best to make yours clear, interesting, and impressive.  Look for opportunities to excel academically, pursue your interests, serve your community, and develop leadership skills.  Apply to more than one school that you would be happy to attend, and try not to take it personally if not all of them say yes.  Find out more at us in the H4RL Career Exploration Course to find out more about applying to college and planning your future.  You know you’re awesome – we’ll help you prove it!

Career Exploration – why we created the course

“Man, I wish I had known how much reading was involved with being a lawyer before I became one.” This was a comment coming from my good friend who had become a lawyer several years earlier. He is an excellent lawyer; he is smart, has a good mind for understanding facts and is good at making his point. He is one of those people who likes to argue either side of an issue regardless of which one you take.This sentiment had become all too familiar to me over the years. I have had the good fortune of working in many different job fields in my life and the privilege of working with a lot of different people. In every field in which I have worked, I have run into people who have regrets about the career they have chosen. I, too, have been somewhat disappointed by my choice in career field. I am an engineer, and I work at a good company where I have the opportunity to invent and design things for a wide range of clients. I have a lot of variety and challenges in my job which makes it enjoyable. However, there are a lot of aspects of my job that really make me question my choice in becoming an engineer.I often reflect on the path that brought me to this point in life. When I was in school, I was good at math and science. I did not really enjoy math, but I was good at it. I generally liked science, especially physics (I wasn’t as fond of chemistry). During my first couple years of college, I bounced around in the world of the undecided, struggling to choose a major. I liked a lot of different things. I thought about becoming a physicist, cardiologist, child psychologist, veterinarian, film director, FBI agent and many more. What is missing from this list? An engineer! I never thought of becoming an engineer because I didn’t really know what one was or what one did. No one in my family was an engineer; I didn’t really know anyone in that field. So how did I become an engineer, you might ask? Well, before my third year of school, I had to choose a major. I talked with my dad about it, and told him I was considering going into physics. He suggested being a mechanical engineer instead because it’s a related field but engineers make more money. So, I decided to become a mechanical engineer. The interesting thing is, that advice was not exactly true; some physicists can make more than mechanical engineers. Still, that is why I became an engineer…because my dad suggested it.In fact, that is very similar to many people’s stories. They pick a career based on the jobs they know about or because someone they know can get them started or because someone makes a suggestion and any direction feels better than no direction or, sometimes, just because they have run out of time and have to pick a major. That is not the right way to choose something you’ll be spending 70,000 to 110,000 hours of your life doing. Usually after people choose a career, they get a college degree (or some other training) and then they work that occupation for a while until they realize what it is really like to work that job day in and day out. Eventually, they begin to wonder if it was a good choice, and as they learn about other careers as they go through life they begin to realize there may have been better options for them. I have listened to many co-workers and friends lament their career decisions, and I started thinking that there had to be a better way of doing this, a more informed way to choose a career. As I was reading my Bible, I came across Eccl. 2:24 where Solomon wrote, “ Nothing is better for man than to… enjoy his work. I have also seen that this is from the hand of God.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. God wants us to enjoy our work. He has created us to work but we all keep missing the mark.So Jill and I set off to research what factors make for a successful, satisfying career. We wanted to provide a resource for families, especially homeschool families, to help them navigate the career decisions teenagers face. You may be wondering what qualifies a teacher and an engineer make a career exploration course. We are not guidance counselors, but we have done a lot of reading and research in this area. One thing I learned from my father was that if you are going to do something, you should make sure you do your best and do it right. My own personal experience with my high school guidance counselor was less than helpful. When I asked her for help finding a scholarship, she simply pointed me to a large book on a table outside her office to look through. When I asked about careers, she really had no clue what many jobs really are like. She was only able to offer the basic information found in the one-page summaries of career exploration books. I have realized that guidance counselors spend most of their time helping at risk students work through emotional issues and challenging life situations, as well as assisting all students with planning four years of course schedules. They don’t have much time to devote to helping individual students identify a good path for their futures. They really do not know what it is like to work in various careers. No one truly does unless they have done those jobs. A guidance counselor can do a great job explaining what a guidance counselor does, but cannot provide a complete, realistic understanding of what a mechanical engineer does and what it is like to be in that career. When I read the boiler plate description of what a mechanical engineer does, I laugh because that is not at all what my day to day job is like.That is why this course has been developed by talking to professionals in the field who have experience working the jobs and can explain the good and bad of the careers, what they would have done differently, and the best path of entry into the field. We also did a lot of research. We read a ton of books