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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 Press

It 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.

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