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Monday, December 3, 2012

Why forcing our kids to choose a major is important, even if they don't know what they want to do.

"College is a place for you to figure out who you are and what you want to do."

How many of us were handed this line when we were high school students?  It sounds nice doesn't it?  Put off any real decision about the future until later.  Our kids will have 4 years to try different classes and consider different careers before settling on the one that is going to make them happy. It is a lot to expect a 17 year old to know what they might want to be when they grow up.  They are still our babies after all.

This approach (experimenting) can get our kids halfway there if they enter college undeclared.  They won't be restricted by the curriculum of a specific subject and won't be limited to just a couple electives per semester.  They can experiment and challenge themselves with whatever course catches their fancy from Physics 101 to Art History.  As they toil along, doing whatever they feel like doing at the time, they may suddenly come across the course, or professor, or girlfriend that helps them decide to... declare!  If they have made this momentous discovery in their Freshman year then they will still have a good chance of finishing up in 4 years (having used up all electives in their first couple of semesters).  And if it takes longer and they are still finding themselves in year 2 or 3 well that is OK too, right?  Employers love it when grads take 5 or 6 years to graduate from a 4 year college.

The University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research found that people who earned bachelor’s degrees within four years saw, on average, higher wages than those who earned similar degrees within six years. - schools OF thought (CNN)
All sarcasm aside, let's consider how 2 students will approach the above mentioned Physics 101 class. Student #1 is a Mechanical Engineering major and knows that this class is important not only for his degree, but also for the knowledge he will gain to help him become a car designer with Ferrari after school.  Student #2 is taking the same class and is just checking it out as he has not declared a major yet and is still experimenting.  Which student is more likely to make it through the class without dropping out?  Which one will get the better grade (which will affect the undeclared student's GPA even if they take a different major)? Which one will learn more? Hard classes are... less hard (I can't bring myself to say "easy" for Physics) if our sons and daughters are motivated to learn the material and they can see how the subject matter is connected with their future.

Of the college bound grads in 2012, about 50% of them went away to college (NBC).  The other 50%, even though they are closer to home, are still not known for their willingness to listen to their parents when it comes to just about anything. Choosing a major for college carries with it many benefits.  I won't go into the list here as I do not plan on repeating the same thoughts from my article, College Part 1- Helping your child choose a degree.  However, one lesson from forcing our kids to choose a major early will carry with them regardless of where they go to school and what degree the eventually (hopefully) end up earning.  How to think critically about their future.  We need to take advantage of the 4 years of high school when our kids are living at home with us and they have limited options for escaping.  Get them to start thinking in terms of, "If I major in Art History then what will I do when I graduate?"  These mental exercises are habit forming and will stay with them.  There are some things that our kids will need to learn for themselves but career planning should not be one of them.