Most students spend more time picking colleges than their college major. This is unwise. When a student prepares for college, they usually plan to graduate in four years. Usually, during their freshman or sophomore year, a student must choose a specialized field of academic knowledge as their college major. This is no trivial choice. The nature of a student’s degree is determined by this decision. Additionally, your student’s college major often becomes the calling card of their professional expertise. This single decision can set the tone of their twenties and the course of their career.
Students Who Already Know Their College Major
These students are the exception to the rule. Some students enter college with a methodically designed career plan. In my experience as a college prep and career planning consultant, these students often possess the following self-insights and resources:
- understanding of what motivates them
- awareness of the activities they find fulfilling
- accurate knowledge of the tasks they naturally excel in
- which jobs they’re most likely to enjoy
- the salary of those jobs
- contacts and mentors in their desired career
For these students, choosing their college major is as easy as registering for classes. Thus, college students who choose their major as part of a career plan wield distinct advantages over their undecided peers. They choose their college major intentionally, as part of a larger, orchestrated strategy. However, these students are an exception to the norm.
Why College Students Don’t Know What to Major In
Most students just don’t know what they plan to major in. It’s estimated that roughly 20-50% of college freshmen are undecided in their college major. This could be for a number of reasons. Here are typical ones I see in the students I work with:
- Failure to Plan: An obvious reason is that a student and their parents fail to plan ahead and, by extension, fail to prioritize making a career plan. They know that a student’s career is important, but they’re more concerned about choosing a college. Thus, they end up delaying picking their college major, or they pick one as an afterthought.
- Too many careers to choose from: Many students and parents understand the necessity and importance of planning for college with a career in mind. These students want to pick a career track. However, they’re overwhelmed due to the ocean of career options to choose from. Understandably, they don’t want to roll the dice on their college major based on a fleeting hunch or vague advice. So, they delay making the decision, sometimes until well into their sophomore year or later.
- They’ll “figure it out” in college: Many families plan on not planning to research college majors. After all, college is a sandbox of experiential discovery and existential exploration. They’ll figure it out as they meet new people, take interesting classes, and are exposed to a variety of fascinating ideas. In my experience, these students find and declare their majors quickly in college but often end up changing their majors the most (more on that later).
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but you get the picture. It’s easy to find reasons to not plan ahead. However, there are many reasons why students should.
The Cost of Changing College Majors
There are two detrimental costs to changing majors, both of which are avoidable if a student plans ahead. If not, families end up paying these two costs.
Changing Majors Costs Time by Delaying Graduation
Graduating from college takes four years… or so we’ve been told. The reality is it takes most college students much longer. According to the NSC Research Center, “the average elapse time was 5.7 years for a bachelor’s degree earner.” Changing college majors contributes to this delay in college completion. Consider this example.
Simply put, changing majors equals wasted college credits. Wasted college credits mean needing even more credits to graduate. More credits mean taking more classes, which leads to graduating later. This is a common occurrence. A recent study shows that only 41% of bachelor’s degree earners graduate within 4 years. While this could be for several reasons, a student switching their college major makes this problem worse.
Extra time in college does more than just delay a student’s graduation; it also chips away at their confidence. We, humans, love direction. We like to know what we’re doing and what we’re working towards. We need goals and for our efforts to be working towards those goals. College is no different. A student who confidently knows their college major knows each hour studying brings them closer to their desired goal. A student who doesn’t definitively outline their plans beyond college is signing up for semesters of angst, uncertainty, and looming stress.
Changing College Majors Cost Parents Money
College is expensive. Parents are willing to pay the rising costs of tuition. They hopefully make their student enter the economy. Yet, college financially taxes more than parents. It impacts students as well in the form of student loans. In 2019, 69% of students took out student loans to help pay for college expenses. College isn’t cheap. And tragically, the cost of college rises at an unprecedented rate. A student changing majors enlarges those costs. According to a 2020 report by the College Board, on average, a year at an in-state university costs $10,560, $27,020 for out-of-state, and $37,650 for a private college (see image below).
More time in college means spending more money on college. Even if you’re a parent who can afford to pay for all of your student’s tuition and fees, these costs add up. If your student takes the average 5.7 years to finish college, you’re almost adding another 1/3 to your college expenses (see image below).
Again, many parents may be able to afford these prices. Yet, paying these avoidable expenses may have the following consequences:
- Run through your college fund quicker than expected
- No savings left for remaining children
- Delayed retirement
The tragedy of these consequences is that they’re avoidable. By intentionally planning for college with a career in mind first, you greatly decrease the chances of this happening. On the flip side, you increase the chances of your student graduating on time and saving you a tremendous amount of money.
How to Pick a College Major
There’s a four-step plan that empowers students to pick their majors wisely. We touched on this briefly in our last post. Use these steps below to help your student pick a college major:
- Assess: Take A Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) to assess their natural talents
- Motivate: Have your student conduct a motivation analysis to discover which tasks motivate them
- Research: Using their HAB report, research the recommended careers and note the careers that coincide with their motivation analysis
- Network: Interview and job people who are experts in your student’s desired career
College is too important to not plan for. By not planning, you potentially waste your money and your student’s time. Avoid those expensive mistakes by following the 4 steps above. This results in your student knowing exactly what career they want. By extension, they’ll know what to major in and spend their college preparing to enter the economy with a fulfilling and lucrative career.
Schedule a free consultation today if you’d like us to help your student identify their college major.