Think about the impossibility of the task we lay in front of high school students. In addition to getting good grades, filling up a resume, finding the right colleges and writing countless admissions essays they also need to decide on their life’s passion at 17 years old...or do they?
As a college admissions representative the first question most students would ask me was whether the school I was representing offered a specific program. I got everything from some obvious choices (“Do you have Math?” Of course we do!) to some less obvious. I remember a student arguing with me that if only we offered the proper program she would be able to be a licensed art therapist with a Bachelor’s degree (no, she wouldn’t).
Academic interest is one of the first factors that students use to weed through colleges when directed how to begin their search. I would contend that this is a giant mistake.
All the adults out there reading this column, think back to high school. Are you in the career you thought you’d be? Are you in a career directly related to your college major? How many times has your career, and your interests, evolved? Chances are those of you who knew what you wanted to pursue as a teen, did so in college, and continue in that career today are in the minority. The days of working for one organization for an entire career are over and continuing education is the name of the game for most professionals.
If all the above is true why do we feel the need to make high schoolers still choose majors and colleges the same way they did 50 years ago? I would advocate for students to prioritize many other factors over program availability in their college search. Is the school in an environment the student will enjoy? What opportunities are in place for career exploration? Are faculty available to mentor students? What internships opportunities is the school connected with?
Don’t get me wrong, academic interests in a broader sense absolutely should be part of a college search. The budding artist probably won’t be happy at a technical school and someone thinking pre-med shouldn’t go to a business school. Even so, these broader interests are going to be much more useful than searching for a specific program. Try asking, “tell me about your opportunities in engineering,” instead of, “do you offer a combined BS/MS in aeronautical engineering?”
It’s also beneficial to find out how schools address changes in major in your college search. Will students be able to change their major at will? When do they need to officially declare a major? Can they change colleges within a university easily? These questions are going to be of much more use than specifics about one program.
The bottom line is this: for some reason, being excited about a major goes hand in hand with being accepted at a good school. I’ve heard parents say things like, “He got into Princeton! But, ugh! I just can’t get him to choose a major!” (insert eye roll here). Why is undecided a bad thing? Exploring careers isn’t laziness, it might be a true lack of exposure to what’s out there. Let’s celebrate the opportunity for students to explore, because only then can they truly find a path that will lead to happiness and success.