A fourth-year trustee advises underclassmen on the best way to choose a fitting major
The University of Virginia is an institution of opportunity for young minds, which opens the door to a world of unlimited knowledge. As a student, it easy to get lost in such a world; every individual needs to have a plan of action or a road map for the next four years of one’s life. No one wants to reach the spring of fourth year and ask, “Now what?” The University offers 100-plus majors that lead to thousands of potential jobs; however, only the cream of the crop of college graduates are receiving job offers or entering into top-tier graduate schools.
Currently, 53 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or working jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree. The official unemployment rate for college graduates is 6.8 percent, but this only considers graduates looking for work, not those going to graduate programs or working at undesired jobs. These are scary facts considering the amount of debt most students accumulate to attend college.
In order to graduate with a degree in which you can personally be successful, a hypothesis-driven approach to college needs to be taken. The approach would start with stating, “I think x major is the perfect fit for me,” then testing it against three different sub-categories: one’s personal qualifications for the major, whether the major provides the foundation for a desired job or graduate school and whether the desired job provides a good quality of life.
When thinking of your desired major, ask yourself, “Am I personally qualified in both the academic and behavioral senses?” Looking at academic qualifications, consider the following: Will your high school curriculum help you succeed, do you have the skills to succeed in the major, and do you enjoy the curriculum? Next, ask what type of person succeeds in this major and whether you are that type of person. Consider the kinds of skills needed, including those of analytical, collaborative, or communicative merit. Then, ask whether your personal and academic traits will make you a competitive candidate? It’s a tough job market, so it’s vital to pick a major where you have a passion and can excel.
The next question to ask is whether the major opens the door to your dream job or graduate school. Does it allow you to develop marketable skills? Do firms of your interest recruit students from this major? Lastly, through the major or alumni, is there the opportunity to build a network with professionals in the field or at graduate programs of interest?
If you have the personal qualifications for the major and the major provides the foundation for your future dream job, it is time to decide if the dream job provides the perfect quality of life for you, a life in which you can be happy and satisfied. Questions to consider: What is the salary? What are the hours? What kind of travel is involved? Does the work allow you to challenge yourself?
When using the hypothesis-driven approach, if you confirm that you have the personal qualifications for the major, the major facilitates progress on your career path, and the job provides the desired lifestyle, then you have selected the correct major. Only you can answer these questions, and it is important to be honest with yourself. Furthermore, your values and interests may change as you grow and learn; therefore, it is important to continue to re-examine the academic career path you have selected using this approach. In order to best answer the above questions, research is key. Gather as much data as you can. Talk with professors, mentors, family, and friends. It is vital to select a major that allows you to flourish and that supports future opportunities. This approach will help you to develop your personal road map to your academic and post-graduate careers.
Jeff Todd is a Fourth-Year Trustee.