Many students may feel pressure, from themselves or their parents, to pursue a college major that will give them a better chance at landing a job after graduation. If you’re lucky, you’ve already found your passion in a more “marketable” college major. But I often talk to students who are conflicted about their decision. My advice for these students is always the same – find what you’re passionate about and pursue that.
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Find your strengths
A key element for students to discover what they’re passionate about it to have a good understanding of their strengths, capabilities and interests. At the Career Development Center at Hope College, we offer students an opportunity to assess their strengths with Clifton SrengthFinders®, an assessment tool that was developed based on Gallup research that says that someone will succeed when they focus on what they do best. StrengthFinders identifies a person’s top five strengths and shows them how to maximize these talents. Understanding your strengths can give you the self-confidence and self-reliance to be able to feel like you can launch out and pursue what really gets your fire going.
Find your school’s career development office
We require students to declare a major by the Spring semester of their sophomore year, but I always recommend students start thinking about it as early as possible. This can start with a trip to your career development office. Counselors can help in several ways, including finding internships and professional opportunities outside of the classroom that will help clarify your direction. They’re also available to provide encouragement and unbiased support that can help you make the decisions that will best work for you.
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Find a supportive program
We find that students who are passionate about their path are excited to learn and really latch onto the curriculum. Then, it becomes important that those educational opportunities are paired with key life experiences within that field. Our office might recommend research with faculty in the sciences or multiple internships in a professional setting to test your skills and interests. Through these experiences, your passion gets directed and shaped so that as you approach graduation, you have a greater sense of direction.
Find a supportive ear
I often hear from students that they’re feeling pressure from family to pursue a certain major in college – a path that might lead to a good job once they graduate. This path doesn’t always align with the student’s passion. While I’m sure these parents have the best intentions, this creates a lot of stress for the student. My best advice for parents is to provide encouragement and support. Be a sounding board and listen but don’t be judgmental. Encourage your child to seek out the assistance of their advisor and career office, but let your child take that initiative.
Have you ever had conflicting college major advice? Share your story in the comments below.
Dale Austin is director of the Career Development Center at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and has served as past executive chair of the Liberal Arts Career NetWORK. He has spent over 30 years helping students find their career path, paving the way for engineers and artists alike.