June 4, 2013

How to Choose a College Major and Career with Becky Rosswog

Are you finding it difficult to choose a college major? Are you confused as to which career path is best for you? If you answered yes to one or both of these questions, you are in the same position as millions of other students.

Some take the time to speak with their parents about this problem. Others rely on a high school guidance counselor or college career development professional.

As a college freshman, I decided to major in journalism with hopes of following this career path upon graduation. Unlike many, I never changed course and things worked out in the long run.

If you need a little bit of assistance, you have come to the right place. I recently connected with Becky Rosswog, Coordinator of Career Development at La Roche College (my alma mater), to discuss some of the issues students face among other topics.

The Help you Need

While the knowledge shared by Becky is sure to open your eyes and help you make a more informed decision, don’t shy away from contacting an admissions and/or career counselor at your particular school.

Now, it is time to learn. Here are the questions I asked Becky, followed by her detailed answers:

1. What are some of the common issues students face when deciding which career field to get involved with?

The greatest challenge that students face as they plan for their future by selecting a major and/or career path is their own lack of self awareness. Students often give little thought to self assessment and as a result do not have a solid understanding of their personal strengths, skills, attributes and orientation or readiness for specific programs and careers. It is crucial that students assess their academic strengths, personality, interests and values as they identify career goals. In addition to achieving a self awareness, students also need to spend time exploring potential career paths. Often they make career choices based on what they know or assumed earning potential, giving little or no thought to options. Lack of career knowledge can limit career choices and lead students to make decisions based only on what they know with no regard to potential careers in areas with which they may not be familiar.

2. What is your best bit of advice for a student unsure of which career path is right for him or her?

My advice to students who are unsure of a career goal is to spend some time doing assessment exercises to identify career options that match their values, personality, interests and academic ability.  Once those assessments are complete, students need to explore appropriate careers that match those assessments. Research is one way to gather information on specific careers, but a better method to gaining an understanding and first hand view of professions is to participate in shadowing experiences. Interacting with career professionals can provide a wealth of information to students who are struggling with career choices and are unsure of their options.

3. Is it common, in your experience, for students to start with one idea of what they want to be and then shift to something else later in their college career?

It is very common for students to start in one area of study, assuming a specific career goal and then shift into another area. We see this often when students select a specific major as a freshman, take a few classes in that area and then decide that they are in the wrong major. I think this is common because they are not spending the time doing self assessments and career exploration prior to deciding on a major and a career path. Then once they take a course in that major and gain a better understanding of the field, they realize that it does not interest them or match their academic profile. Students do not typically have strong support in the areas of self assessment and career exploration and being left to their own devises either make bad career decisions and have to change their major or do not make any decision and come in undeclared hoping to find something they will like once they are in school. Nationally, 20%-25% of students entering college are undeclared. Clearly there needs to be stronger support for students to engage in self assessments and career exploration prior to making college major selections and setting career goals.

Final Thoughts

If you are a student who needs help choosing a college major and/or career path, this advice is right up your alley.

For those who have already graduated and are looking for assistance, consider hiring a career coach.

The time you spend in college will help shape the rest of your life. Are you on the right path, or in need of some help?

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