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Major Dilemmas in Choosing Colleges and College Programs

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

It's a no-brainer that college academics should be a key consideration in choosing a school. However, don't be fooled, as many parents are, into believing that your child must have a major in mind before applying to colleges. The reality is that high school seniors are too often pushed prematurely into picking a direction—and they just aren't always ready at that age to make such a big decision. Many don't have a clue about what they want to do, and even those who have a clue need to have the freedom to change their minds—and their college major.

The ideal college experience exposes teenagers to new ideas and career options, so it's not too surprising that the number of transfer students climbs every year, as would-be doctors become museum curators or physicists turn to filmmakers.

College academics should not involve "my way or the highway" decisions

One of the most common beliefs among parents is that whatever college major their child has in mind is the wrong one. Are you a parent that insists that a philosophy major isn't employable and that only college programs in areas like physical therapy, architecture, or computer science will evolve into jobs? Or perhaps things are the other away around, and you hope your business school-minded child will follow in your footsteps and attend a small, prestigious liberal arts college.

Either way, you really don't have anything to fear because college majors have pretty limited correlation to vocation and future success—law schools love liberal arts graduates and there's more than one advertising executive with a biology background.

Life isn't all about college degree programs and college majors

At most colleges, a major takes up only about one-third of the total number of courses a student takes over four years. Astronomy students have time to take theater and dance, pharmacists study Shakespeare, and would-be social workers may learn Swedish.

In the long run, a major may not be the biggest influence on your child's future. He or she might choose a major that fits with a life goal, or they may pursue any number of careers that their major doesn't predict at all. It's more likely that other experiences like studying abroad, internships, and extracurricular activities will influence your child's first job choice after college.

When it comes to college programs, listen with your ears, guide with your heart

As you're identifying target schools, certainly aim for those with academic offerings in a field that interests your child. Even without a chosen major, your child is bound to be intrigued by something that warrants a closer look. If you and your child have different opinions, state your case and then back off. You can remind your aspiring engineer that she hated math and physics or tell your diplomat-to-be that he dropped both French and German—but you must also listen to your child's voice and honor your child's choices.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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