If you stopped part way through college and are now planning on going back to school, it’s important that you maximize your time and money by choosing the right major, both for you and your intended career. Since it’s your second time around, you hopefully have a better idea of what you need to do to graduate, and you certainly don’t want to repeat the events that led to you leaving school the first time. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau in the year 2000 revealed that one in three Americans drops out of college; according to several studies, financial reasons are partially to blame, but there’s another highly preventable factor that’s keeping many college students from graduation: lack of preparation.
Don’t Become A Statistic
The Fiscal Times states, “more than half of first-year [college] students are simply underprepared for college-level work.” Many begin their studies with unrealistic expectations about an appropriate major and the work it takes to graduate in their chosen program. And students who arrive at schools unaware of the workload, skills and habits it takes to be successful in college often drop out. To avoid becoming a statistic, take the time now to choose the right major for you, so you can maximize your chances of graduating from college and get a job within the field that fits you best.
Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses
One of the key things you can do to help yourself choose a major is to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Sit down and brutally identify the things you’re best at as well as the things for which you just don’t have the talent, patience or aptitude. No matter how attractive you think a career looks, if it heavily involves skills that just don’t fit who you are, it will probably be a waste of your time and money to major in that area.
If you’re having trouble with this step, take some time to daydream about the things you most want to have in a job. What do you value in your day-to-day work? If you love interaction with others, an isolated desk job like an accountant probably isn’t the right fit. If you value flexibility, setting your own hours and the potential to work from home, then becoming a teacher or nurse where you must stick to strict hours and commute everyday will probably not be fulfilling for you. Weak at math? It may not be a great idea to try and obtain a finance degree.
Reflect upon any prior work and school experience as well to gauge where you best fit. Once you have clearly identified what you do and don’t want in a career, finding a major that’s a good fit will be easier.
Gain Some On-The-Job Experience
Many careers cannot be fully appreciated without experiencing them firsthand. While you may enjoy much of the coursework it takes to prepare for a specific job, the work itself may not be exactly what you’re searching for. I loved all of my classes for my English education major; both the English classes and the education classes fit my strengths and skills and were personally fulfilling. But actually teaching in a high school classroom showed me that the day-to-day rigors of teaching were not for me. Had I been more aware of all the behind-the-scenes hassles of a teaching career, I probably would have changed my major to become something else in a related field, such as a reading specialist or guidance counselor. It would have been more productive for me to have transferred most or all of my credits to a more tailored field of study that fit my goals much better.
Similarly, careers in stressful and even physically demanding fields like nursing and criminal justice can be a shock to college graduates. Students may enjoy the coursework and think the job will be just as fulfilling, only to realize that the actual job is much more rigorous than they had planned for. Unlike a more general degree such as Business Management, in which you can move around to different jobs with the same degree, specialized degrees are of less use if you decide you want to go on to a completely different career. Other than the basic class credits, you’ll have to start over if you decide the job isn’t what you had hoped. To avoid a disappointment like this, spend some time in the field before committing to a major. Either find an entry-level job or intern or volunteer in your intended professional setting to make sure the type of work your major is suited for is right for you. Don’t be afraid to talk to pros in the field and ask a lot of honest questions; the information you learn could save you years of wasted time and money.
Understand The Steps After You Earn Your Degree
As you’re finalizing your choice in a major, research all of the steps it takes to go from graduation to career. Education majors must not only graduate, they must obtain licensure from their state as well before they can teach. Likewise, nursing students must pass a licensure test after graduation, as well as take additional classes every few years to keep their knowledge and skills current. Some degrees in fields like criminal justice will require a graduate degree to get a job or additional skills training. All of these things require additional time and money, and should be considered before choosing a major.
Once you know all of the steps required for your major, map out a timeline, showing just how many years it will take to accomplish your goals. Also, plan a budget so that you have a realistic picture of what it will cost you. As you look at the data, be realistic. If it seems like too much time, money, additional commitments, or it just doesn’t fit your personal strengths or desires, find something else. Choose a related career that may use similar skills but requires a different major. Rather than study criminal justice to do actual police work, for example, get a degree in one of the many law fields that can lead to related jobs in paralegal, computer security or human services. You may choose to stay in the general field you originally chose, but the specifics will look different, tailored to who you are.
If you’re honest and realistic when choosing a major, you can avoid wasting time and money, or worse—dropping out all together. By assessing who you are and what you’re good at, you should be able to find a major that you’ll enjoy and will lead you to a satisfying career you can enjoy long-term.
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(Ashford University is accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission, 985 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 100, Alameda, CA 94501, 510.748.9001, www.wascsenior.org.) Certain degree programs may not be available in all states. For more information about on-time completion rates, the median loan debt of students who completed each program, and other important information, please visit: https://ashforddisclosures.com.
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John O’Brien has been a writer, editor and consultant in higher education for over 14 years. His background includes writing for insidehighered.com and The Chronicle of Higher Education. As editor of College Degree Complete, he has advised hundreds of adult students on how to transfer colleges without wasting the credits they’ve already accumulated, to finish their degree programs in the fastest and most affordable way.