Start new careerPicking a college major requires more than making the right academic or professional choice. It involves a series of choices made in the proper order. If you cook dough before rolling it out, you’ll have a sphere of crust on the outside and a gelatinous dough ball within. You won’t get your pizza (no matter how much marinara you add). Indeed, picking a college major follows a similar set of principles. The order in which you assemble the ingredients matters as much as the ingredients themselves. Your interests matter, as do your skills, but so do your values and goals. However, each must wait their turn in an unknown but vital hierarchy of priorities.

Today, we’ll continue our discussion on picking a college major. In this article, we’ll explore your first priority when choosing a major: taking an aptitude test.

The Problem Most Students Make When Choosing A Career

Most students start their career journey by exploring their interests. In other words, let’s say they enjoyed learning a subject in school like psychology. They performed well on their assignments, exams, and projects. They more or less liked the class (at least more than they liked chemistry). Perhaps they found a character who also studied psychology on a show they liked (think Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds or Sharon Fieldstone from Ted Lasso). This student applies to college and must ask themselves, “What Major Should I Pick?” They reflect on what they’ve enjoyed; psychology is a natural fit.

That student just made a massive mistake. While nothing is inherently wrong with majoring in psychology, they’ve made a critical choice based on variables (their interests) that are likely to change. Interests are essential, but they’re temporary. This hypothetical student is likely in for a rude awakening. There’s a good chance they haven’t researched the career opportunities in the psychology industry. If that student is shy or more socially reserved and wants to complete their schooling as quickly as possible, they’re in trouble.

For example, Kendra Cherry, a psychological rehabilitation specialist, in her article “5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Major in Psychology” wrote the following:

There are plenty of entry-level job options with a bachelor’s degree, such as being a research assistant, a mental health technician, or a career counselor. The fact is, however, that if you want better job opportunities and higher pay, then you are going to need a graduate degree.

A master’s degree is considered the minimum for many career paths such as counseling, industrial-organizational psychology, school psychology, and health psychology.[1]

Cherry goes on to illustrate further education and training requirements to reach the professional pinnacles of those careers:

Careers in clinical psychology require a doctorate degree plus a supervised internship and passage of state exams.[2] The educational and training requirements are certainly nothing to sneeze at, so ask yourself if you have the commitment and drive to pursue a graduate degree.[3]

So, this student signed up for at least six years of college in a highly people-oriented industry.[4] Lastly, they must determine what specialization they’ll focus on in graduate school. Let’s hope they’re outgoing and disciplined enough to write a thesis or a dissertation.

Picking a Career You Hate

Let’s say they’re not cut out for a career in psychology. A bad-case scenario would be that they get sucked into a career path they won’t enjoy. Sadly, this is quite common in the US. According to the State of the Workplace Report by Gallup, only 33% of the workforce is engaged in their job.

For the full year of 2023, 33% were engaged, reflecting a slight recent decline.[5]

Gallup describes employee engagement with the following definition:

The involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.[6]

What if your interests change? And what if you’ve cultivated a skillset around an erstwhile fascination that’s lost its luster? Be prepared for long days of exertion, and join the statistic of the remaining 67% of US employees who ARE NOT engaged with their jobs.

Changing Your Major Too Late Costs Time and Money

With some luck, this hypothetical student discovers psychology isn’t for them in their sophomore year. That way, they’re not too far into their courses. If they are in their junior year, they want to stay in school for at least another year. That wastes tons of money and precious time. Indeed, these are the costs of changing your college major. While new evidence suggests that changing your major may not reduce your chances of graduating,[7] it will undoubtedly extend your college career, which costs parents and students more money in the long run. Additionally, it’s become normalized. According to a longitudinal study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than 30% of college students change their major at least once.[8]

Choosing your college major shouldn’t be such a haphazard gamble. There’s a way around these pitfalls, and taking aptitude testing is the first step.

Why Use An Aptitude Test to Choose A College Major

If you’re going to take me at my word and move forward taking an aptitude test, skip this part. If you’re unsure why you or your student would benefit from taking an aptitude test, this next part is for you. Here’s why you should use an aptitude test to choose a college major. First, aptitudes don’t change.[9][10] They settle into a developmental stasis, usually between fourteen and fifteen years old.[11][12] Aptitudes, or natural abilities, predispose us toward excelling at specific tasks.

choosing direction

For example, students with high visual speed and design memory tend to excel at computer science, coding, visual arts, and healthcare courses. That doesn’t mean they’ll enjoy them, but they won’t be fighting an uphill battle in their schooling. An aptitude assessment starts you with reliable data to move forward with your career exploration. However, you must ensure that your college major quiz is an actual aptitude test.

Aptitude Tests Are Not Personality Tests or Interests Tests

Most college major quizzes are personality tests claiming to be aptitude tests. Personality tests work wonders when measuring our social temperaments. However, personalities change over time. Many psychological studies and reports show that we humans often grow more introverted as we age.[13][14][15][16][17]

Other college major tests are interest profilers. Like personality tests, they have their place. However, like personalities, interests can also be especially mercurial. What we enjoy one day, we may loathe the next. Have you ever gone through a phase? Have you experienced a season when you’ve developed a moderately fanatical fascination with gardening, logotherapy, Warhammer, speed reading, mountain biking, or astronomy?

