Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
ALICE: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
THE CHESHIRE CAT: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
ALICE: I don’t much care where.
THE CHESHIRE CAT: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Articles giving advice on a particular course of action can never take into account every single personal circumstance, as they are neither God, nor…the market. Yet ‘experts’ readily write them, and we eagerly read them in the hope that some of the decisions we need to take have already been thought through by them and that all that’s left to us is implementing their advice. This is not such an article. Instead, I would like to guide you to some tools that will aid you in thinking through to and making one of the most crucial decisions with your child: what specific major, if any, should my son or daughter pursue in college?
A recent Bankrate study determined that STEM-related college majors top the list as most valuable in terms of post-college median income and unemployment measures. At the bottom, the ‘arts,’ performing and otherwise, along with literature, linguistics, rhetoric and other such ‘meaningless’ pursuits. So there we have it - enough with the arts and literature. Boo! Long live STEM! But jesting aside, should not such information be at least considered before laying out the average $25,290 (in-state), $40,940 (out-of-state), or $50,900 (private)? Well, … it depends.
Years back when I was considering attending law school, an acquaintance of mine who had finished Norte Dame Law whispered me a secret - it doesn’t matter what school you attend as does being in the top 5% at that school. Hmm… I thought. And then I largely agreed. And although I find this revelation to apply more to graduate and professional schools, it does bring up something important for undergraduate pursuits as well: BE GOOD AT WHATEVER YOU CHOOSE. Which then leads back to our conundrum of what to choose and why.
WHO ARE YOUR CHILDREN?
And that’s not even a theoretical question. Who they ‘are’ has a lot to do with what careers they’re more likely to excel in. By the time they’re heading to college, there’s not much about temperament they can change, and perhaps even less about what naturally motivates them. Is it working with numbers, or people, or language, or getting their hands dirty while building something? It is much more probable that your children will excel in a major that relates to elements they naturally want to pursue. Understanding the natural motivational drivers of your child can be a powerful element in deciding career and, therefore, college major. It can also help differentiate between fad-majors and careers and those that your child can pursue with focused longevity. But that exploration, I humbly suggest, is better done BEFORE college, not after spending four years struggling with Tennessee Williams while they’d rather build a robot. So, who are your children? What motivates them sans constant nagging (I mean, guidance).
SO YOU WANNA BE ON B’DWAY?!
A note of encouragement to those finding themselves destined to pursue majors at the bottom of the Bankrate study: we need artists because we need art. But in no other profession is the ‘be in the top 5%’ rule more significant. In fact, as one who’s studied, performed internationally, and taught Acting and Movement in a NYC university for years, I would recommend you shoot for being in the 1% - otherwise, the obscene oversupply of ‘talent’ in the performing arts and publishing industry will manifest the little mentioned industry dictum, “95% auditioning, 5% performing.” Of course, those stats about life as an artist are not usually touted until AFTER you graduate with your BFA. (Comment below or email us if you have children ready to pursue performing art degrees and we’ll send you some thoughts on options you may not have thought of.)
SUGGESTED TO Dos
Take the MAPP test at www.assessment.com - one of the most legitimate and valuable tools with which to discover very important elements about your natural drives and inclinations. I use this tool with many of my Learning Habits students. And, no, we don’t get commissions. Just a good tool. The Starter Package should suffice at this age, and they’re almost constantly offering 50% off. An important investment.
Have your children research the specific industry they think they want to aim for. Make sure they are specific: ‘business’ means nothing, since M&A could be ‘mergers and acquisitions’ or ‘marketing and advertising,’ each requiring a drastically different set of aptitudes and daily activities. Then have them define what constitutes being in the top 5% in that industry, and what’s required to get there, both steps and temperament.
What if I don’t want to decide yet what I will major in? Great question! But an equally good question is ‘why are you choosing to not decide?’ If you have thought it through and concluded that not choosing an initial major/career target serves a purpose, than it is as good a decision as declaring a specific path.