Helping Teens Choose a College Major

By Huntington Learning Center

There’s nothing wrong with teens going to college without a set-in-stone career game plan, but one thing is certain: students who put thought into possible majors are more likely to minimize wasted time and make a smart decision.

Parents, as your teens move through high school toward college, Huntington offers a few tips to get them to think about their future career path and pick the best major for them:

Talk about interests. Many teens freeze up looking at a list of college majors. Instead, try talking about things your teen enjoys doing. For athletically inclined students, playing sports might come to mind first, but maybe those students would enjoy career endeavors in which they get to work in teams. Some teens are great with children, or love taking care of people or animals. Encourage your teen to think broadly about interests and how those might translate into other aptitudes.

Assess academic strengths. Pull out the report card and use it as a springboard for potential career paths. Some teens might resist this exercise, but it’s important to point out the many pathways for each academic strength. Take math as an example. Math is obviously key for careers like computer science and engineering, but math is also used in fields like actuarial science, architecture, geospatial surveying, ecology, robotics, meteorology and economics. For teens who excel in math, there are many excellent career options that might not be immediately obvious.

List other strengths, too. It’s smart to assess other areas of strength that fall outside the confines of the report card. Some teens are great with people and comfortable speaking and presenting their ideas. Others are adventurous and curious. Some love analyzing multifaceted issues, while some are skilled at listening to friends and their fellow students.

Know what doesn’t appeal. Just as it is useful to have a handle on one’s favorite subjects and strengths, teens should also think about what subjects they dislike and why. Similarly, teens must consider their work preferences, such as whether they like working alone or in groups, being a group leader on projects or behind the scenes, solving complex or more straightforward problems, and working with numbers or people.

Research jobs, career paths, education requirements, and more. Taking the above steps will definitely help teens start brainstorming and narrowing down their options. Once they’ve come up with a couple (or several) possibilities, the next to-do is research. Armed with a list of their interests and academic and other strengths, teens can start exploring possible jobs that fit their interests/strengths profile, education requirements for those jobs, earning potential, and how the job market looks for those fields. O*NET and the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook are good resources.

Get some firsthand perspective. Once your teen starts zeroing in on a few possible majors, it’s a good idea to talk to people who can offer useful insight. Those might be current college students in the major your teen is considering, recent graduates who are now working, or professionals further along in their careers. Later on, your teen might consider job shadowing, mentorships and internships. Making these kinds of connections now is definitely worthwhile.

As teens grapple with what to major in at college, parents should encourage them to take the decision seriously. That means putting in sincere effort and taking the time for introspection. College is a major investment, after all. Teens should use those four years to set themselves up for success as they begin their professional journeys.