I’m in Grade 12 and I don’t know what I want to major in. Oh no!
Many Grade 12 students don’t know exactly what they want to study at university. Filling out university applications, they might be asked to commit to a particular department, faculty, or major. Sometimes it seems like everyone else has it all figured out, from university through to a career. A student who isn’t sure can feel pressured to chart the future. However, it’s actually quite reasonable not to know yet, and there are real benefits to staying open-minded.
There are many reasons why students, at age 17 or 18, might not know exactly what they’ll want to study in the future.
1. Still Young. A Grade 12 student has learned a lot, but the world is a big place with more possibilities than they can imagine. They may end up loving a subject that they don’t even yet know exists.
2. Limited Experience. A high school student might like or dislike a subject based on a good or bad experience in a specific class, with a particular teacher and curriculum. A student who didn’t like a subject the first time around might feel differently when encountering a different professor with a different style in the future.
3. Limited Knowledge. Most students know a bit about their parents’ work and maybe what some of their friends’ parents do. They know their teachers and their doctors, and they’ve seen people doing various kinds of work out in the world. But they can’t even imagine all the possibilities. There’s a US government online resource about career choices that provides information on almost 1,000 different occupations!
4. Misconnecting Majors and Careers. Students tend to make premature connections between majors and careers. Not knowing about the hundreds and hundreds of career possibilities, students aren’t able to conceive of less obvious and less direct connections between a course of study and a career. The path from university major to possible career can be indirect, so trying to force a straight path can be limiting.
5. Still Developing. High school students are still learning what’s important to them. Their interests, values and skills are developing as they mature. Self-discovery is a lifelong process, and Grade 12 students may just be starting to understand and embrace who they are and who they want to become.
Given all this, a high school student confident about choosing a course of study and career is an exception. For most students, figuring out what to do in life will involve further exploration. This makes sense, because university is a perfect environment and the university years are a great time for continuing to explore. Students who stay open-minded about a variety of subjects, and willing to be guided by their own developing interests, values and talents, can end up choosing exactly the right course of study and career for them.
Staying open-minded is easier said than done because there are practical matters to think about. University is expensive and students may feel pressure to choose a course of study that leads to a job and financial stability. With respect to finances, it’s best to communicate and work together to balance choices that are appropriate for the student and the family as a whole.
Of course, the choice of a university major does matter and students should neither blindly follow their dreams when choosing what to study nor explore so much that they end up drifting aimlessly through their university years. Therefore, we encourage students and their parents to:
- remember that in Grade 12 most students don’t yet know what will eventually interest, and hold meaning, for them;
- be comfortable that identifying and pursuing interests and meaning is an important part of the university experience; and
- think carefully and strategically about options, aspirations, and obligations in connection with prospective majors and careers.
This process isn’t always straightforward or easy, but it increases the odds of good results and is a valuable way for students to take responsibility for shaping their own lives.
If you’re a high school student who would like to explore your interests and discover new things about yourself and the world that you probably don’t know yet, we use the “Strong Interest Inventory” as a fun tool to help you do exactly that. To learn more about this, or about working one-to-one with an Academic Pathways university admissions expert, email firstname.lastname@example.org.