How Choosing The Right Major Can Lead To More Success And Less College Debt

POST WRITTEN BY Dr. Richard Ellison for Forbes Coaches Council
Dr. Richard Ellison is the author of “Career Happiness & Success” and created
the PATH2HappiSuccess online career assessment program.

While writing my book Career Happiness and Success, I repeatedly came across alarming statistics about college graduates and their odds of getting good jobs upon graduation. These statistics reveal an important trend: Choosing the wrong college major — or entering college “undeclared” — often leads to greater debt and slim odds of getting a good job at graduation. In contrast, choosing the right major for you can improve your chances of happiness and success in college and in your career.

The Perils Of Choosing The Wrong College Major

Numerous studies spotlight the problems associated with choosing the wrong college major or entering college “undeclared.”

• Only 27% of graduates get jobs in the area of their majors, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York report.

• Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report (registration required) shows that only 31% of college graduates are engaged (highly involved and enthusiastic) in their work. The remainder are unattached or not passionate, including many who are just unhappy at work.

• According to a 2018 report by labor analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies, 43% of college graduates end up in jobs that do not even require college degrees.

• Students who start college “undeclared” or change their majors during school will have taken courses that do not apply to their final majors. Therefore, they often need an extra one or two years of college courses to graduate. According to a Complete College America report, two extra years of unplanned college expenses can increase a student’s debt by nearly 70%. In turn, this debt often forces graduates to take jobs they don’t like simply to be able to make the payments on their student loans.

The Benefits Of Choosing The Right College Major

Choosing the right major before you start college can not only help you graduate in four years, but also put you on the path to happiness and success because you will:

• Be happier studying subjects for which you’re passionate and have talent;

• Be better prepared to obtain solid internships, which is critical for good jobs;

• Avoid the college “stress crisis” because you’ll see a clear path to graduation;

• Maintain a high level of self-confidence because you are achieving high grades and gaining recognition;

• Have less student loan debt because you won’t need extra years to graduate, and

• Be ready to excel in a career that is engaging and enjoyable.

That last point is particularly important: Based on my experience as the CEO of several national consulting companies, college graduates who are engaged and happy in their work are the first to be promoted. As a result, they often make $25,000 to $50,000 more per year than their peers. This can add up to an additional $1 million to $2 million over the course of a career. And those promoted into management positions often realize much higher career incomes.

How To Choose The Right Major

The best way to choose your major is to start by choosing the best career for you. Then, you can choose the best major to launch you into that career. Of course, this begs the question: How do you choose your best career?

As I was completing my book, I started working with my grandkids and their friends to see if I could help them determine their answer. Unfortunately, we discovered that the existing career-selection “tools” on the market were primarily based on personality or aptitude, and, in my opinion, are not adequate. After extensive hands-on research, we decided to create our own program to help students determine their best careers and college majors. We named this program PATH2HappiSuccess.

During our research, we discovered that there are five key aspects of “you” that must be considered to determine your best career. These five key aspects are:

1. Personality: Personality relates to the psychological characteristics that determine an individual’s thoughts, emotion and behavior such as introvert vs. extrovert and judging vs. perceiving. The most popular personality assessment test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that tells you which of the 16 personality types you are. Each type has different characteristics, including the best types of careers for you.

2. Your Natural Abilities: What are you naturally good at doing (or not doing)? Are you a hands-on, fix-anything kind of person? Are you a great writer or speaker? Do you excel at math? We use the MAPP Assessment test because it provides detailed information on both your aptitudes and traits.

3. Inherent Traits: Your traits include your innate desires, such as preferring change and variety as opposed to being comfortable with familiar activities, choosing managing operations rather than developing strategies and favoring mechanical vs. technical activities.

4. General Areas of Interest: Choosing a career based on topics you enjoy is essential. Do you love problem-solving, counseling, working with computers, etc.? What do you spend your time on?

5. Work Preferences: Do you prefer to work alone or in a group, indoors or outside, at home or in an office, in a competitive or calm atmosphere, in a large or small organization? Do you prefer solving new problems or following standard procedures?

Examining these five key areas can empower you to gain a keen understanding of yourself that will pay off financially and emotionally. The more closely your career aligns with these areas, the happier — and more successful — you likely will be. And once you have a solid idea of your ideal career, you can easily identify the college majors that will be best for that field.

We strongly suggest that you do this exercise before you start college. Determining your best career and related major before beginning college courses (or early in your first year of college) can reduce your likelihood of amassing substantial student debt and provide you with the best chance of both college and career success.