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Choosing a college major is intense. For a college student, it’s not just about the subject they’re studying but its implications for their future career, life plans, and financial stability. Thus, picking a college major can induce far more anxiety than empowerment for the current generation of college students. This anxiety is particularly prevalent among Gen Zs. A recent Cigna Study revealed that 71% are reevaluating their life priorities more than before, and 34% express worry about the future.[1][2]

The pressure is natural, considering the financial investment and potential debt associated with higher education. Aptitude testing offers a data-driven approach to identifying an ideal career, helping students understand where their talents lie. This blog post will explore how career aptitude assessments can guide you in choosing your college major.

Understanding Aptitude Testing

We’ve written about how aptitude tests differ from the many personality quizzes on the internet. We’ve also written about how to avoid being scammed by misleading assessments. Aptitude tests have loads more capabilities than the run-of-the-mill pop psyche tests. Aptitude tests aren’t just a step above them. They’re more akin to comparing a computer to a calculator.

Aptitude tests serve one more primary function: revealing your natural talents. When you take one, you don’t learn what you like, who you prefer to be around, or even which career you “must” pursue. Aptitude tests simply reveal the tasks that come naturally to you.

That may not sound like much, but give this claim some thought. There are very few instances in life where you can reliably predict if you’d excel at something you’ve never done. As it turns out, humans (even college students) are experts at overestimating their abilities.

Why College Students Need Aptitude Tests

why does it matter

As we traverse the intricate landscape of higher education, it’s crucial to remember that our perceptions of our abilities may not always mirror reality. This is where the Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychological phenomenon named after social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, comes into play.[3] This effect suggests that individuals with low ability at a task overestimate their ability, while those with high ability underestimate their competence[4]. A cognitive bias can lead us astray, especially when choosing a college degree.

Recent studies have shed light on the prevalence of the Dunning-Kruger effect among students. For instance, a study conducted among first-year medical students found a high prevalence of the Dunning-Kruger effect, with 78.38% of the students overestimating their abilities.[5] This overestimation was more common among females and students with lower study hours and more significant hours of sleep[6]. Another study among Danish science teacher students found a negative correlation between self-efficacy and actual knowledge, indicating the presence of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Some students overestimated their proficiency in the topics surveyed, while others underestimated their knowledge.[7]

In the context of college students, the Dunning-Kruger effect can be a silent saboteur. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that our intuition alone is sufficient to guide us in selecting our college degree. However, data from the Dunning-Kruger effect suggests otherwise. It’s not uncommon for students to overestimate their aptitude or interest in a particular field, only to find themselves struggling later on.[8] I encounter this all the time with computer science and engineering students. They have dreams of coding their way into a tech startup or making six figures after graduating as an engineer. Yet, their upper-level courses reveal that their brains aren’t cut out for this kind of work, at least sustainably for their mental health.

Therefore, it’s crucial to approach this decision with a healthy dose of humility and a willingness to seek external input and objective assessments. Remember, it’s not just about getting into college—it’s about thriving once you’re there and easing your way into a career after graduating. After all, what good is getting a degree you can’t use? Leaving your college education up to the whims of a college student’s untested intuition is a sure way to risk their employability and waste their education. This isn’t saying a college student isn’t intelligent; far from it. But there are many instances where intelligence won’t give you the answers you need. Wisdom does. Wisdom comes ONLY from experience, the gritty, thankless moments of failure and success that time can only give someone. Thus, a student can’t know if they’ll be successful in a career they’ve never worked in. They can’t if they don’t have an advanced tool to give them the insight they need.

Primary Benefits of a College Aptitude Test

Remember, aptitudes aren’t skills. They’re cognitive talents, data on how your brain reacts to Different professional problem-solving. This includes mechanical aptitude, auditory ability, pattern recognition, analytical talent, and more obscure, creative aptitudes like idea generation or musical and foreign language ability. And yes, while there are funner things to read about on the internet than a person’s “problem-solving aptitude,” remember that you’re not taking an aptitude test to have fun. You’re taking it to determine your major and make the most of (instead of wasting) a college education.

