Choosing a college major can be a stressful event. That’s because a college major represents a focus of study that can dictate a career path. For students that attend college for the purpose of future gainful employment the choice of major becomes a weighty decision. But before any student loads stress upon themselves they should recognize some key points.

Academic assessments

When trying to determine a major, you have the option of test assessments to help you along. Test assessments identify a base of knowledge in a student, and can also ask psychological profile questions to gauge characteristics. Test assessments can be very helpful in cases where the student does not know what they want to do. However, they should not be the only predictor to choice of major. It has been said that “There has never been a test, nor ever will there be one that can prove the true heart of a human being, except for the test of life itself.” This is to say that the results of a single mental inventory exam should not dictate everything to be done in life. It is simply a tool to help orient the individual.

Don’t major in minor things

Perhaps you are the foremost expert on Jane Austen, but she is but one writer in a sea of many. Maybe your thesis about Hamlet is an aesthetically perfect piece of writing, but it is one of 12,000 published papers concerning the same 400 year old masterpiece. Mastering numerical calculations is also a very helpful thing to learn, but if you do not find a way to practically apply it in a world full of computers already completing calculations it will not help you much either. The point is, think bigger about what you are studying.

Academic results do not necessarily equate into employment opportunities

This is a conundrum that high academics have been dealing with forever. If career success were predicated entirely on GPA then how is it that many very intelligent people fail in careers, while many people with less prominent academic records find a way to succeed? The difference comes down to individual characteristics that are un-teachable in a classroom, and a dash of random chance that affects us all. This does not diminish the value of learning, it just means a perfect GPA is a guarantee for Magna Cum Laude, not employment. Therefore, choosing an “easy” major to have a high GPA does nothing if the knowledge gained provides no real value. Instead, focus on positive and productive learning that can lead to discernible results. Be wary of academic hubris. This is the overconfidence of one’s abilities after the assurance of high grades and resulting praise.

Think outside the box

While in school start thinking about how you can improve and enhance your knowledge gain, and how you can use what you learn in a creative and positive way. Gravitate to a useful major using your creative faculties. Think value-added; how can you help improve and enhance the knowledge and ideas that are currently being taught. There is a lot of knowledge out there, but your distinction of the use of knowledge is key in productive academic endeavors and ultimately what you do after college. This is the type of thinking that went into creating companies like Google; take what knowledge is already out there and find creative and effective applications to make it better. Result; better internet search engine. Google did not invent all knowledge, they just made it easier for everyone to connect to it.

Skill orientation

It is said that “Knowledge is power” but this is only half true. Knowledge is really potential for power the same way gasoline without a spark remains a potential for energy. It is not until the spark hits the gasoline that things really heat up. So think of skills that can help enhance the use of your knowledge base. You may have great knowledge in mathematics, but you could enhance your abilities by gaining skills like being able to provide good presentations. You can learn a lot about engineering in a classroom, but do you know first hand about how to use the equipment involved? You might have to look outside the classroom in order to acquire skills that would help you in a major. If you already possess a certain skill set, choose a major that can help accentuate your abilities with academic pedigree.

Be ready for change

A big question for higher education is “how do we teach the students today so that they can be productive in the jobs of tomorrow that have not yet been invented?” Even five years ago the job of professional blogger hardly existed, yet today we see an explosion of growth in internet related industries. Meanwhile companies fall because of changes in the economy. Many students end up working in careers different than the original undergraduate major. Choosing a major that provides adaptable knowledge is therefore very important.

The power of the individual

Some people are going to succeed no matter what major they choose. This is confounding for students when they fail to realize that individual results will vary within the same major. Just because a major works out great for one person, does not mean it will work out great for you. Again, a very personal decision must be made to determine the major that makes sense.

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