When I grow up…

Adam Shapiro and Adam Shapiro

America is a forest of opportunity – one with a seemingly endless amount of occupational paths for college students to travel down.

The paths aren’t always clear-cut though, and when it comes to choosing a career route, students are often stumped.

While some students know what they want to do long before they step foot on campus, many come to college with little or no inclination toward a specific career.

This semester 835 freshmen enrolled without declaring a major or choosing an undergraduate college within the University, according to the fall 2005 enrollment report released by the Office of Institutional Research. Including the freshmen, there was a total of 1,076 undergraduate students who began the fall semester undecided.

There are many different reasons why students don’t immediately declare a major or area of interest when they come to college, said JoAnn Kroll, director of the Career Center.

Many students don’t know how their interests relate to specific majors or career paths, Kroll said.

“We help undecided students identify occupations and career fields that incorporate their varied interests,” Kroll said. “While it is impossible to know every job title that exists, there are thousands of online and print resources that can help students generate ideas of occupations that may be attractive and target specific occupations to investigate.”

Other students, however, have difficulty declaring a major or career direction because they have few or limited interests. This can make the decision process even tougher, Kroll said. She recommends that these students experiment by taking classes that appeal to them and trying new activities that seem intriguing.

Fear can be another issue that causes students to avoid declaring a major or career area, Kroll said. “These students fear they will choose the wrong major and be trapped in a career they will despise.”

“I think so many kids are undecided because it is such a big decision to make,” said sophomore Ashley Siefker, who hasn’t declared a major yet. “It’#39;s the rest of your life and no one wants to mess that up.”

By choosing a major, students aren’t inescapably linking themselves to a specific career for the rest of their lives, Kroll said. “There is usually not a direct relation between what you study in college and what you do for your occupation.”

Nonetheless, students are encouraged to declare their major by the end of their third semester. That means the 203 sophomores who were undecided at the beginning of the semester, should be ready to declare a major soon, if they haven’t already.

Siefker has been working closely with a pre-major advisor from the Office of Academic Enhancement, and she plans on declaring a business management major soon.

ACEN and the Career Center offer students several resources to help them determine their interests, values and abilities, which are all important things to consider when choosing a career or major, Kroll said.

Students can meet with advisors from these offices to help explore their personal qualities, as well as detailed occupational information. Students can also utilize the Career Center’s resource library and online tools, like the Focus: Career and Educational Planning Solutions, a Web-based guidance system that can be accessed through MyBGSU.

Siefker’s advisor had her take several personality and interest assessments, which helped narrow her career choices down to the area of business.

Because she took the time to explore her interests and strengths and determine how they could be applied to a career, Siefker said she will definitely stick with the major she chooses.

About 60 percent to 80 percent of students who enter college with a declared major end up changing their major at least once, according to the ACEN.

“They switch because they don’#39;t explore all their options, and then they realize they don’#39;t really like the career they were set on,” said freshman Stephanie Tanner.

“A sense of urgency or peer pressure may cause some students to select a major on a whim,” Kroll said. “Others pick a field that sounds impressive to friends, even when it holds little interest for them. A few students feel obliged to pursue the program of study suggested by parents or other influential people in their lives. In some cases, students have been known to base their decision on what is currently ‘hot’ in the job market. Each of these approaches is ill-advised.”

Eventually, many of these students realize they don’t like where that career path is taking them, and they switch majors.

Tanner said she currently plans on studying early childhood education, but she has chosen to remain undecided for now. She wants to discover all of her options before making a decision, she said.

To fully explore her options, Tanner took the online Focus test, which she said helped reaffirm her career goals. Tanner is also enrolled in the UNIV 100 (“University Success”) course, where she was required to do a career exploration project.

Students can also take UNIV 131 (“Career and Life Planning”), a course designed to help students generate occupational and academic options and assess their personality, interests, values and abilities.

Students’ career decisions aren’t just based on their ingrained characteristics and interests, however. Realistic occupational information, such as the nature of the work, working conditions, wages and future employment outlook, can play a fairly large role in students’ career choices, Kroll said.

“Money plays a big part in my decision,” Siefker said. “I want to have a husband and kids someday, and I need to be able to help support that dream.”