Major Decisions

Employment Matters column,

If you’re thinking about college or already there, then you know that choosing your major is a big deal. This is one of those choices that can affect the rest of your life.

If you haven’t already thought long and deep about this, start now. You need to think about what you want, what you enjoy, and what you do well. Those are things worth thinking about even if you’re not choosing a major.

Money? Yeah, you’ll need to think about that too. College isn’t cheap, and if you’re borrowing to pay for it, you’ll be paying for those loans years after graduation. But don’t let money become the main driver for your decision. It’s a critical factor, but doing something you enjoy is a critical factor too. It’s been said many times, and remains true – when you do something you really love, you’ll never work another day in your life.

You’ll likely be working at something, so the question is – will you be happier doing something genuinely fun 8 hours every weekday, or will you trade that pleasure for something less enjoyable but pays better?

Many people opt to compromise, because they have or acquire responsibilities that demand more money – things like buying a house, getting married, raising children.

Keep in mind that when you work at something you like so much, you’d do it for free, it’s a reasonable bet you’ll become very good at it – and being the best can lead to better income. Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who just happen to like doing something that pays well.

You can gather all the information and advice in the world – from your family, your academic advisor, mentors, friends, your own research – but in the end, the decision is yours to make. It’s your life, your path, your future. Where to start?

Start by gathering experience. One of the life’s little surprises is that there are times when something you thought you liked isn’t quite as much fun as you imagined. It works the other way, too – work you never thought would interest you unexpectedly rocks your world. The only way to find out whether your expectations and reality match is to get out in the field and actually do some of the work.

So how do you make that happen? You take an entry-level job in the field(s) you’re thinking about and get to know people who are doing the kind of work you want. Ask questions. Ask for opportunities to help. Get your hands dirty – there is no substitute for real-world experience, actually doing the work.

You won’t be able to actually do some things you might do in a career. If you aspire to become a dentist, nobody is going to just hand you a drill, point you to a patient and invite you to do a root canal. But you might train as a dental assistant, see how it’s done, and get a sense of whether that works for you before getting a full degree

Or find a friendly dentist and pick his or her brain to learn more about the work, get a feel for what the job is like – the good and the bad. Hands-on experience and inside information is worth a year of classes.

You can get this experience through internships or by seeking out part-time work on your own. If the extra work helps pay for college, that’s even better – you get training, experience, and less debt all at once.

Choosing a major mixes expectations, personal interests, personal abilities, budget, and that little extra detail – the rest of your life. No pressure. Just give it a lot of thought.