BERGER: A major problem

Students should focus on finding their passions when selecting a major

Fall semester is flying by, and second years are becoming anxious about declaring a major. Why is it that so many students are anxious instead of excited? I think that this apprehension stems not from a fear of making a definitive decision, but from a fear of making the wrong definitive decision.

I say “wrong” because many students are pushing themselves to study what society deems important, such as medicine, law and business. Students often choose majors that pass the “parent’s test” instead of studying what really interests them. This is not the case for all students, but many face this dilemma. I have met countless pre-Commerce students who claim they enjoy commerce but later confess they are not sure what they want to study. They just know that the Commerce School is sought after and thus a good major. I have spoken with fervent students of religion who refuse to declare a major in religious studies for fear of parental disapproval. I know students who have hobbies they love, such as writing and acting, but who opt out of related majors for fear of dooming themselves to a lifetime of low salaries. Instead, students turn to the more popular majors of economics, commerce and biology. These majors are impressive and there are students who are passionate about them. But there are also students who are passionate about other things, yet they opt for a popular major to be safe.

I think the anxiety about choosing a major comes from an internal conflict that many students face. Should you major in a subject you are passionate about? Or should you major in something that you think will lead to a high salary?

Students’ reasons for not studying what they are passionate about make sense. Most students want good salaries; but at what cost? I understand the desire to succeed economically, and I commend students for their aspirations — even if those aspirations are instilled more by parents or peers — but students can still succeed while studying something they are passionate about.

A study done by Oxford University analyzed the employment destinations of 11,000 of its humanities graduates from 1960 to 1989 and found that about 20 percent of humanities graduates were working in growth-driving sectors such as finance and management at the peak of the UK’s economic boom. The study claims that the demand for humanities graduates in the working world reflects the value of “emotional intelligence as well as cognitive skill” among graduates. I know of CEOs and other leaders of major corporations and law firms who received undergraduate degrees in English and classics. They studied what they loved and later went to business school or law school. Graduate school is always a possibility, as are Ph.D. programs, and you can study what you are passionate about and still make a good salary. This is also true even without graduate school, for if students study their passions they will enjoy what they do and therefore have a better chance at being successful.

I know this does not resonate with all students, but many students are currently struggling with the dilemma of choosing a major they are passionate about and choosing a major that is more popular and accepted. You are only in college for four years, so study what you love. Do you know your passion? If it is not what is written on your major declaration form, perhaps you should take the time to reconsider.

Meredith Berger is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. Her columns run Mondays.


Published October 21, 2013 in Opinion





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