When it comes to choosing a major, college students feel the pressure

Apr 4, 2013

Deciding on a career path is difficult, especially for college students who haven’t yet declared a major. Western New England University’s Leighann Camarero reports on some tips that can help students allay their worries.

As children progress through the many stages of life, they’re often asked the age-old question, what do you want to be when you grow up? For most, answers change over time, while others continuously struggle to figure out what it is they want to do. Guidance Counselor at Derby High School in Derby, Conn., Jennifer Dunnuck, believes it’s never too early for kids to begin thinking of their careers. In fact, she encourages it.

“Some people might think that thinking about it as early as elementary or middle school is silly, but it’s not," she said. "You can start to do things at that young of an age to find out if these are things you are really interested in.”

As Dunnuck explains, there’s a wide range of opportunities available to middle school students that will help them spark interests and figure out what they like to do in high school and eventually college.

“Things as simple as getting involved in activities outside, starting to volunteer, getting prepared when you go into high school taking different classes to find out if those classes teach you about things or make you more interested in a certain subject.”

Career Counselor at Western New England University, Andrea St. James, sees those opportunities gained from outside activities as an important foundation to deciding what career someone will pursue.

“It really comes down to examining what they’re good at, what they like to do, what are their strengths. Umm, then we can start to say and start to think about, umm, where would they best be utilized.”

Another factor impacting a student’s ability to choose a major that hopefully leads to a fulfilling career is the pressure to do so from society, peers, and often their parents. Again, high school counselor Jennifer Dunnuck.

“I think because there’s the pressure of when you apply to college to put a degree or something that you’re going to go into, a major down, and I think parents rightfully so are concerned that if their student goes in undecided, are they going to take longer to get out of college, is it another year, a fifth year, or a sixth year, that I’m potentially going to have to be paying for while I’m waiting for my student to decide exactly what it is that they want to do.”

Career Counselor St. James says it’s best to determine a career path early, if possible. She advises students to use their interest level as a guide. In her advising sessions, she helps students determine what they feel passionate about.

“What I encourage students to do is not to shy away from it, but to approach it head on. To communicate specifically with your family members umm that this is what I’m doing to help explore my options, to see what’s out there, to find that passion, to find that direction.”

As much as parents and peers may want to help guide students into what they think is the right direction, Dunnuck says sometimes giving them a little space is equally beneficial.

“If parents can give kids the opportunity to be outrageous and work their way backwards, umm, trying to figure it out, and give them some space to figure it out, they will. And they’ll figure out in a way in which they will be much more happy in their career versus something they’d get pushed into.”

When students reach the stage of applying to college, if they don’t have a specific major in mind the counselors, like Dunnuck, say it’s OK to go undeclared until specific interests for a field of study has been determined.

“It’s OK. Don’t think that everybody that went into college with a declared major has it all figured out because we all know as counselors that the average student changes their major two to three times while in college. So even though you might have gone in thinking you have it all figured out doesn’t necessarily mean that you will.”

Attending college provides more opportunities to explore interests and options, but higher education isn’t always right for everyone. Their advice for young people? Try to determine your passions and interest early on, and let that be the guide for your career.