Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

So You Want to Be an Airborne Ranger?

Written by Agatha Kulaga
As a high school student, figuring out the perfect outfit to wear to school the next day can be daunting. Sometimes it can feel as if your choice can make or break your day, if not your entire week. This, however, seems like nothing when we are faced with the formidable decision of choosing a major that can determine the path of our careers and can potentially shape the rest of our lives. How is a student expected to even begin this process of intense decision making when the plethora of options is often unclear to begin with?


As a high school student, figuring out the perfect outfit to wear to school the next day can be daunting. Sometimes it can feel as if your choice can make or break your day, if not your entire week. This, however, seems like nothing when we are faced with the formidable decision of choosing a major that can determine the path of our careers and can potentially shape the rest of our lives. How is a student expected to even begin this process of intense decision making when the plethora of options is often unclear to begin with?

Most high schools are required to provide a curriculum to students that is made up of the basic core classes: English, math, history, computer science, foreign language. Let’s face it though—sometimes the level of enjoyment of a particular class can simply depend on whether a best friend is in the class, if a boy/girl crush is taking the class, or if the teacher is an easy grader. Regardless of what we enjoy and why, these four years provide an opportunity to develop our knowledge, personalities, and strengths, while starting to establish the groundwork for our futures.

Now, schools in South Carolina, New Jersey, Florida, and Mississippi (with South Carolina being the first) are requiring students to choose majors. Proponents of this transition suggest that this approach will increase students’ chances of being accepted into college and will promote student engagement in school. While this may hold some truth, for those students who end up choosing the “wrong” major, it could actually increase the likelihood that students will become disinterested and disengaged. It may also increase dropout rates.

If graduating seniors struggle with choosing a college major, how is a thirteen-year-old expected to make a resolute commitment to a definitive educational path? Rather than advancing a balanced curriculum that encourages students to explore a multitude of interests, educators are doing the opposite. Once a student chooses a major, there is limited opportunity to change one’s mind. In Englewood, New Jersey, students are expected to uphold their commitment to their specialization for four years, unless there is a “compelling” reason to switch. If a highly specific major is chosen, this limited focus can potentially hinder students from gaining the skills necessary for jobs that require a diversified skill set. With a job market that is constantly evolving, the major chosen may ultimately not be relevant to the jobs that are available after high school and/or college. Such extremes can place severe pressure on students and simply suggest that there is one path to choose in order to achieve future success. This single path will hone in on very specific interests and skills, but will constrain students from developing a wide range of analytical and communication skills during one of the most significant developmental stages of adolescence.

Personally, I am glad that I did not have to choose a major in high school because, quite frankly, I was not aware of everything that was out there. Growing up in a small town and having been raised by parents who never went to college compelled me to rely and make decisions based solely on what I was taught in school. And, in high school, I assumed that the sensible majors were those that were obvious and that most others were considering, such as, English, business, art history, psychology, and computer science, to name a few. My guidance counselor, being from the same small town and possibly not having been exposed to the less obvious (but equally notable) possibilities, reinforced these options and gave me little additional direction regarding potential avenues worth exploring. I admit I spent a great deal of time in bookstores (the Internet did not exist in my life then) researching the various majors available, but the ones that I connected to the most were those that I found relevant to the subjects I was studying at that time. I was less certain about the vast amount of subcategories available within each major and found them even more intimidating. I was under the assumption that they were less “practical” and if chosen, I would be pigeonholing myself into one specific field I would be stuck with for the rest of my life.

When I entered college, after much debate and further encouragement from my English teacher, I chose an English major. Was I absolutely sure of this decision? Not really. Was I excited about pursuing a career in writing? For about six months after starting college, I was thrilled. Then I considered film production, then briefly, occupational therapy. Ultimately, timing and circumstances paved the way for the rest of my college education and for my career today. After taking some psychology courses, and having gone through a difficult family experience with mental illness, my passion for pursuing a career in psychology and research became so evident I could not believe I had ever considered anything else. Things often take time to fall into place, but it is only to our advantage to become as informed as possible in the decisions that we make about our lives. Having lived in New York for over six years now, I am still amazed by the varying occupations that my close friends hold, such as textile design, arts administration, nutrition counseling, and photo editing, all of which I find absolutely intriguing and continue to want to know more about.

As your high school years progress, you will have time to think about what is meaningful to you, what types of activities you engage in on a regular basis, and what you believe are your greatest abilities. Take a second. Breathe. Consider what qualities you value, such as, creativity, novelty, stability, competition, financial security, etc. Use this knowledge to navigate your future. Remember, there are people in every profession working to understand the complexity of how our world runs or to assist in the process of actually making these things happen!

To become informed, visit career websites, which offer self-evaluation tests to determine what careers might best suit your interests and skills. Some useful sites that are fairly simple to navigate include: http://www.stanford.edu/~susanz/Majors.html,
http://www.quintcareers.com/choosing_a_college.html, and
http://www.college.library.wisc.edu/collections/career/majors
html.

These sites provide information about various occupations and future trends, although be sure to look beyond the “typical” careers, since these are referenced most often. Take the time to browse several college websites and read through the course offerings available. If there is an area that seems particularly interesting to you, read the specifics about the courses involved. Email whoever is listed as the contact person for that department if you still have specific questions remaining (i.e., what is the primary focus of this major; what types of careers do students pursue after completing such a degree; is an internship included and/or available as part of the coursework?). Since visiting schools is not always an option, you can request to speak with a student enrolled in the program to get an insider’s perspective on the coursework and program. Take time. Explore.

While the major you choose is an important decision and can be a difficult one to make, it is critical to keep in mind that for many people, the majors they start out with are not the focus of the degrees they graduate with. It is rare for high school students to be certain of the careers they would like to pursue after college, and in truth, a major does not necessarily lead to a specific career. However, the more you learn, the more information you gather, (and the more lists you make for yourself!) prior to making such decisions, the better prepared you will be for the endless incredible opportunities available to you in your education, your career, and your future.


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