to find out what methodologies are used to help find career success. Part of my job where I work is to develop new technologies, systems, and machines. I am used to doing in depth research to figure out what has been done before and why it did or did not work, and then modifying these concepts to meet my clients’ needs. I applied these same skills to this effort. This course utilizes scientifically proven methods to help align people with careers that meet not just their strengths and interests but a whole host of other criteria that go into finding a satisfying career. We developed a database with hundreds of jobs ranging in education levels, pay scales, interests, skills, work values and much more so teens can explore these ideas. We then developed a detailed path to help your teen navigate the unknown. We employed techniques used in engineering design processes to navigate through the hurdles of deciding on difficult options or finding your way through a maze of conflicting requirements. Developing a new product is a very fluid process; as you go through the design cycle you start down one path and then you hit a road block or a dead end and you have to learn to pivot and back track. It requires being comfortable in the unknown while having a systematic way of navigating through obstacles and setbacks. As I learned more about career exploration, I realized how similar trying to find yourself and what you are good at is to the design process. So we adapted some of the tools we use in the design process to the career exploration process in order to give teens a solid and objective way to explore careers and chart a clear course. Some of these tools require sophisticated calculations (as all engineering tools do), but don’t worry! It’s all automated for your teen; by simply answering questions and making choices based on their own personal preferences, your child can see the results of weighted calculations done behind the scenes to make smart recommendations.I was so excited when these different steps came together into a full course that I am confident will help homeschoolers make an effective plan for a great future. One thing I really do enjoy about engineering is solving problems and developing new products. It’s pretty awesome after completing the long engineering process to stand back and see something I have designed and built doing what it is meant to do. I love the look of satisfaction on a client’s face when I can deliver something they only dreamed of that I have helped to make a reality. I am excited about this course because in many ways it is very similar. I can envision homeschooled teens and their families confidently approaching the future with enthusiasm because they know they have a solid career plan in place and they have a plan to make it happen, thanks to this course.A unique aspect of this course is the video series. We didn’t want to just make tools without explaining why each step is important and the details that comprise each major category teens need to consider. The video course walks students through all of the steps that our research has revealed to be essential to good career planning. We explain why it’s important to think about multiple aspects of a career because they all affect long-term happiness. We understand that the goal of career planning is to help your child to have a happy life. But there are a lot of factors that affect happiness. Three main reasons that so many people regret their career choices later on are 1) they realize the career is not what they expected; 2) they can’t have the life style they want with the money they make; 3) they find something else that interests them more and wish they would have done that. The unfortunate truth is that by that point in their lives they are already saddled with college debt or busy with a job and a family which makes it hard to make a career change. In response to that, we developed this course and set of tools to pull that information and life experience forward, allowing your teen to explore a lot of different jobs easily from home at their own pace and on their own schedule. Since teens typically do not have much experience with the cost of housing, entertainment, insurance, etc., we also wanted to educate teens on the reality of balancing lifestyles with salaries. You can choose any career as long as you are able to match your lifestyle to that income. However, if your lifestyle exceeds your salary, then things get very stressful. We have found that if someone understands why it is important to do something, they are much more likely put forth the effort required to do it well. That’s why we educate teens about the importance of thorough career exploration and planning and then walk them through the process. It’s a proven process very similar to what most career planning courses present with additional tools we have developed to personalize and organize the process as well as to provide help when students face tough choices or feel uncertain.Jill and I began this project so we could share not only our experiences but those of others so that teens could make a more informed career choice that they wouldn’t regret later on. A bonus for us is that through this process we have discovered that we love talking to people about their careers and we learn new things from each person we interview. We are fortunate to know people in a lot of different occupations, and we use our contacts to bring those stories and information to you and your family. People love talking about what they do, and I am amazed by the intricacies of every job and how everybody finds a way to make difference in the lives of others through their career. We have found that in many cases, this is what people love about their jobs – feeling that they are making a difference and have been able to help someone.As an engineer, by my very nature I want something to be practical and useful. We are excited about this career course and about the entire website because we expect it to be very helpful and make a positive impact in the lives of many homeschool families. We look forward to adding more careers and interviews in the future. It is our hope that as a result of this course, more people will enjoy their work as God intended, and will be saying “Wow, I’m so glad I knew … when I chose my career.”