Choosing a Major - avoid the ?shoulda, woulda, coulda? | Thinking About College | John Raftrey And Lori McCormick | Mountain View Online |

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About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

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Choosing a Major - avoid the ?shoulda, woulda, coulda?

Uploaded: Jun 1, 2014
This blog entry was written by Lori and is her first post!

I recently reconnected with a former student who graduated from a UC this year. A few short months before her graduation, she told me she came to the realization that her major did not align with her career aspirations. During high school, she was told to major in Business because it was something that would guarantee a career path after graduation. And being a first-generation student, a stable job after college sounded appealing. As she began to wrap up those few remaining courses she put off as long as she could (namely anything requiring math), she admitted to me that she had zero interest in Business. Z-E-R-O. We're talking, she would have rather dropped the major and start all over than finish the degree. And if it were not for the facts that she had a generous financial aid package that only covered her four-year college education and that her entire family was counting on her to be the first to earn a college degree, she halfheartedly graduated with a Business degree.

Her true calling is working with animals, primarily animal conservation. She loves them and has volunteered at many of the local animal shelters and education centers in her college community. She even confessed that picking up animal dung was not that bad. Clearly, this is true love!

So what does she do now? This is a classic case of "shoulda, woulda, coulda".

What she should have done was to have listened to her gut when she started taking courses in her major and realized this was not the right fit. It may feel unnatural to take a leap of faith and go against everything you have been told, but in the end, you are the person who has to hold down that job and work in that industry. You need to find a career path you are interested in, then research majors that support your career path. Working in a career you loathe can be detrimental to your sanity.

She should have then reached out to her University's Career Center and met with a counselor to discuss career path options and academic programs in her area of interest, Animal Biology. Transferring into a different major might have set her back a semester or two or, if she was lucky, a couple of intense summer semesters taking new prerequisites, but at least she would then graduate in the better suited major.

And lastly, she could have reached out to a trusted mentor for advice. Sometimes bouncing ideas off of someone who has already gone through the college process provides valuable insight and inspiration. For example, learning how to self-advocate and asking the right questions to the right people. Or, never giving up on your dream just because the risk seems high. On those darkest days when you don't feel like believing in yourself, call your favorite pep talker. He or she will lift your spirits and keep you motivated.

The good news is this recent graduate is incredibly resilient and won't let her Business degree stop her from pursuing her true calling. During her final months at her UC, she researched graduate programs that offer majors in Animal Biology and is planning on taking prerequisite coursework at a local community college while studying for the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations). She also plans on volunteering with programs related to animal conservation to gain even more hands-on experience.

Naturally, there is a sense of frustration knowing she should have changed her major two years ago, but she is taking action now and although it will set her back a few years, ultimately she will end up working with animals and enjoying the career path she has paved.

One peer-to-peer piece of advice she offers to students entering college is to choose your major wisely and early. I agree!
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Crystal, a resident of Ventura,
on Jun 1, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Great advice -- major in something you love! There are tons of people who have careers that are wholly divorced from their college major, too. For example, my husband was a religious studies major, and he is now a software engineer.

Posted by Purnima, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Jun 1, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Thanks for this informative, helpful article - I look forward to more in the same vein! I agree that choosing a major based on your own desires rather than external pressure is something that is very difficult but ultimately worth the effort.

Posted by Robert Smith, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jun 2, 2014 at 2:13 pm

The good news is that, whatever her true "calling" turns out to be, she is likely to find that the business degree makes sense.

Let's suppose that she becomes a veterinarian and goes on to open an animal clinic. Guess what? Above all, such a clinic is a business!

Lots of people find that their true callings end up succeeding for failing based not on the substance of the calling but on the seemingly peripheral business aspects.

Posted by resident, a resident of Community Center,
on Jun 4, 2014 at 9:27 am

Most people hit a wall with a major they hate, and they change majors anyway. If you do well enough to finish in any major, it was was a good thing.

She may have needed the business degree to be resourceful.

Over thinking the major is probably more of a problem, and who knows what they will "love" without digging deep into a variety of things.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Jun 4, 2014 at 10:08 am

I think more importantly than actually choosing a major while at high school, there should be more discussion on declaring a major. I know there are pros and cons to doing this too soon. Some say they are "locked into" a major at too young an age and others say that declaring (or not declaring) a major may help them get into a first choice school.

A guide to this difficult subject is important for parents to understand as well as the student to understand before the applications are made. There is a lot of folk lore advice that students recite and I wonder if there is any wisdom in this folklore?

Posted by Good advice, a resident of another community,
on Jun 4, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Great classic advice toward the crucial point of finding what you love. That self-discovery is easier for some students than others, and the coulda-shoulda problem is made far worse by outside pressures, like parents forcing their notions or fantasies on the kid's education. I've seen this as both college student and faculty member.

Career advisors also mention that people such as your former student, who found a calling unlike her formal major, often later discover unexpected, relevant utility from that original training. It's impossible to predict until she's well into a career.

One of my undergrad classmates was "disowned" by his father for following his interest (engineering) instead of father's wishes (medicine). In grad school, one European student's family had long been farmers, and were in awe of his academic achievements leading to study at a famous US university; yet they gave him constant grief for wanting to be a physicist and study nature, rather than "make money."

Years ago during college, a mentor commented that half the students had no real idea why they were there; most of the rest had an idea but it was mistaken or naïve; maybe 10% really knew who they were and what they were doing.

Posted by resident, a resident of Community Center,
on Jun 4, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Paly parent,

"others say that declaring (or not declaring) a major may help them get into a first choice school."

This would indeed be good to understand.

Any suggestions Lori?

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