Choosing a Major in College
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Choosing a Major in College
My young adult started sophomore year in college and is having a
difficult time choosing a major, torn between English courses that she
enjoys and the feeling that she should major in the far more rigorous
sciences because she would really get to know a subject in depth.
While I'm happy to have her pursue either direction, I think she could
use some guidance as she seems increasingly upset about her
indecision. Her university doesn't provide much in the way of advising
and I wonder if there are other resources that she should consider. Or
should I just let her deal with it?
Wondering the best way to be supportive.
Maybe take your daughter to Alumnae Resources in SF, and talk to
them. I'm wondering if she could meet with a few different people
who have careers that interest your daughter and see which paths
they took to get there.
120 Montgomery St.Suite 600, San Francisco, CA, 94156
I just participated in a panel discussing selecting the right
major at Berkeley for a bunch of freshmen. Believe me, most kids
don't know what to major in at first. This is why we have
''lower-division'' and insist on the student completing breadth
requirements - to experience many different kinds of courses and
perhaps find their passion.
But here's the lowdown - and it is key. If your daughter loves her
English courses and does *great* in them, and doesn't love science
and doesn't do nearly as well, consider the hard cold fact that
*every* major corporation asks any prospective employee what his /
her GPA was as an undergrad and automatically eliminate anyone
under 3.5GPA for the interesting jobs.
Yes, 3.5GPA is usually the cutoff - and people 30 years out of
college have faced this question in their job hunt in recent
years, so it doesn't go away.
So if she is considering a science degree cynically, but is not a
tip-top student in the field, but is a great student in English or
psych or history or polisci or econ or anthropology, and she does
not intend to go on to a Ph.D. in research and instead is thinking
of working for Google or HP or GM or a startup, consider the GPA
and the passion.
Because when all is said and done, it's the passion and the skill
(as measured in the objective of a GPA) that employers consider.
Finally, if she wants to go on to a Ph.D. in English or
anthropology or history or economics, or maybe to law or business
school (realize most humanities, law and business are pretty
flexible about your undergraduate major), a tip-top GPA and GRE
gets her into the best graduate schools.
So the most important thing is to *love* your field, build your
mentorships with professors, do internships (I was in DC last
month on Capital Hill and met some great Congressional interns)
and *excel*. University is *not* just training for your next job -
it is intended as an apprenticeship for depth in a field and
instill teach flexibility in an ever-changing global economy.
Choosing a major can be stressful especially in these dark times
when the old adage do what you love and the money will follow has
been disproven. Seeing a counselor for therapy might be a good
idea if she's feeling overwhelmed.
I would have a frank conversation with her. There's no need to
spend time or money on college/life counselors/coaches, etc. If
you are wealthy and willing to support her indefinitely, I would
encourage her to major in English. Tell her you will finance her
happiness. Otherwise, I would encourage her to major in science
and start preparing for graduate school. Tell her you want her to
be able to afford rent and groceries and maybe an occasional night
on the town. Lots of classes in English won't make that happen. A
career in science probably will.
Former Liberal Arts Pauper
It was interesting to read the variety of answers about how to
choose a major. I just explained to my college bound HS senior that
I had 9 majors over 7 colleges. Nothing is permanent and in the
world our kids face, careers will be even less permanent. I
recommend following own's passion and then working out the steps
needed for a livelihood.
We all want to encourage our kids to do well in school, but I would
differ from one answer that said a GPA of 3.5 is everything. While
some jobs may ask about GPA, I have been a successful healthcare
professional for 35 years and I can't remember anyone asking my GPA.
I currently work independently and have a dozen clients and no one
has asked for my GPA.
Graduate schools and training programs obviously ask for transcripts
from prior schools. I've never heard of or seen an automatic GPA cut
off including when I've sat on admissions panels evaluating
candidates for our training program.
''...consider the hard cold fact that *every* major corporation asks
any prospective employee what his/her GPA was as an undergrad and
automatically eliminate anyone under 3.5 GPA for the interesting
Yes, 3.5 GPA is usually the cutoff - and people 30 years out of
college have faced this question in their job hunt in recent years,
so it doesn't go away.''
