Note to Parents: Changes in Major, Uncertainty about Careers Are Common

In this age of anxiety about finding a good job after college, many parents are understandably concerned if their sons and daughters haven’t settled on a major in their first year of study, or if they have changed their major from a lucrative field such as engineering to, say, a social science field.

The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA is renowned for its insightful reports on the characteristics and attitudes of college students, especially during the freshman and senior years.  The latest HERI survey report on Your First College Year has revealing data about the career focus (or lack thereof) and the frequency with which majors are changed during the extremely important first year.  The survey is based on responses of more than 10,000 students at 47 colleges and universities.

Here’s a quick summary:

  • 90% of first-year students found that college had “frequently” or “occasionally” inspired them to think in new ways;
  • partly as a result, 34% changed their majors;
  • 32% changed their career choices;
  • 59% thought it was important to be focused on their career path after college;
  • but only 25% had a clear idea of how to achieve career goals.

Even though many first-year students were not clear about majors and careers, their ability to sort all of this out, along with other problems they will encounter, grew dramatically during that critical year:

  • 31% of students reported at the beginning of the year that they were only “average” at critical thinking skills, but of these, 43% reported their skills as “somewhat of a strength” at year’s end;
  • and of the 27% of students who felt at the beginning of the year that they were only average in problem-solving skills, 43% thought their problem-solving skills were somewhat of a strength at the end of the year.

So parents, if your son or daughter doesn’t have it all figured out after that first year, take heart.  The very complexity that they are dealing with is teaching them at the same time how to figure things out, including their eventual majors and career paths.