It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

That’s right everyone. It’s the season tons of kids around the U.S. have been anticipating. All across the nation children are bursting with emotion as the ever memorable days approach. You guessed it! It’s crunch time to get your college applications in to your desired university!

Imagine my surprise when I found out that there are universities who still accept applications for entry well into December. Sure some of the many eager young minds out there have already finished sending in their applications and have taken advantage of the early decision/action opportunities that are available, but I’m willing to bet that there are at least a few people who are experiencing that last minute crunch.

The work, the stress, the resentment and bitter comments, the frustration, the ‘help’ and ‘guidance’ from your loving family, and the endless hours slaving away at a task you would never consider doing at any other time of the year. It almost makes it feel like Christmas is upon us.

It has been years since I’ve had to do battle with the evil bureaucratic demons that seem to lord over this process. It was one of those memories that most people, myself included, would rather just glaze over in the memory banks. Filling out an unending pile of forms that all answer the same question is surely the definition of the American education system.

This same system has always been a topic brimming with controversy. Students have a plethora of complaints against their teachers while teachers can’t help but comment on the decreasing dedication of their students. So one can’t help but wonder…who is right? Are professors forced to shove knowledge down the throats of a generation that could care less about what X was or are students compelled to learn from educators who have no passion or drive for their current vocation. The answer is undoubtedly-

Depends.

It’s always easier to blame the person on the other side of the fence for the troubles you are going through, but that also gives you a harder problem to fix. While it may be difficult to blame myself for my own dissatisfaction with the whole academic experience, I would certainly have an easier time changing myself rather than trying to change another. So all this begs the question, how often does someone really think about why they make the choices they do while completing their studies? Even after the whole process is completed (as far as traditional education goes), how many people every really look around at the situation they are in and answer the question that has been gnawing at the back of their mind. “How did I end up here?”

Recently I have been watching my brother go through the same college application process that I went through so many years back. (ahh, the good old days) I can’t help but remember the endless void of forms and meaningless essays that took up so much of my time during my senior year. You’ll find most of the standard questions on there such as your name, address and all that other necessary demographic information but what most students don’t expect to find on those applications is one particularly nasty question usually found somewhere in the middle.

“Intended Major:__________________________”

There it is. The one line that is supposed to determine who you are and what you are going to be for the rest of your life. It’s just a single question on the application form but it might just end up being the most vital one. So the question now becomes what should I put here?

The best way to tackle this is from the perspective I’m most familiar with. The student. The result will most likely be depressing, so grip yourself and prepare the Prozac.

Truthfully? It is probably the question that receives the least brainpower. Trust me, I’ve had friends use more effort in making sure their name was spelled correctly rather than focus on what course of study is best suited for them.

If you ask a lot of high schoolers what they selected for that particular question, it won’t take long before you come across someone who says. “Oh I just said I would be an English major for now” or “I’ll pick poly sci but I’ll change it later once I figure out what I want to do.”

Now before I have a flood of belligerent English majors attacking me, hang on a second. You’ll find most people don’t choose these majors initially because they feel these particular choices are effortless but rather because they feel it would be the easiest to transition out of. They allow for a lot of freedom in which courses you will take your first few years and do develop critical writing and thinking skills. Also lets face it, if you start out working toward a degree in archeology, you may find it a bit troublesome to switch to a mathematics degree later on.

I’ve noticed a lot of my peers treated this in a very casual manner as if changing your major is no big deal. There’s that aura flowing about many of them that says ‘I can take care of it later.’ Changing your major shouldn’t be like changing your underwear, it happens once a year.

Now this isn’t to say I took the hard way out and put in a lot of thought as to which major I wanted study during my term at the university. The road less traveled wasn’t for me. I took that path that was long since paved and turned into an expressway. At the time I was caught up in the same situation as many of my friends and just casually decided that I would go for a degree in business management. Why? Well….it sounded important at the time.

So it was refreshing to see my younger brother actually give this question the attention it deserves. Sure, one could spend their time and money while in college to figure out what it is they want to do, but….do you have that kind of cash? Even fully paid scholarships have a limit to them. And lets face it, the first few years of college for most students don’t have too much to do with real education. If you are ever wondering where the freshmen are at night…or even day for that matter, check the clubs.

Anyways, my brother was exploring what he would like to learn about and where he should devote his studies for the next few years. I was very proud of how he handled it and felt that maybe some other people could benefit from how he handled this situation.

The first thing he did was call me up to ask what I knew about various different majors and what my take on them was. Not too many students in high school tend to ask those in colleges how they really found certain majors to be. A quick example? A lot of students at the university I am attending feel that a business major is a good back up in case their current choice doesn’t pan out in the way intended. The general consensus is that it’s an easy degree which almost anyone could pass.

The truth of the matter? While I can’t speak for everyone, I was a bit surprised at just how difficult and just how much abstract thinking was called for in certain topics. I never imagined that I would first need to create a box, jump inside of it, start thinking, then jump out of the box and start thinking again. But wait there’s more. Then you have to burn the old box and regard it as old school in order to create…yet another box. If you didn’t understand that, trust me. It was insightful.

Now then, to get back on track. My brother spoke to a few students to learn just what would make a good major. I saw him question everything from being an architect to going into graphical design to business school to a degree in entrepreneurship.
After he had done this first step, the rest of the process was noticeably easier. All it took was a few days research courtesy of Google and then kazaam! Suddenly one has a better idea of just what it means to have an engineering degree or pursuing the field of business.

But does one stop there? Well you could if you really wanted to but there is another step you could do to add the cherry to your research pie. Odds are if you are planning to get an engineering degree, you also plan on having a job in engineering. So I guess the question you have to ask yourself is….is an engineer’s life the one you desire above all else?

If you are wondering what the best way is to answer this question, I might suggest checking out a few other articles on this site such as Never Ever Ever Graduate and You Graduated, Now What? It might help the process along. Basically, ask an engineer what its like to be an engineer. Visit their place of work and see what happens in their average day. Unfortunately most people never do this and thus the sad truth is that most will never see their future habitat until the day of the interview.

So if you are about to enter the world of higher education, do yourself a favor and do your research and experimenting before you get to college. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’ll have time to figure out what you really want to study while you’re there because life happens. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you are moments away from meeting your interviewer after finishing 4 years of college when suddenly one question plagues your thoughts. ‘Do I really want to spend the next 40 50 60 70 years doing this?’

2 thoughts on “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

  1. (Back from the dead!)

    Having done this process for the third time recently, few things have changed from what you remember. The ‘intended major’ part, however, gets much harder. Determining what field you wish to spend two to five years of intense study is not easy, and a lot more initiative.

  2. Personally i immediatly dislike anything that requires me to fill out an application, even if its a page long. Something about it just makes me feel…queasy.

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