Reasoning Aptitudes

At the heart of reasoning aptitudes lie Classification and Concept Organization. These two aptitudes are used by engineers, attorneys, doctors, and software designers. Classification is the knack for identifying commonalities in seemingly unrelated objects.[9] It’s a rapid, nonverbal reasoning ability that propels individuals to reach conclusions swiftly.

Those with high classification abilities are quick problem solvers, sometimes generating new problems to solve when none exist. However, being low in this aptitude is just as helpful. Low Classifiers arrive at solutions by reflecting, not reacting. They’re less likely to interrupt people and more likely to ask questions, and use their experience to recommend solutions, not their knack for patterns.

Complementing this is Concept Organization.[10] Concept organization involves information’s internal assembly and organization, leading to a logical sequence and conclusion. Individuals with high concept organization abilities excel in arranging thoughts in a linear, logical manner, making them effective communicators.[11] They often thrive in roles that involve planning, prioritizing logistics, and project management. Low-concept Organizers typically gravitate toward roles that help them simplify information instead of analyzing it. Many management jobs rely on having a low-concept organization when fewer words work better than a complicated analysis.

Spatial Reasoning or Mechanical Aptitudes

Spatial Relations Theory (SRT) and Spatial Relations Visualization (SRV) form the core of spatial reasoning or mechanical aptitudes. SRT is the ability to “see” the theoretical interrelationships between components within a system. I encounter a lot of physicians and engineers with high SRT. Those with high SRT abilities excel in unraveling complex structures or theories in their minds, making them suitable for professions like architecture, industrial design, diplomacy, and medical sciences. SRV, on the other hand, involves the mental manipulation of three-dimensional objects. Individuals with high SRV abilities feel more connected to hands-on work or results in something tangible or concrete. They often excel in dentistry, surgery, engineering, physical therapy, and mechanical work.

Career Aptitudes Give Career Foresight

Knowing where a college student fits on these continuums can be a game changer. You know how naturally you’ll take to the responsibilities of a profession. And we’ve only discussed four of the nineteen measurable aptitudes. Knowing all of them enables you to make career decisions with tremendous foresight. Imagine if a college student comes to me and says, “I’d like to be a lawyer, but I don’t know if I’d be any good at it.”

After testing that college student, I’d look for five primary aptitudes:

  • Concept Organization: the ability to mentally organize information logically. Used in writing, planning, analyzing, and explaining.
  • Spatial Relations Theory: a penchant for using theoretical concepts and systems to make hypothetical predictions. Use in political science, theoretical math, and the conceptual side of engineering and medicine.
  • Verbal Memory: a person’s ability to remember what they read. They are used in writing, reading, second language acquisition, and coding.
  • Visual Speed: how fast you read and take in numerical or textual information.
  • Visual Accuracy: how accurately you notice errors in administrative responsibilities, clerical work, and computational tasks.

Lawyers use these aptitudes constantly. So, if said student was interested in a career in law, we’d look at where they fall on these aptitudes. Doing so would tell us how smoothly their aptitudes would integrate into this career. That doesn’t mean they can’t become a lawyer if they don’t have the optimal aptitudes. They would simply know which parts of the career would be more challenging for them and which ones would be easier.

Different careers lean on different clusters of aptitudes. A radiologist favors an entirely different set of career abilities. The same goes for a chemical engineer; an electrical engineer would possess different aptitudes. However, knowing that alone won’t help you. You can only benefit from these insights by getting tested and knowing your own.

Best Aptitude Test for College Students

There exist three aptitude tests I recommend to college students. Since we’ve covered the different types of aptitude tests in previous posts, we’ll spare you the details here and cut to the chase. However, if you’re the researching type, refer to the articles below to compare the three primary aptitude tests. The Highlands Ability Battery, Johnson O’Connor Aptitude Test, and AIMS aptitude Assessment are those assessments.

