Many students (and their parents) believe that applying to college begins by choosing a career that will align with one of the many majors on the pull down list of most digital college applications, often wrongly assuming that college is little more than a sophisticated form of job training required in order to achieve lasting prosperity.
Typically, deciding on a career begins with students and parents initially conducting a cursory survey of the student’s experience, identifying an interest or “something I like to do”. Then, sometimes over dinners with the extended family or in forays Googling “careers good for…”, they’ll generate a list of career options loosely correlated to the interest.
Some students will take the extra step of investigating each career through more Google browsing or interviewing a family friend, if they’re fortunate enough to know someone who works in the particular field. But, generally, most students (and their parents) are relieved to have “some direction” thus move to the next step in college admissions.
Third, families pick colleges where an academic major is offered which somewhat coincides with the targeted career, often a list curated after more Googling something like, “What are the most renowned colleges for X career”, a survey of “Where did my family members attend college”, or some background fact-checking on “What did so-in-so (some famous person for X career) study in college”.
Then, finally, students apply to the identified colleges.
However, following such a seemingly lock-step process, students and parents risk choosing careers myopically, under duress, especially given that seventeen year olds have limited experience. Once attending college, subjected to a variety of new experiences, students change their mind jettisoning majors and their parent’s expectations in the process, possibly impacting their self-confidence as well.
Instead of college being a place where students discover something more true, explore the unknown, collaborate with peers and be guided by mentors, it becomes a place where students desperate for freedom from weighty expectations, flit from one distraction to another, unsure of direction and likely to come home prematurely than to graduate on time confident of what comes next, the very definition of educational malinvestment.
Currently, the 43% of college grads who are underemployed, working jobs which either don’t require their college degree or less hours than they prefer, according to the Federal Reserve, can roughly be categorized as having malivested in their college education.
And, such college malinvestment can have long term impacts, especially when students have also assumed debt to pay for their college education, as decades of student loan payments can diminish one’s potential for wealth accumulation. Additionally, college grads who start their careers underemployed may spend more years working toward a job concomitant with their college degree, or abandon the effort altogether.
Every year, I meet recent college grads who choose colleges, academic majors, careers without much self-reflection, inevitably having to navigate a more thorough soul-searching about their inherent aptitude to determine their life’s purpose—only now at 22 or even older, supposedly at the stage of their lives to be considered a responsible adult, yet possibly still living at home at the behest of their parents’ support, an unexpected, possibly humbling twist to what once was a promising student.
In conclusion, I recommend that students reflect, preferably with the support of others, throughout the pivotal four years of high school, and especially during the autobiographical college essay writing process, an inherently self-reflective exercise, to (re)discover their aptitude to then select a college where they’ll most likely enact their life’s vision. Then, the career will naturally arise, and with it economic prosperity and peace of mind.
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