One could argue that college planning is better described as career planning. Crime scene investigator. Lawyer. ER doctor. Federal agent. Police detective. So frequently these occupations have captured the imaginations of so many students. Students aligning their interests with a possible college major are on the right track. However, it’s important that these students get guidance beyond their favorite television programs. 

An interesting study performed by the American College Test (ACT) shows that about a third of students have researched and identified a major that is a good fit. The other two-thirds have not. With this in mind, you can see that many students do not have the guidance needed to select colleges that may help them achieve their career goals.  80% of students change their major at least three times according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. One of the byproducts of this situation is an increase in the time and money it takes to get a degree. We recommend a different strategy that can be summarized with these 4 points.

1.     Do not confuse major with career. Every student should use a scientific-based assessment to identify their top 3-4 choices of career. Dr. Lawrence K. Jones at The Career Key recommends using the Holland Codes as an approach. Spend time researching potential careers. Most importantly, students need to be honest about their interests without caving in to parental or other outside influences. Research shows that when interests are aligned with career options, success is more likely.

2.     Identify your top 2-3 majors that will lead to your top 2-3 career choices. When you research colleges, only add colleges on your list that have all of your majors. This way, if or when you decide to change majors, you won’t have to change colleges to change majors. When you change colleges to chase majors, credits and scholarships frequently don’t transfer and you end up paying more in time and money.

3.     Be sure to assess the reality vs. the fantasy that is often portrayed on TV. Speak to individuals working in the professions that interest you. I have met countless students express interest as a crime scene investigator, only to find out later on that they cannot stand the sights and smells usually associated with crime scenes. Many interested in the legal profession are shocked to find out that many attorneys infrequently see the inside of a courtroom and that countless hours of research are required before a case can move forward. Also, the salaries typically associated with some of these jobs are far removed from the fast cars, designer clothes and glamorous lifestyles frequently portrayed on television.

4.     Despite all the tools and research, some students are still unable to identify a clear career goal. This can happen. In this instance, consider a liberal arts education in order to expose your student to the broadest selection of majors possible. They can make a more informed decision later on in their 1st or 2nd year of college and still graduate on time. A recent study shows that the earning power of liberal arts students can exceed their more traditional peers in the long run.