Major Problems

In spring when high school juniors begin devising their lists of colleges in preparation for fall applications, panic can quickly arise, when asked the typical first question, “What do you want to study in college?” which to a teenager translates to: “I must choose a career, right now at seventeenish years old, sign my name in blood and risk sacrificing my first child if I change my mind anytime between now and death.”

So, as is typical of many, rather than confront such normal neurosis, they often mumble, “I don’t know,” which then can incite a series of questions (which may seem like a barrage to a teenager) from parents, who well-intentioned seek to help their teenager identify options. Yet, parents often worry, privately or not so privately, that their teenager will mis-choose a college and forgo college application opportunities without identifying a more narrowly defined area of study. 

Yet, both parents and students are misinformed, as major choice is but one criteria for choosing a college, and not a prerequisite, or even a logical reason, for applying to college. 

But, without experienced counsel, sometimes, separately, both parties seek to resolve the “major question” by reading unmoderated college admissions discussion boards, random Googling, or mindlessly scrolling through major lists on university websites, somehow hoping a Major will jump off the screen, as if ordained by pixels. 

Furthermore, teenagers will consult their equally inexperienced teenage colleagues for their “major choices”, often concluding that every other teenager on the planet “knows what they want to be for the rest of their lives, but me.” Yet, in my experience teenagers live inner, outer and secret lives, so what’s promoted publicly may or may not reflect the private reality. 

Additionally, when parents seek understanding from the parent network of their choice, they may similarly believe myths regarding major selection. Some conclude that without a major choice, their kid is forever resigned to burger flipping, living at home, supported on the family bankroll. Others deem that major isn’t that big of a deal, as long as my kid can explore their interests during college, which is absolutely what a student should do in the first few years of college. 

Yet, in between such extremes of misunderstanding, parents and students often overlook that an academic major choice is simply a reflection of a student’s understanding of their own aptitude, a definition of their life’s purpose. 

Thus, the answer to resolve the “major problem” begins and ends with the teenager themselves—although typically inexperienced in self-reflection—can, over a series of conversations starting now in spring of junior year then intensifies during the college application process, when students should consider their aptitude while drafting autobiographical college essays

Moreover, parents can assist their children in identifying aptitude by revealing their lifelong observations of their children’s talents and the recurring activities they unpromptedly engaged, no matter what subjects they studied in school or extracurricular activities in their schedule. 

However, given the nature of a typical teenager and parent dynamic, often objective, yet experienced advisors are helpful to ferret out a teenager’s aptitude. Sometimes, teenagers will be more candid with a trusted adult who’s not their parent, and simultaneously, parents can be frank in sharing their observations about their children in the presence of a moderator. 

The rationale for choosing to attend college and more specifically, what to study in college, is often corrupted by anxiety, often denied, regarding the more complicated, existential questions that arise in the lives of human beings. The question of what to do for the rest of my life can only be effectively answered calmly, analytically and collaboratively devoid of selfishness. Carpe diem!

To learn more how experts at Creative Marbles Consultancy, a full service educational advisory, help families resolve complex college admissions concerns as they seek the greatest value for their children’s higher education, contact us at

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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