Major Decisions

08 Jul Major Decisions

Undecided? Understandable. Being asked to select a major for college while still in high school frustrates many teens. Parents and teachers, here’s a simple way to get the conversation started. Doing this simple exercise can help benefit their applications in terms of targeting the right student coursework and extra curricular activities to maximize college admissions options.

Step one: sit down with the student, preferably in 9th or 10th grade.
Step two: simply draw a triangle. We can all do that, right?
Step three: follow the graphic and instructions below.
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As you can see, three P’s pin down each corner of the triangle in this image. Yes, there is a fourth P, but notice that is the result, not part of the process.

The pinnacle P stands for passion. No one gets far without that. Ask the student to brainstorm a list of five things they absolutely love to do. What makes them come alive? What drives them? Some parents have known from a very young age what their children are really excited by. Today’s Lego enthusiast is often tomorrow’s architect or engineer.

The second P stands for Proficiency. Here students need to be very honest with themselves: list five academic and five non-academic abilities they possess. Although grades are one indicator, ease of study is another. What simply comes naturally to them? What innate talent and aptitude is there? Just because somebody wants to join NASA doesn’t mean they’re good enough in science to make it to outer space.

The last criterion for determining a career path, and therefore a major, is that rascally little P that makes the world go round: Profitability—the ability to actually monetize that passion and proficiency. If what a student loves and is good at doesn’t in the end gave them a sustainable lifestyle, investing $100,000 or more in a college education doesn’t make a lot of sense (– or cents, if you’ll pardon the pun.) Have them research income levels for careers related to each of the responses they’ve given. What economic security can they realistically hope to attain in each?

At the intersection of passion, proficiency and profitability shines a magical fourth P: Purpose. Without preemptively carving decisions in stone, here are a few Purposes I’ve seen ignite passion, proficiency, and profits for students over the past twenty years:

To serve infants and children in need through my work as a pediatric surgeon
To create Oscar-winning screenplays that raise human awareness
To adopt several children with physical disabilities and establish a political advocacy group dedicated to protecting the rights of citizens with special needs
To build a civil engineering business dedicated to creating sustainable, green cities all over America
Notice that each of these young people had an “other” in mind as they set their goals. Although our culture often encourages teens to frame goals with inflated talk of Ferraris and mansions, when you scratch the surface what they are really hoping to create is a sense of security and, yes, of Purpose.

Helping teens decipher for themselves what they can give before they get all tangled up in what they might get will often pull them from empty material things to the relationships that generally lead to actual joy in life. And hey, if they can drive those adopted kids home to their mansion in that Ferrari, more power to them.

This Blog originally appeared on and appears here with permission of Carnegie Communications.

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