Personalities and Interests Change

Let’s not lie to ourselves. We’ve all gone through different obsessional phases. And the climax of one obsession, we tire with it and take up the banner of another. For example, I read many business and productivity books during the pandemic. I read more science fiction novels the year after. In 2022, I watched dozens of videos and read countless articles and books on marketing and blogging. In 2023, I read several books on writing and how to craft better prose. As I’m writing this article, I finished Frank Herbert’s Dune[18] for the first time. And I just started Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson.[19][20]

Thank heavens, I didn’t drop my job in 2020 and decided to write self-help and business books. If I had, I might have grown bored and decided to become a sci-fi novelist the following year. Fortunately, with my now adult mind, I could discern how ridiculous this would be for me. However, our minds don’t work so discernably when we’re young. Teenagers and new adults often feel their emotions in waves more than ripples. Thus, their hyper-fixated interests feel much more significant than they are.

The Psychology of Why Students Over-Prioritize Their Interests

Please understand I’m not condescending to teenagers or young adults. I’m fortunate to work with dozens of students each year who surpass me in intellect and potential. However, the literature in developmental psychology suggests sound reasoning for the emotional hyperbole I’m describing in young adults or older adolescents. Teens feel emotions more vigorously, not just due to their budding hormones[21] but because they’re less skilled at differentiating between emotions.

Dr. James McConchie, an evaluative psychologist who specializes in the development of emerging adults, framed it this way:

Researchers found that adolescents tended to experience many emotions simultaneously, but they differentiated them poorly. In other words, a teenager might consistently feel angry and sad together, indicating that it is difficult for them to distinguish between the two.[22]

For example, if I’m running late for a meeting but have to finish walking my dog before I leave, I might feel two primary emotions: anxiety and frustration. I’m anxious because I’m late. I’m frustrated with my dog because she’s taking too long. However, if I can’t differentiate between those two emotions, I’m more tempted to make my dog the focus of both of those charged feelings. This isn’t helpful to me and certainly isn’t fair for my dog.

Humans learn to differentiate between strong feelings as we age more easily. But when we’re young, it’s more challenging to pull those knots of feelings apart. This can impact our career development just as keenly as our psychological development. If we have a terrible computer science professor who’s obnoxiously boring while taking a challenging computer science course, the younger we are, the more likely we are to associate those emotions with the entire computer science industry. Computer science is tedious and laborious. Therefore, I will never learn to code. It isn’t for me.

This happens to many of the students I work with. I gave them an aptitude test, and their results showed they had a robust computer science aptitude. When I tell them that, they often look like this:

stressed student

They could have had the wrong teacher or explored the wrong content. They’re also likely to have never taken a computer science course, and the subject might seem boring.

Don’t get me wrong. Interests have a vital place in one’s career selection. Just because a student has an aptitude for something doesn’t mean they must pursue that career. However, a student doesn’t know what they don’t know. For better or worse, youth is characterized by its potential, not experience or wisdom. Discounting a career just because you’ve never experienced it might be too rash and harsh a decision.

Aptitude Tests are the Best College Major Tests

The bottom line is this: Start your career exploration with a data point that will not change. Aptitude tests fit this bill. Your personality, interests, goals, values, and context may change. However, your aptitudes won’t. So, let’s start by charting your course with reliable waypoints that won’t change with popular trends.

As Ryan Holiday wrote:

You can’t make something that lasts if it’s based on things, on individual parts that themselves won’t last, or if it’s driven by an amateur’s impatience.[23]

Ryan Holiday, The Perennial Seller: Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts

While it may seem too scientific or overtly academic, choosing a career is a creative endeavor. It’s taking the ingredients of your identity to craft something. The rich shades of your talents, the glossy hues of your interests, and your personality’s sharp and smooth edges all converge. And if that convergence is pulled off thoughtfully, you weave those ingredients together to form the fabric of your career. Depending on how thoughtful and strategic you are, that tapestry could grow into a mantle of confidence and vision or a veil of ignorance and regret.

Holiday, again, put it simply but candidly.

The creative process will require not only time and work but also the long view.[24]

Thus, let’s start you off right and true.

Best College Major Quiz Or Aptitude Test For You

Start by taking the Highlands Ability Battery. As mentioned in the previous post, we’ve written much about each of the three best aptitude tests:

Most families I work with want a detailed aptitude test with accessible testing experience. This is why I tell families to avoid the YouScience Career Aptitude Test. While it measures aptitudes and offers accessible testing, it doesn’t measure enough aptitudes to predict a student’s natural talents accurately. If you’re considering taking the YouScience Aptitude Test, please read our article ”What is the You Science Aptitude Test?” before you do.

