According to the Pew Research Centre, 29% of american students regret their college major decision. At Penn State, up to 80% of students are unsure of what they will major in when they begin their studies, and nearly half will change majors at least once before graduating.
Why the indecision, change and regret? Here are 4 mistakes students make when picking an education program that help explain these numbers.
1. Lack of information about themselves
Without a solid understanding of themselves and what they want, students lack a strong starting point to begin searching for career and education options.
Answering the following questions provides focus and direction: What is important to you? What challenges would you like to tackle? What sets you apart from others? What is unique about the combination of your personality, interests, strengths and values?
The answers to these questions can come in the form of data from a valid psychometric assessment, guided reflection, self-awareness exercises or from discussions with a professional. Most importantly, the interpretation of how these different data points align with each other and how to take action on the insights is what students benefit the most from.
Students who do not gather data about themselves and integrate it in their decision-making process miss an opportunity to ensure their career and studies line up with who they are.
2. Lack of information about the future
What will the future of work look like? What is happening in the fields I am interested in? What jobs and career are growing and which ones are becoming obsolete? Answers to these questions can have a significant impact on how a student thinks about and picks what they want to study. Unfortunately, many students chose a career path based on the current labor market, which limits their ability to prepare for the long-term.
Data published in the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook provides some information about the future, but students need guidance to understand how this data relates to their particular situation. In addition, students benefit greatly from speaking to professionals in their fields of interest to find out about future demands and trends. Often, connecting with people in their dream jobs is easier than students think. Those who fail to do so miss out on important insights that could significantly impact their choice of studies.
3. Lack of education program research
Once students have gathered solid information about themselves and what they want to do, they need to create a tailored list of education programs aligned with their career goals. Some students make the mistake of searching too narrowly (i.e. not enough options), while others search too broadly (i.e. too many options). With thousands of available majors, getting the right balance can be tricky.
After the initial list is created, students should filter their options systematically to create a list of top majors. Next, students need to evaluate each major in depth to understand what problems they could help solve, how they are built and what students are likely to enjoy and find challenging about them.
Often, students get lost in this process and fail to do their due diligence on understanding the programs they are interested in. Without a strategy and an effective research process, choosing the right major is difficult to achieve.
4. Lack of help
Many students report being disappointed by the support they receive from high school counsellors. For others, working through this process with their parents can lead to a different set of challenges that can hinder, rather than helps, the outcome. Finally, counselors may not be as useful as expected, as the help they are able to provide to prospective students is often limited.
Many students benefit from a neutral accountability partner that guides them through the process. This person should act as a coach and facilitator who transfers career development skills and enhances the student’s research and decision making process.
- Falling victim to a cognitive bias that leads to a poor choice in education program. For example, the ambiguity effect: tendency to avoid the “unknown”; confirmation bias: looking for information that confirms existing beliefs and rejecting data that goes against beliefs; neglect of probability: the tendency to disregard probability when making a decision under uncertainty, etc.
- Consistently delaying decisions. For many students, picking a career will involve incremental steps that build onto each other and lead to good choices. By pushing back decisions and commitments, students fail to gather the momentum and the building blocks required to advance in their ideal path.
- Choosing an education program for the wrong reasons. Following a friend, choosing the most prestigious (sounding) career, trying to please your parents, choosing solely based on income, etc. The list goes on!
Through awareness of these common mistakes, students and parents can avoid the negative impacts of choosing an education program that is a bad fit. Please share with those who could benefit!
What other mistakes have you seen students make?