Getting an admit into a big name college abroad for undergraduate studies is a great feeling – right post school, it is almost like a student is given entry to a sweet shop, and has access to the best courses, the best faculty, the best fellow students, the best fun times and the best long term options. In such a situation, there is an unlimited upside for a student who is able to find a course of study that is well suited both to his / her skills and interests.
So the big question is: how important is it, really, to find the ‘right’ major? Is it even possible to choose a ‘right’ major so early on in a student’s higher studies, or will anything do? What is the measurable impact of choosing a ‘right’ major for a given student? If the impact is high, what does a student and his / her mentor team need to do to ensure that the ‘right’ choice of major is made?
In this Jamboree In Depth Feature, we answer all these questions, and many more. In this format, we will make 6 big assertions, along with detailed justifications for each of them:
If you choose the best possible major for yourself, your happiness levels will be higher
Given that success rates – whether measured by job satisfaction, earnings over lifetime, job security, or overall accomplishment – are very high for almost all fields of study in a reputed school abroad, the choice of major does not hugely impact conventional success rates, at least directly. However, performance in any role is directly proportional to happiness, and you will be happiest if doing what you were meant to.
There is only one way to make sure that you end up in the undergraduate course that is right for you, and that is to have someone simultaneously assess your capabilities holistically, and give you complete information about every possible discipline. If your coaching partner is able to do this; it will be ideal – there is nothing better than getting career counseling and test prep from the same place.
If you are equally skilled at multiple things, then getting into a good school abroad is priority
There are some fortunate souls who are skilled and interested in multiple fields of study; who will probably do extremely well in whatever they choose to pursue. If you are one of them and are looking to head abroad post a SAT or an ACT, you will probably have a large number of options, when it comes to courses you can take up. The answer is to take any one of them – but in a place where you are assured that you will have a great time, meet the most inspiring people possible, and possibly find a way to bring all your disparate interests together. Of course, this implies that you will have to choose the best university for yourself.
The best way to do this is to use the accumulated wisdom of your coaching partner to understand what exactly life is like in each of your schools of choice – for example, we at Jamboree can link you to our distinguished alumni in pretty much every big name university out there. Otherwise, you can also read anecdotal evidence on the overall quality of each school on the Internet: you should, however, treat these with a pinch of salt, and only trust those opinions that are validated by volume.
A large percentage of people switch their field of specialization post an undergrad degree, so you need not be too worried
Depending on the university, 50% or more of undergraduates could end up in a career path which is completely different from their initial specialization – this is because most good undergraduate programs abroad equip their students not only for success in the main area of study, but also for broad based success in any given field. Since the number of people who switch fields is so high, it is clear that success is not only a function of undergraduate specialization.
The one thing you need to realize also is that it is not always easily possible to shift from one undergraduate discipline to any other graduate or professional discipline; there is a certain prerequisite level of knowledge. Because of this, it is always better to get into the undergrad program that is most likely to match with what you want to do in life, though high determination and skill will take you to branch changes that are not conventionally possible.
However, the flexibility in all good courses abroad will ensure that you will end up doing what you were meant to do, 90% of the time
Even if you are not able to gain admission in the exact program of your choice for undergraduate studies abroad, it definitely does not mean that you will not be able to gain exposure to your key interest area. There is large flexibility in any program abroad; you will be able to take enough credits in your field of choice for a minor degree in that field, or audit a few courses per semester in subjects you have always wanted to learn, or complete project after project, internship after internship, in the discipline you think will afford you the greatest chance of career success.
This is one key lesson to learn: you have complete control over what you learn, in a good program abroad. Unlike in many undergrad degrees in India, where your major is decided by you before you even know what the different options are about, foreign universities afford you the luxury of taking a couple of years to decide what exactly you want to do – with few exceptions.
You need the right advisors to help you choose a good undergraduate major
Even though your initial choice of undergraduate major is not binding or final, and does not make or break your career success, it would still be best to choose something that matches both your skill set and your interest areas as closely as possible. If nothing else, the thought process by which you settle on something as a definite career interest area is something that will help you later on, when you have another career dilemma – possibly during undergraduate placement season.
Therefore, it is very important to find the right advisors to set you on the path that is likely to be the best for you in the long run. This is not very easy: you do not need only experience, but also the knowledge to share and collate diverse case studies. Over and above knowledge, you also need the skill to project for the future, and predict what might be a ‘safe’ degree in case the interests of the candidate in question change.
For example, our expert counselors at Jamboree have spent many years thinking of what is best for a diverse group of students looking to embark on an undergraduate career abroad, and will use all this wisdom to give you the best shot of finding the right initial choice for yourself.
In case you find it extremely hard to decide, it might make sense to choose a major at which you are skilled, that serves as a launching pad to multiple different careers
In case you just cannot break the confusion regarding your undergraduate major, even with the best of professional advice, it might be best to delay the choice – just choose a major at which you undoubtedly have a base level of skill, one that gives you a chance of getting into multiple different careers. For example, a Mechanical Engineering degree gives you the choice of pretty much any career in engineering post your first four years, and also keeps the door open for interdisciplinary programs with management (like the MSME) and in allied fields like analytics and consulting.
These are always ‘safe’ choices, because you know you will have satisfaction because of your base skill and interest. In the best case, you find after a couple of years that the field you chose was itself your calling, and that you can continue in that field over an entire career. In the worst case, you have something that is great fun to study, that can open multiple doors after your initial degree, so that you can delay the decision on what to do in the medium to long term to a time when you will have everything you need to make the decision.
Of course, this does not impact career success in any significant way at all; you still have access to all the options you would have had otherwise, with a high level of career satisfaction.
We hope that this Jamboree special feature has helped you appreciate how flexible the undergraduate system is abroad, and understand why exactly you will land on your feet, no matter what course of study you choose. A lot of your initial happiness might depend on your coach or mentor, who can counsel you on what major might be best for you, so choose wisely when the time comes.
For example, we at Jamboree help our SAT batches use the thought of their time in undergraduate school abroad to motivate them to prepare harder for their test, and indirectly help them focus on the major which is best for them well in advance. In addition, frequent discussions on what it is actually like in different courses helps to crystallize the idea of early choice, and helps them pick one of the top two courses which will be best for them.