101 to Choosing your Major


College - University - Trade School?  What is the best choice for you?

Here are some steps to choosing:

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My own path to choosing what to do after high school consisted of taking every science and math class required to study anything in university.

I looked at different careers and job-shadowed. One time, I thought court reporting would be a satisfying career, so I promptly enrolled in a typing course, a prerequisite,  and dropped it after a week of falling asleep over the typewriter. 

I think we must have had school guidance counsellors, but I don’t think I ever saw one.

When January of grade 12 hit and I still hadn’t decided on the career I would do forever and ever in my life, I can honestly say I was not panicking, but there was a little bit of eeny, meeny, miny, moe going on. I had all the subjects, but no clue or guidance about what to apply to or how to choose. 

I am not sure how I came across it,  but somehow I managed to arrange a day at the University of Alberta Hospitals in Edmonton to spend a day shadowing employees through the Medical Radiologic Technology program. 

It looked cool, had some variety... Oh yeah! Did I mention it paid decently? So I applied and got accepted and phew! My life was set after a few hours of decision making. My criteria for a career was obviously variety in the workplace and a good salary. 

Only two people in my graduating class of 133 went to university, many didn’t even go to a community college so I never questioned why with my academic success and study skills I didn’t go to university. 

Of course, it wasn’t long before I became bored with the lack of opportunity to learn more - a core value that I need like food and water.

Since community college and an 8-year stint in radiology, I have retrained to teach English overseas for 21- years, and then building on my skill set, went back to study to learn how to guide high school students to make more informed post-secondary school choices. 

Ahem… unlike mine.

My story is not unusual, in fact, this is the ‘norm’  - to change, retrain and evolve. In fact, today, more than ever, the next generation is moving towards a future workplace filled with rapidly appearing and disappearing jobs.

With this uncertainty, how can a high school student choose a major to study? 

They can begin by understanding that a post-secondary certificate or degree is strongly encouraged to compete in the future workplace.

In a study completed by OCED, comparing many countries around the world, Canada was found to have the 2nd highest proportion of college and university graduates at 60.92%. To me, this translates into the understanding that post-secondary education, be it at a vocational school,  community college or university is a requirement to start and progress in the workforce. 

We also know that just going to a post-secondary school exposes you to new ideas, challenges you to think differently, and that, that one class you take may change your career pathway. I once rented a house from a professor who credited his choice of a Ph.D. in English to the one elective English class he had to take which made him realize he ‘loved’ it.

Here are the steps I advise to help you make a choice about your post-secondary destination:

First step -Know Yourself

Complete an inventory of your natural abilities, look at your budget, honestly think about how far from home you can go, and your life skills.

Research careers of interest through job shadowing and research. Visit schools yourself.

Second step - Be Flexible  

Understand that post-secondary education is a foundation, a place to start, but not the end.

Understand the skill set you will develop, but don’t fixate on the actual ‘job title’ because you may end up working in a completely different field than the one you graduated in. A study by the High Education Quality Council of Ontario using data from the Canadian Household Survey determined that 65 percent of graduates from architecture or engineering are now working in other fields. Likewise, 51 percent of college graduates, who studied in the health professions, are working in an occupation outside that industry. 

Third Step - Take Action

Make a decision based on what you know about yourself, and on what fits your budget and feels right. 

Move forward intentionally, while reflecting on what you know works for you.

Improve your learning habits, and build on your strengths and understand your weaknesses.

It’s okay to change your mind, in fact by trying something, whether it be interning, job shadowing or actually studying it, you will understand better what you like and do not like, build relationships and learn valuable life lessons.

Take the opportunity to volunteer in your field, choose co-op or internship projects and seek out courses that allow real-life projects.  

Fourth Step - Be Careful About Advice

You will have many people around you who love you and have great ideas about what is the best career for you.  However, by reflecting on your strengths and making the decisions about what you will study with the understanding of the skills you will gain through it, you will be more committed and able to transition in the future, and you will have to, to a different field. 

Fifth Step - Be open to change

Okay so, this is almost the same thing that was said in step two, and the reason it is being repeated here is that it is crucial to understand - whatever you choose to study, may not in the nd be something you like. You may change your major. I worked with one student told by a helpful counsellor based on his science grades and love or medical series, that he should study biomedical engineering, the second year, he switched to industrial engineering and finally graduated from media.

That is OKAY. The former student is happy, employed and so satisfied with this initial step at the beginning of his long stint in the workforce.

The world is changing, people change and evolve.

Enjoy the journey!

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