Really? Here are the cold hard facts of my corporate life at a
Johnson & Johnson company. J&J is MAJOR - #33 on the Fortune 500
list - and never do we consider grades in hiring. We have a young
staff. We hire people straight out of college, as well as people in
their 30s and beyond, and we don't ask about grades. I checked with
other departments to see if hiring policies vary and managers
laughed at the question. We hire people whose skills and
personalities fit our corporate culture and can do an excellent job.
Period. And we test people to see if they'll be able to do the job.
We're a high-tech company, serving millions of parents around the
world. We hire marketers, product managers, engineers, editors,
salespeople, and many other types. The proof is in the pudding --
grades tell you nothing. Same goes for where you got your degree(s).
We've discovered that going to Harvard doesn't mean you're brilliant
or that we want to work with you. We end up hiring people with all
sorts of college backgrounds. As one manager in another department
put it when I asked her for a reality check, ''grades are only
important for getting into college.'' I've worked for three other
huge corporations as well, and never were grades mentioned. Come on
people, this is the real world. Good grades do not equal success in
adult life. I'm sure there *are* companies that require a certain
gradepoint average. But as bureaucratic and stodgy as J&J can be
(the company is 100+ years old), it does not have any such policy.
And would you really want to work for one that did? Lighten up and
stop worrying about what your kids major in. Enjoy your children and
encourage them to pursue their passions. College is only the
beginning of a long, long journey. I've been out of college for
decades and only now do I see what I *should* have majored in! Yes,
youth is wasted on the young. And there's nothing we can do about
-- A contented corporate drone
Although I am a little tardy, I have to write in and agree with the
person who said that following one's talent (this is important --
the area in which one will excel) and following one's passion is
much more important at the undergraduate level than trying to gauge
which major will be most marketable. I disagree quite emphatically
(and was rather offended, actually) by the person who said that an
English major should have wealthy parents willing to support him or
her through life. An education in the Humanities (philosophy,
history, arts, languages and culture) is perhaps the single thing
most missing among many of those currently participating prominently
in American popular discourse. So there's that: what kind of
society do we want? But more personally, I have taught in the
Humanities and advised students for more than twenty years. And I
know people with degrees in the Humanities who have gone one to have
splendid careers in law, business, government, journalism,
scientific (yes) research (psychology and medicine, to name two
fields), and... Humanities professions! Filmmakers, travel writers,
managing editors of publishing companies -- I personally know
Humanities majors who have been very successful in those fields.
One of my best friends from graduate school was a major in Classics
who learned ancient Greek and participated in archeological digs at
Corinth in Greece before going to law school and becoming a
prominent lawyer. Now he's a lawyer who knows a great deal about
the origins of law and democracy in the Western world. Please do
not let this economic downturn push you toward selling your child
(and our culture) short.
sign me as: former English and language major doing nicely without
$$ from Mom and Dad
Just had to put my two cents in after reading the post from the
guy at Johnson and Johnson. I work for the Social Security
Administration. To be admitted to the initial exam we had to
have a B.A. with membership in a college honor society to try
for level GS-5 and have a major they thought useful like Public
Admin., Government or Public Health to be put on the list for
GS-7. This was really annoying to me because I have an M.A. and
a Teaching Credential. Even though my credential covered many
relevant courses, it was not a ''degree'' so it didn't count. So
now I am training with people who are being paid about $8,000
more a year because of their relevant M.A. Anthropology did not
cut it. Incidentally, on the positive side, the SSA is rated the
sixth best federal agency to work for (right behind the
Smithsonian)and they will be hiring thousands more in the next
few years. They pride themselves on their diversity so this past
year at my facility they hired 65% from groups generally
considered ethnic minorities, 10% disabled, 10% Vets, and a few
of us older folks. We have a whole crop of recent grads from UC
Davis. Being bilingual also helps to get a job there. Out of
about 1000 employees at the facility we speak collectively over
64 languages. The upshot is yes, some organizations do care
about your grades (and your major).
this page was last updated: Feb 18, 2011
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