university

YOU DON’T HAVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO

Many universities have already started the school year. My university starts this week and considering it is Labor Day weekend I thought it might be a good thing to think about the idea of labor, particularly for my students who will participate in the workforce.

I have the privilege of being one of the primary faculty advisers who works with first-year and transfer students every summer. My primary goal during these advising sessions to help build a schedule. And when we are doing this I am constantly bombarded with questions/statements like I don’t know what I want to major in? I don’t want to take classes that are not “worth my time.” I don’t know what I want to do for my career? My parents are pressuring me to do this, but I don’t want to, etc.

In American culture we have drilled into the heads of incoming college students that they need to go to college to succeed financially (not true…you can make an excellent living in the trades). Also, we have told them that they need to pick a major that will automatically lead to a job after they graduate, but have downplayed the importance of other skills for a career.

Of course the big push nowadays are the STEM fields. Course in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are all the rage. And they should be. My oldest nephew was being taught basic coding in grade school. I mean I was taught basic typing skills.

Understanding computers and technology is essential in today’s workforce, even if you go into a trade (e.g advanced manufacturing, HVAC, mechanic, etc). But the STEM fields are not the end all be all for many in education.

As someone who primarily teaches in the liberal arts I push back against this agenda with some ferocity. I am dedicated to working at a liberal arts institution that takes pride in trying to see students value a well-rounded education, which is what a college education has primarily been since the days of Ancient Greece. And I will go to my grave firmly believing that.

Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t think STEM fields aren’t valuable and important. They are. In fact, I think we need to have more engineers, scientists, etc.

But the liberal arts have gotten a bad rap. I agree with the billionaire Mark Cuban, who has made his money off of technology, who argues in 10 years that liberal arts majors will be more valuable because you will need a wider perspective to perceive data and be a freer thinker.

So when students complain about taking classes they don’t need I try to push back a little, which is what leads me to the title of this post.

If I had a dollar for every time I have said this or heard from students they don’t know what they want to do or being pressured into something by their parents I would literally be at financial independent number by now.

I have been teaching for 20 years. I have been consulting for over a decade. I have worked with a variety of different employers. I have advised thousands of students. And my message to those students and their parents is that: IT IS OK TO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO WITH THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

This is particularly true if you are 18. I mean if an 18-year-old who enters college thinks that they will be doing the same thing for the next 40 years of working or whatever have either found the best job in the world, have inherited a business, or are just way to lazy to move out of their job because of comfort zone.

When students graduate from college they will often change jobs 4 times within the first decade of getting out of school. Now that job hopping goes down as they get older and figure out what they want to do, but the point is the days of sticking with one job and/or even career field is OVER!

In fact, most people will have more than one career. Typically, people will have somewhere in the the neighborhood of 12-16 jobs by the time they stop working and 4-5 CAREER fields. That isn’t jobs, but careers.

And that isn’t understandable as you grow, figure out what you are good at, your family circumstances change, you might become much more entrepreneurial, etc.

In other words, picking the perfect major at 18 or getting all of the right classes as a transfer student isn’t as important as making the most of the potential opportunities in college (another post for another time).

The Bottom Line: My message to parents and to students is that data is OVERWHELMING! You do NOT have to know what you want to do for the rest of your life at 18, 20, 22 or 32. Things will change. Life changes. You will change. The important thing is that you take advantage of opportunities given to you at college (e.g. internships). You study something that you can get some important skills from. And you can certainly do that by engaging in STEM courses, but those liberal arts courses you may think suck now can/will pay off dividends much later down the road. Try to hone your skills by trying something new. Learn something new that goes beyond academics. Ultimately, you will not regret it.

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