Tips to take the struggle out of choosing a major

11/21/2011 5:00 AM

05/16/2014 5:52 PM

He was the poster child for college slackers — “Bluto” Blutarsky, the partying prankster played by John Belushi in the movie hit “Animal House.”

“Seven years of college down the drain,” Bluto said.

No parents paying hefty tuition bills these days want to hear something like that from their college student.

But here’s the reality. According to studies, the vast majority of college freshmen or high school seniors applying to schools right now have no idea what major they want to pursue and what their career path might be. They spend way more time working on getting into college and not enough on what they’ll do when they get there.

It’s perfectly understandable.

However, that lack of focus can contribute to students picking the wrong schools, taking the wrong classes, dropping out and squandering tens of thousands of dollars that Mom and Dad painstakingly saved.

But parents and students, take heart. Plenty of Web-based tools and services can help students match their career interests with potential academic majors. Some of those resources go one step further — matching the colleges that offer those fields.

One of the most comprehensive Web resources is MyMajors. It’s a free tool created by a retired professor from the University of Nevada-Reno and designed and marketed by Townsend Communications of Kansas City, publisher of the College Outlook magazine that is distributed to high school juniors and seniors nationwide.

The online tool, at www.mymajors.com, allows students, parents and school counselors to research a database of more than 1,600 college majors. There’s also a vast library of detailed career information — all aimed at helping students match their interests with schools that offer those fields of study.

MyMajors is not a personality test. Rather it measures a student’s academic achievements and interests to come up with recommendations on majors and schools. The site is easy to navigate as users, after registering, answer questions that take only a few minutes to complete.

Kathleen Shea Smith is an associate director and academic adviser at Florida State University in Tallahassee. She believes the most important decision for any college student is selecting the right major.

“It is a critical aspect of their identity,” she said.

She encourages Florida State freshmen to complete the MyMajors assessment as part of the process of declaring their major by the end of their first year.

“In my experience, the results often confirm original considerations,” Smith said. But MyMajors often “introduces new options which encourage the student to explore areas that they may never have considered or even knew existed.”

MyMajors isn’t the only Web resource that helps students home in on college majors. Programs on the websites of the College Board and the Princeton Review are worth checking out.

These online services provide useful information for students, but don’t choose a school solely because it offers a major you’re interested in.

Assessment tests aren’t the gospel either. Sometimes all it takes to find life’s calling is a friendly nudge from a professor to take a class, or a challenge from a family member or friend who sees your special talent.

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