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As students step out of high school and into the vast world of higher education, selecting a major often becomes a pivotal decision influenced by passion, skills, or sometimes even serendipity. For many, this choice determines their future careers and life paths. But how do they decide which route to choose?
- Many students select majors based on what they genuinely enjoyed in high school, ranging from STEM subjects to arts and humanities.
- Some students prioritize majors that promise financial stability, job security, and good earning potential.
- A notable portion of students feel compelled to choose specific majors due to social pressures, especially from parents or other influential figures in their lives.
Higher education in the US is currently in a crisis. The undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022. The situation is somewhat better in 2023 but still, many students face a harsh problem of choosing a major to settle their future life. This issue is reflected by the statistic that a third of students generally switch their majors with 1 in 10 changing their program more than once.
Following this trend, a natural question arises “Why do students choose the majors they choose?”
This Reddit question raised quite a storm of discussion. We dug into the comments and found the most popular reasonings behind student’s course choices. Generally what we saw were two major lines of thinking which we will present below
“I liked it”
Here, people chose majors in the subjects they genuinely were interested in and enjoyed studying during high school. And if you think that these were just subjects like English and Literature, think twice. Because many people turned out to get into scientific fields because they enjoyed studying them as school subjects:
“I liked the subject in high school. No, I don’t regret it, but that’s because what I liked actually had real job market demand for it. Suppose I could always have landed somewhere that wasn’t true. All my interests were STEM, though, so I guess I had pretty good odds of hitting something decently in-demand or transferrable with most stuff I’d have picked as a major. The job is great. Love the work. Love the field. Love the potential. I’m in chemistry.”
“I like History. I’ll find a way to make the degree work. Want to be a teacher with a YT account on the side to spread history.”
“I decided by the end of high school that I was going to major in either physics or art (edit: I enjoyed both and was good at both). I picked physics in my freshman college year bc of the greater job opportunities. I also kinda of always knew I’d be some sort of teacher, the only question was what sort. I’m actually now a community college physics professor.”
“I’m majoring in psychology because I find the human brain and human behavior so interesting on every level (emotional, cognitive, biological) and I want to be a clinical psychologist!”
“Yes, I won’t make as much as an engineer but I enjoy my major (writing) and have a good job that pays well. One upside too is that most of the jobs I will have can be work from home, I don’t know if engineers can work from home.”
It generally seems that in these stories, when people chose what they genuinely enjoy, it turned out well for them (even financially speaking)
Career Opportunities & Financial Stability
The second batch of comments emphasized that their main reasoning was financial security. They looked for fields with great career opportunities and reasonable salaries and generally were content with their choices.
“Money. Job flexibility. Growth opportunities. Pairs well with my skillset. In demand.”
“Job security, it’s high in demand, and I like data. I’m in accounting.”
“Looked up highest paying major, picked petroleum engineering. Make twice as much as other starting engineers ( besides FAANG CS). Work 4 days a week. 5 weeks PTO. 401k and pension. Worked out wonderfully”
“Challenge. Money. Job security. Flexibility. Applicability. I major in civil engineering. I like the challenge of doing engineering work. I don’t earn as much as CS, ME & EE yet I still earn a decent amount of money while maintaining job security. Job is also flexible. I can pick a field where I’d collect samples, or focus on design, do project management, etc. I also love how I can apply civil engineering in a variety of fields given that I add a little of something unique about me if I decide to switch fields.”
“When I go to college I wanna choose engineering or any other high-paying field so I can have a higher salary, you don’t need to be passionate about a job to do it. If being a artist or a musician paid higher and didn’t take so much effort to actually get it to pay higher I would do it. Following my passion will just make me broke.”
Among other reasons that we notices was one that we felt needs highlighting. It’s the social pressure that comes mostly from parents or other adult figures (like teachers) in studnets’ lives. There were two stories that drew our attention:
“I’m not gonna lie, I chose it because I felt pressured to. I was surrounded by people growing up in the career field in my major, I had inadvertently been trained in said career, it just seemed logical to go with it…I’m not happy with my choice, but in all honesty, a career with my major is a lot more equitable than one with my passion, and my mother said she wouldn’t support in a degree in what I wanted to go for. This semester and next semester are all classes to focus on my major, and I’m already burnt out. I have three things due tonight, and while they’re small, I’ve barely put the effort into accomplishing them. On top of it all, I don’t know what career I want. The field is so broad, but not necessarily easy to get into.”
So How to Choose Your Major Wisely?
So, after seeing the paths of so many people, what is exactly the right reasoning for choosing a specific major? What should you consider before making a pick? Well, what we can say there’s no definitive answer. But it seems clear that doing what your parents want you to do is not the best option if you want to be happy and enjoy your life. However, taking into account your skills as well as the demand of the job market will definitely be helpful.
We also did some research and made a list of recommendations on how to choose the best university course for yourself:
- Self-Reflect: Begin by introspecting on your passions and strengths. What activities or subjects truly excite you?
- Research the Major: Dive deep into potential majors to understand the associated career opportunities and trajectories.
- Attend Open Days and Career Fairs: Get firsthand knowledge about different majors and courses by attending university open days.
- Connect with Professionals: Speak to those already in the field to get real-world insights and advice.
- Consider Job Market Trends: Look at the current and projected demand for professions related to specific majors.
- Prioritize Passion Over Earnings: While earning potential is essential, don’t let it overshadow your genuine interests.
- Seek Advice: Talk to mentors, teachers, and career counselors to gather diverse perspectives.
- Trust Yourself: While gathering insights is essential, remember that the final decision is yours. Ensure your choice aligns with both your personal and professional aspirations.
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