Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Readers Weigh In On Undeclared Student’s Options

DEAR READERS: So many of you had ideas for the student who was undecided when it came to determining a major in college and, in turn, a career path that I am printing a few of your letters here. Thank you for such great input.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I thought your answer to “Undeclared” was good, but it would have been helpful to include financial points as well. What do the various career paths pay? What will the required education cost? Will they have to incur debt? Will they be able to pay the debt back and still support themselves on the pay they earn in each option? How many jobs are available in the fields they are considering? These answers will prepare the student to make realistic choices that they are less likely to regret in 10 years.

I would also encourage the student to consider a field with multiple career options rather than one with limited options. I wish career planning software, similar to the sophisticated retirement planning software we used to plan our retirements, were widely available to students. -- Long-Term View

DEAR HARRIETTE: Regarding “Undeclared's” question about choosing a major, I think my mother's advice when I was a student was wise. She said if you're not sure about a major, go with a professor who inspires you. No matter what subject they teach, you'll learn the most from them. -- English Major

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have three kids who went through college. My advice to kids who are not sure of a major is to go the community college route and take as many courses as you can in all the disciplines you are interested in and see which is the one you really like and could make into a career. Community college is cheaper and will let you take any course you want. If the student can maintain decent grades, they can transfer to a four-year college later. -- Community College

DEAR HARRIETTE: Please allow me to expand on your excellent advice to a student seeking a college major. Most universities offer counseling or testing centers that help with this common problem, usually at no charge for enrolled students. Typically, a student completes an online inventory that helps to identify his or her interests; a computer program then lists areas in which graduates with similar interests have been successful. Pursuing these options in more detail often helps a student select an appropriate major.

Alternatively, if the student does not wish to complete the interest inventory, or after narrowing to a few tentatively attractive areas of interest, the student can consult a wonderful reference called the “Dictionary of Occupational Titles” -- a comprehensive reference published by the U.S. Department of Labor that provides details on a wide variety of occupations. It includes the education and training required, job locations, typical duties, salary range, etc.

Please share this information with students who need help as they consider their future goals. -- Retired Professor

DEAR ALL: I appreciate your thoughtful input and see that we all are interested in supporting our youth as they work to figure out their futures.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)