Conclusion

If you’re sincerely interested in taking an aptitude test, click the image below to pay for your aptitude test today. I work with dozens of students yearly to ensure they pick the right college major and get them into their dream school. In the meantime, you can also join the Odyssey College Prep Newsletter to learn more about aptitude testing and college admissions hacks.

Happy Testing!

-Marc

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References

[1] Cherry, Kendra. “5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Major in Psychology.” Verywell Mind, 11 November 2023, https://www.verywellmind.com/reasons-why-you-shouldnt-major-in-psychology-2795136. Accessed 27 May 2024.

[2] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Psychologists : Occupational Outlook Handbook: : U.S.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-3. Accessed 27 May 2024.

[3] Cherry, Kendra. “5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Major in Psychology.” Verywell Mind, 11 November 2023, https://www.verywellmind.com/reasons-why-you-shouldnt-major-in-psychology-2795136. Accessed 27 May 2024.

[4] Ibid

[5] Harter, Jim. “In New Workplace, U.S. Employee Engagement Stagnates.” Gallup, 23 January 2024, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/608675/new-workplace-employee-engagement-stagnates.aspx. Accessed 27 May 2024.

[6] Gallup. “How to Improve Employee Engagement in the Workplace.” Gallup, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/285674/improve-employee-engagement-workplace.aspx. Accessed 27 May 2024.

[7] The University of Tulsa. “Normalizing the Norm of Changing College Majors.” The University of Tulsa, 5 November 2020, https://utulsa.edu/news/normalizing-the-norm-of-changing-college-majors/. Accessed 27 May 2024.

[8] National Center for Education Statistics. “Percentage of 2011–12 First-Time Postsecondary Students Who Had Ever Declared a Major in an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree Program Within 3 Years of Enrollment, by Type of Degree Program and Control of First Institution: 2014.” Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, 2017, https://nces.ed.gov/Datalab/TablesLibrary/TableDetails/11764. Accessed 27 May 2024.

[9] Belasco, Andrew. “The Highlands Ability Battery – An Introduction.” College Transitions, 12 July 2023, https://www.collegetransitions.com/blog/highlands-ability-battery-introduction/. Accessed 29 May 2024.

[10] “Career Vision.” Careervision.org, Career Vision, https://careervision.org/skills-change-aptitudes-dont/. Accessed 29 May 2024.

[11] French, Ericka. “Aptitude Tests for High School Students.” YouScience, 10 November 2021, https://www.youscience.com/aptitude-tests-for-high-school-students-lead-to-better-career-planning/. Accessed 29 May 2024.

[12] Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation. “Interests vs. Aptitudes – Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation.” Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation, https://www.jocrf.org/about-aptitudes/interests-vs-aptitudes/. Accessed 29 May 2024.

[13] Cain, Susan. “Introversion Becomes More Common with Age.” Next Big Idea Club, 14 Jan. 2016, https://nextbigideaclub.com/magazine/susan-cain-introversion-becomes-common-age/5239/. Accessed 27 May 2024.

[14] Granneman, Jenn. “Yes, You Do Become More Introverted with Age.” Psychology Today, 18 Sept. 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-secret-lives-of-introverts/201809/yes-you-do-become-more-introverted-with-age. Accessed 27 May 2024.

[15] Bernstein, Elizabeth. “Personality Research Says Change in Major Traits Occurs Naturally.” The Wall Street Journal, 28 Apr. 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304279904579515702293041712. Accessed 27 May 2024.

[16] John, Oliver P., and Samuel D. Gosling. “Personality Changes for the Better with Age.” American Psychological Association, vol. 34, no. 7, July/Aug. 2003, http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug03/personality.aspx. Accessed 27 May 2024.

[17] Strauser, David R., editor. Career Development, Employment, and Disability in Rehabilitation: From Theory to Practice. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2013.

[18] Herbert, Frank. Dune. Narrated by Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Simon Vance, Ilyana Kadushin, Byron Jennings, David R. Gordon, Jason Culp, Kent Broadhurst, Oliver Wyman, Patricia Kilgarriff, and Scott Sowers, Audible Studios, 2006. Audible, https://www.audible.com/pd/Dune-Audiobook/B002V1OF70.

[19] Sanderson, Brandon. Tress of the Emerald Sea. Dragonsteel Entertainment, 2023.

[20] Sanderson, Brandon. Tress of the Emerald Sea. Narrated by Michael Kramer, Audible Studios, 2023. Audible, https://www.audible.com/pd/Tress-of-the-Emerald-Sea-Audiobook/B0D18DYG5C.

[21] US Department of Health and Human Resources. “Emotional Development | HHS Office of Population Affairs.” HHS Office of Population Affairs, https://opa.hhs.gov/adolescent-health/adolescent-development-explained/emotional-development. Accessed 28 May 2024.

[22] McConchie, James. “What Do Teens’ Emotions Feel Like?” Greater Good Science Center, 24 July 2018, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_do_teens_emotions_feel_like. Accessed 28 May 2024.

[23] Holiday, Ryan. Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2017.

[24] Ibid

 

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