Helping Your Teen Find the Right College Major

by Jamie Brown-Kennedy

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If you’re like other parents around the country, the daunting season of college applications can bring about unwanted stress and emotion.

When to apply, where to visit, financial aid, scholarships, there are so many aspects that come up. Perhaps one of the most common questions is-What major should my child apply for?

Here’s the good news:

Your child does not need to know what they want to study. Who really knows what they want to do for the rest of their life at the ripe old age of 17 or 18? Even as adults, people go back to school for career changes every year. There are certainly colleges and programs that require first year acceptance into their particular programs - but if your child is looking to earn a liberal arts baccalaureate degree, then chances are they have some time to figure it out.

You see, many colleges require a certain set of classes - often known as General Education Requirements - for students to take prior to graduating. Often, this can bide some time for your son or daughter to explore classes in various departments, industries, talk to professors, and get a feel for what’s out there. In this case, they would want to apply as an “undeclared” student. Since every college is different, do be sure to do your homework and ensure that going in as “undeclared” will not lengthen the amount of time required to graduate.

Chances are, your son or daughter will be just fine and provided they check in with their advisor often, take a full course load, and are on the appropriate track to formally declare a major, they should be able to graduate in the typical amount of time.

There are always exceptions:

If your son or daughter is confident that they want to be on a pre-med, pre-law, or pre-dental track, then it’s best to have them apply to colleges that have strong pre-professional programs. This will ensure that they are taking the appropriate classes that will prepare them to apply and be competitive for graduate school.

Likewise, if your son or daughter is interested in embarking on a five-year program, then this is also something you will want to consider in advance. Many colleges are initiating “5-Year Programs”, which afford students the opportunity to earn a masters degree in a particular major during their fifth year. This is another example of how a student will want to start college with a declared major under their belt.

Consider other options:

Maybe your son or daughter is not geared toward a baccalaureate degree. Consider other options. Alternative options include trade school, gap years, and holistic healing careers. It’s better to embark on a program that they are truly inspired to be a part of then to reluctantly jump on the bandwagon for a degree that may not intrigue them.

So how should we as parents prepare for this? The answer: Start this process early.

Do not wait until your child’s senior year to start exploring majors. When in doubt, have your child apply as an undeclared major - unless they are absolutely certain as to the field of study they wish to pursue. Start examining colleges early on in their high school career. Get a feel for what’s out there. How competitive are their programs? Which programs require direct entry as a first year student? The earlier you start this process, the less stressed out everyone will be.

Start a folder and collect information that you feel is pertinent to the college application process. And when in doubt, always ask questions. College admission offices are there to help answer any questions you may have about their programs. As an educational consultant, I often work with students to test and analyze college majors that would be a good fit for them. Taking into consideration academics, extra curricular activities, hobbies, salary-expectations, and the student’s personality are all methods that can be used to advise or recommend prospective majors.

There is a beautiful array of college majors available to youth today. Some standard, some unique, and some that provide exceptional research and travel experience. Getting the most out of college means doing your homework ahead of time. Four years is a long time to spend somewhere and you want to ensure it’s the right decision.

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