Monday, October 18th, 2010

Aimless University Majors

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Aimless Univeristy Majors

Should money be your deciding factor when you’re picking a major?

Tell someone you’re attending university and the first question they fire back is: what’s your major? And that’s a loaded question these days.

Your major is the specific area of study that you choose to focus on in university. It dictates everything from your classes, to your contacts in and out of school, to your career afterwards, and essentially the type of world you occupy. When you choose one, it’s declaring who you are and what you can do— at least to future employers, your parents, and friends (the ones who probably asked that pesky question in the first place).

Google “deciding on a major,” if you haven’t already. You’re going to see countless websites that instantly place focus on what comes after: your career. These websites range from informational sites to silly quizzes. They take focus away from your major, to your job and then to exactly how much money you’re going to make from it. Importance is placed on what kind of career you can have, then the type of lifestyle you can afford, and then (maybe) what values you hold.

I can’t help but wonder, as important as money is, should that really be your deciding factor when you’re picking out your world? Shouldn’t values come first? Why don’t these websites just ask a simple question: what makes you happy?

Of course, for some, it isn’t about happiness.

Rewind for a moment. Children used to be their parents’ property, which meant they did exactly what their parents wanted. There were traditions to obey: The first son became what the father was, the second would go into the Church, the third the military, and so on. This continued long past the Industrial Revolution. Today, we’re not bound by the same traditions, and daughters have come into the picture. Parents may not own us like they used to, but it’s often their wishes that dictate our futures, and therefore our majors.

Some parents want doctors, some want teachers or engineers. You’d think, with all of these parental wishes, that deciding on a major would be simple. And then think: how many of us actually do what our parents want? There is a certain luxury that today’s student has, and that luxury is choice.

That choice stems from two things.

The first is an idea that I already proposed: what makes you happy? Today, there is much more focus on finding happiness, on finding your “true calling”, or vocation, rather than just a job. The second is basic economics. Many students in university these days come from affluent backgrounds. Not incredibly wealthy families, mind you, but that middle-class background that means we have never really had to worry about money, we have been allowed to roam free, and we’re probably not going to follow in our accountant mother or father’s footsteps. I’m not suggesting that all students are wealthy enough to afford choice, nor am I saying that money takes the pressure off. The observation I am making is that when money isn’t a worry, choosing a major is less of a problem.

Of course, we recently saw a recession, which brought money (specifically the lack of it) to the forefront. Students were left with juxtaposition between happiness and money. Their indecision is obvious in the Statistics Canada numbers, as students are taking longer to complete a degree. The same data tells us more students are choosing generic programs, like business and as their major. The less technical the degree, the more fluidity it has.

Many universities offer cross-faculty degrees, combining two entirely different degrees, like Biology/Psychology, Science and Arts. If you’re struggling with your decision, you may want to look into this, especially if you’re worried about finding a job, or getting into a graduate school.

If you’re still struggling beneath parental decision versus your own choice, take a page from a friend’s book. His mother wants a doctorate holder for a son. Even though he likes Bio-Physics, it’s not quite as passion-inducing as musical performance. To please both mother and the need for a steady job, he’s getting the proper degree – but he’s also the president of the musical theatre group on campus. Both of which are going to look great on a resume.

The bottom line is this: do what makes you happy because you’re not just locked into this for four years. You could be locked into it for the rest of your life. And, wealthy or not, isn’t happy where we’re all trying to be?

Sasha Duncan
Author: Sasha Duncan
Sasha is a third-year student at UBC Vancouver, she's making the most of the time until she graduates and then has to figure out just what to do with herself post-graduation.
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  1. me9900 Says:

    Thats a very poignant essay. How do we weigh happiness and money? Do all the people in a first year biology class who raise their hand when asked, “who wants to go to medical school?”, really want to go? And how many are merely using med school as a pathway to distinction and a lucrative lifestyle? It would be especially interesting to look at the statistics showing how many students choose to pursue graduate studies out of apathy and a desire to remain uncommitted to a career instead of a passion for their field of study.

  2. jaceface Says:

    What a great article!

  3. Cassandra Jowett Says:

    I don’t think the title of the degree is as important as the other stuff you do while you’re in university. Your extra-curricular activities, internships, summer jobs, co-ops and other experience will help you land a job after graduation, not the title of your degree. Everyone has one of those.

  4. Royabear Says:

    Great points. I attended CAL for 3 and a half grueling years, dreaming of the day when I would be out and making 6 digits. Now, I am doing something completely different than my major and am still left wondering, did I really spend 80,000 on an education in Psychology and then start my own business in copywriting? I say- skip college & get clear and committed to what you love doing on a daily basis. If it is being with your dog- think about all the jobs that you can do working with Animals and go after it. Hey, you’ll save about 80 grand, and four of the hottest years of your life-LOL!

  5. articulate friend. Says:

    “The same data tells us more students are choosing generic programs, like business and as their major. The less technical the degree, the more fluidity it has.”
    I don’t like that the degree I have chosen is perceived as the “fall-back” choice, however when I think about the reason I chose it, it was for precicely that reason, I had no idea what I wanted to get into… fortunately for me I have grown to like my degree. However, as business school is one of the more expensive majors (at UBC at least) I don’t recommend that everyone just take it as a back-up. There is something to be said for taking some time off after high school to figure out what you really want to do.



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