Friday, July 23, 2010

Major Pain

Deciding a major is undoubtedly one of the biggest decisions of the contemporary academic's life. This decision will directly or indirectly affect almost everything that happens to you from the moment you finally make it. Fortunately, in today's world, there are mountains of resources available to help you make the wisest choice possible. There are also a few important things to remember in order to keep your head out of the clouds while you pick your field of study. Picture two points in space, one representing passion, and the other representing practicality. Draw a line between these two points. The ideal decision will lie as close to the midpoint of that line as possible. For example, suppose you love to play a certain musical instrument, and because of that, you want to major in music. A decision like this would obviously fulfill the passion requirement, but what about the practicality? Determining the practicality of a major is more difficult than determining your passion for it, mainly because the answer lies outside of your mind. Practicality must be researched. A good place to start is figuring out which professions spring from your major, and the average salary of these professions. Another practicality factor to research is the future outlook of those professions. A career may look really promising now, but become a dead zone within the coming years. The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is a solid reference for both of these bits of information. It also includes many other pragmatic considerations, such as job security, training, projections, etc. On the other end of the spectrum lies a scenario like this: You have absolutely no interest or desire to become a doctor, yet you go into a difficult pre-med program because it's what your parents always wanted, and you heard doctors make a lot of money. Such a choice will obviously lie a lot closer to the practicality endpoint of our decision line. However, before you make a selection like this, you must look inward honestly and ask yourself: "What am I ultimately looking to get out of this world?" If your answer is money, then you're probably making the right decision. However, most people would probably lean towards an answer resembling happiness. In this case, you should probably move yourself a little closer to the passion endpoint of the line. Whether money can buy happiness is still a point of contention for many people, but I can guarantee you that doing something you hate almost everyday of your life will not do any favors for your well being.

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