Uncertainties plague college students’ minds when the fear of a declared major may lead to major downfalls post-graduation.
By ASHLEY INTVELD
When high school graduates toss their cap into the air, it is the traditional symbol of moving onto a new academic future. But like the cap that’s just out of reach, their futures are increasingly a toss-up, leaving some new college students apprehensive about declaring a major early on in their college careers.
In 2009, the National Associations of Colleges and Employers conducted a 1,300 student-based survey which showed that 66 percent of students who decided to change their majors changed due to career interests. Others resort to switching to ensure financial stability in the ever-changing economy. The majors offered at colleges and universities across the nation reflect the fields of study that have the highest hiring rate. Today, those fields include computer science, nursing, engineering, psychology, biology, and accounting.
“I went into college completely convinced that I would graduate and become a doctor,” said Tennessee State University student Haley Merritt. “Before I started college, I never would have thought I would end up graduating with a finance and business degree.”
The courses designated to prepare students for a career in their declared major may be informative, but the experiential element is absent. Some students feel there is an immense disconnect between college life and the real proessfional world. “I switched my major after spending 2 weeks with an OBGYN where I was slapped with the reality of birth and that medicine was 100 percent not for me. Between the hospital dynamic and the reality of 8 plus more years of training before I could even try to be a resident, it just wasn’t for me,” Merritt said.
College creates environments in which students can expand their knowledge base and later pinpoint possible career paths based on what piques their interest. The problem, however, is that the high school experience is vastly different and this career development doesn’t start earlier. “Looking back at my 17-year-old self, I know now that thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life is kind of foolish. I grew into myself and my interests and turned toward a major that I really love studying,” Merritt said.
Interest in a field may be the determining factor fueling most students’ decision to switch majors, but a small percentage of students feel their focus should be settled on creating a financial foothold rather than fulfilling academic curiosity. According to the aforementioned survey, 7 percent of college students switch majors for future earning potential.
“I originally majored in business because my high school guidance counselor thought that I would do better in the world of banking, and having a business degree would benefit me. In the late 80’s, if you weren’t a sport star, math wizard, or medical genius, you were guided to the world of business,” said mother-of-two and Sussex County Community College broadcasting student Stacy Bockbrader. “I knew when I was a small child what my dream was, it’s been over thirty years, but I’m still working on making it a reality.”
From Parents to Payroll- Who Sways the Switch?
The majors that colleges and universities offer directly reflect the job market availability of certain fields of study. Because of the wide variety of majors offered, some say that specialization, or pursuing one particular line of study, has become an issue in finding the major that is “just right.”
“I think with so many options, it’s hard to find a job that fits that particular field of study. It’s kind of like saying that I have mastered the art of putting a saddle on a horse, but never figured out how to ride it. You need to know not just the specifics, but where those specifics derive from,” said Merritt.
According to a study of 2,400 families conducted in August of 2012 by Fidelity Investments, 42 percent of parents encourage their children to choose a collegiate path with a career in mind, and 16 percent of parents pursuance their children to switch majors for more job opportunities after graduation.“Business has always been in my family and my dad’s involvement in the stock market really intrigued me. I knew that the field was so vast that a degree in finance would prove to be a huge payoff for the price tag of a few more years of tuition,” Merritt said.
Age does not determine a student’s ability to choose a career path. “I know plenty of 40-somethings that have changed their careers to something completely different from their original education,” Bockbrader said. “Change is good. It keeps the mind, body, and soul young and alert. If you have the passion, go for it.”