Why Selecting a Major Can Make Or Break Your College List

by Dr. Dean Skarlis on March 27, 2013

A parent we work with recently asked me why her daughter needed to select a major before we constructed her list of schools.  She was clear that her daughter wanted to attend a liberal arts college, and did not want her to explore majors at this juncture.  I explained that this would be a mistake for a couple of reasons.

First, I’m an advocate for – and product of – a liberal arts education…but not for all kids.  Depending on a student’s unique learning style, personality type and academic skills, he/she may NOT be a good fit for a liberal arts college.  Some kids learn better in a hands on way.  Others prefer ideas to skills.  A good counselor will discuss these issues with each student.  They will use a good learning style/personality assessment tool as a starting point for this discussion.  They will take into account a student’s interests, academic abilities, and natural tendencies to help them understand more about which environment – and the corresponding majors – will be a good fit for them.  Because there is a significant difference between liberal arts colleges and schools who offer pre-professional programs, this can have a powerful effect on the list of schools.  So, analyzing which type of learning environment is best for kids is critical in developing a list.

Second, according to data from ACT Inc, 66% of students change their major at least once during college.  This can cause significant problems with time to graduation and transfer.  For example, if you switch from business to pharmacy, it may take you 7 years to graduate (most Pharmacy programs are on a 6 year cycle).  And what if the college does not offer Pharmacy?  Most colleges do not.  Then you’ll have to transfer schools, and it could take you 8 years to complete your degree – and much more money.  Clearly, students are not doing a good job of selecting majors on their own.

Most high school guidance offices do not have the time or resources to devote to in-depth career counseling.  They expect their students to engage in this sort of self discovery on their own.  For some kids, this works, but for the vast majority, it is ineffectual.  In fact, this is one reason why so many students change their major during college.  They simply don’t understand their options because they haven’t taken the time to explore best fit majors.

Choosing a major, or at least a general field of study, clearly affects the list of schools for a particular student.  Students who do so in a thoughtful, intentional manner in their sophomore or junior year of high school, stand a much better chance of graduating from college on time.

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