For most college students, the Highlands Ability Battery is the ideal career aptitude test. It’s the most accessible comprehensive aptitude test. You see, college students are busy. While incredible assessments, the AIMs and the Johnson O’Connor are hardly accessible. They each require you to drive to their center locations. This usually takes an entire weekend of travel, and most families don’t have the time for that.

College students take the Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) remotely. Additionally, college students can take it in multiple sittings. So, as long as students have a distraction-free environment to take the assessment, they can receive reliable results. Furthermore, the Johnson O’Connor and AIMS cost nearly $1000. The HAB only costs between $500-600. So, what’s the best aptitude test for college students? The Highlands Ability Battery. It strikes the perfect balance between comprehensiveness and accessibility.

What’s the testing experience like?

woman taking test on computer

I’m going, to be honest. Taking a career aptitude test is worth it, but it isn’t pleasant. While it’s not as bad as going to your dentist, it’s an intense experience. You see, aptitude isn’t a skill assessment. It’s an aptitude test. You’ll see no math, science, reading, grammar, etc. Instead, you’ll see cognitive work samples that feel like puzzles or IQ problem-solving tests. All of them are timed. Thus, if you’re low on an aptitude (which isn’t bad), you will feel much more stressed on the assessment that measures it. In other words, prepare to feel stupid (I told you I’d be honest).

Yet, just because you feel stupid doesn’t mean you are (you’re not). When I took my aptitude assessment, no one gave me that warning. Thus, after completing it, I felt dumber than a sack of rocks. I knew I was an idiot, and when I finally got my results, I would have certifiable proof. As you can imagine, the opposite was true. Seeing my results was empowering. I had quantifiable evidence of what I was good at. I learned I was a quick problem solver with a knack for occupations that involve planning and explaining. I understood for the first time that I learn better through hearing information, not reading. I also read slowly, and I’d probably need apps like Grammarly and AI assistants to check the grammar in my emails and writing. Some of my musical talent was explained, why I’m a terrible sight reader but thrived playing the piano by ear.

In a nutshell, I learned more about myself than I ever had. It wasn’t pleasant taking the test, but what I found on the other side was quite life-changing. I can’t promise you’ll enjoy the same epiphanies I did, but what you’ll learn from it will be worth your time and the expense.

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[1] Gen Z Is Struggling: 5 Things They Need For A Bright Future, Brower, PhD, Tracy – accessed at on 15 July 2023.

[2] Cigna 360 Global Well-Being Survey, Cigna – accessed at at 15 July 2023.

[3] Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments, Kruger, Justin, and David Dunning – Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 77, no. 6, 1999, pp. 1121-1134.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Prevalence of Dunning Kruger effect in first year medical students in a tertiary care hospital, Deb, Novonil and Poulami Roy. – International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health, vol. 8, no. 10, 2021, DOI: 10.18203/2394-6040.ijcmph20214260.

[6] Ibid

[7] Missing concordance between knowledge and efficacy among Danish science teacher students regarding education for sustainable development, Hansen, Mette Hesselholt Henne, and Martin Krabbe Sillasen – Nordina: Nordic Studies in Science Education, vol. 16, no. 2, 2020, DOI: 10.5617/nordina.6598

[8] The impact of an online tool for monitoring and regulating learning at university: overconfidence, learning strategy, and personality, Bruin, A., Ellen M. Kok, J. Lobbestael, A. Grip – Metacognition and Learning, vol. 12, 2017, DOI: 10.1007/S11409-016-9159-5.

[9] Classification and Concept Organization Abilities | Highlands Company, The Highlands Company – accessed at on 17 July 2023.

[10] Your Natural Ability to Organize Thoughts – The Highlands Company, The Highlands Company – accessed at on 17 July 2023.

[11] Your Natural Ability to Organize Thoughts – The Highlands Company, Highlands Company – accessed at on 18 July 2023.


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