Skip to content
Home » Valentine's Day » College planning: How to choose the right major and career

College planning: How to choose the right major and career

High school students often assume the first step in the college planning process is creating a list of schools or deciding on a major. While this is a common approach, it isn’t necessarily the most effective. Before setting their heart on a certain college or university, students should take stock of their interests, skills, and values to determine the major- and ultimately career- that best suits them.

In the latest episode of Talking College with Admissions and College Planning Expert John Dragone, “How to Choose a Major and Career Part I”, host John Dragone discusses his approach to college planning, the reasons why students are attracted to certain careers, and how self-awareness can play an important role in avoiding pitfalls and choosing the right college major. 

Why students decide on certain majors

Dragone, private practitioner and owner of John Dragone College Guidance Services, LLC since 2012, starts college planning sessions with students by posing a question: “Do you have any specific careers or college majors in mind?”

Some students say they have no idea want college major or career path to choose. Other say, “‘I haven’t narrowed it down to one particular college major career, but I have a few different things in mind.’” says Dragone. “Another one I get is, ‘I’m very certain about my career plans or college majors. In fact, I’m so certain that I’ve wanted to be- fill in the blank with a title of a career- ever since I was in sixth grade.’”

Can you guess which response makes Dragone the most nervous? It’s students who say they’ve been dead set on a certain major or career since they were very young.

Dragone calls this “tunnel vision,” and it can be a problem for a few reasons. One, a child’s brain is not fully developed when they decide on a career at such a young age. They also have very limited life experience to inform their decision. Perhaps they are influenced by career suggestions from parents. All in all, Dragone found that lots of students don’t have a good sense of whether their skills are well-suited for their desired career.

“I start out in the very first session working with students by asking them, ‘do you have any college majors or careers in mind?’ While that’s an important question, for me the most important question is this: How did you decide that particular career is one that you’re interested in? How did you go about coming to that decision? What was the process?” explains Dragone.

Some students say they’re attracted to certain careers because of the salary, they want to please their parents, they’re interested in the field, or they’ve seen the career portrayed in popular media. Some, quite simply, have a passion for the subject matter.

“It’s not just one’s passion that enables them to come to a good career decision. Just being good at something doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the career path that you should follow,” says Dragone.

How to choose the right college major and career

Students should go through an in-depth career decision-making process before looking at colleges for one of two reasons: It will either “Confirm that the career or college majors they’ve had in mind are, indeed, good ones, realistic ones, ones that are well suited to the student, or it’s going to show them just the opposite,” explains Dragone.

This may seem like a tough approach but, as Dragone has witnessed throughout his career, it’s one that produces the best results. Student may not be thrilled about having to go through the process, but by the end, they are happy they did so.

That’s not to say high school students should be expected to make a final career decision when they are 16 or 17 years old. If they do decide to switch careers someday, they will be prepared to navigate that process with confidence.

“People go through career change,” says Dragone. “I’m not even talking about just changing jobs, I’m talking about changing careers at various points throughout their life. If they’ve gone through this process as a 16 or 17 year old, they can come back and utilize it at various points in their life, whether it’s in college, or even beyond that.”

Students should focus on interests, skills, values

Secondary schools do a great job of teaching disciplines like English, social studies, math, science, foreign language, music, technology, and the list goes on. Those subjects are important as they equip students with important life skills. Still, as far as career decision making goes, some lesser-taught subjects are just as essential.

“One of the problems is that schools tend to not devote a lot of time to teaching students how to be self-aware,” says Dragone. “All right, ‘who am I?’ Self-awareness is the whole basis of making career decisions. In other words, ‘what are my interests? What are my skills? What are my values?’ It’s all self-awareness. That’s what I spend all that time working with students on, how that self-awareness translates into identifying careers that are well suited for the student.”

You can listen to the full episode “Talking College: How to Choose a College Major and Career Part I” here.

New episodes of Talking College with Admissions and College Planning Expert John Dragone are released every Thursday at 4 p.m. Check this page for the latest episode.