Sharing news and commentary about education, careers, investing, and life.

Sharing news and commentary about education, careers, investing, and life.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pressure to Pick Early

So now there are high schools where you have to pick a major? According to the NY Times, that is the case at Dwight Morrow High. And it's a trend that's been going on around the country as evidenced by this passage:

Despite such naysayers, a number of school districts around the country are experimenting with high school majors, an outgrowth of the popular “career academies” that have become commonplace nationally, and in New York City, over the past decade. But while many career academies simply add a few courses to a broad core curriculum, majors require individual students to make a more serious commitment to a particular educational path.

Starting this month, Florida districts will require every ninth grader to major in one of more than 400 state-approved subjects, ranging from world cultures to fashion design to family and consumer sciences. South Carolina enacted a similar law last year, designating 16 career clusters, including architecture, government and agriculture.

In Mississippi, a $5 million pilot program in 14 districts this fall will have ninth graders following one of seven career paths, like construction and manufacturing or science, technology, engineering and math.

I think this is the reverse of where the trend should be going; I often wish I had felt less pressure to pick a major right away in college. I would imagine that the pressure to pick what I felt was right for me in high school would make things really difficult. The pressure, mostly speaking, is to pick something early on so you can start working towards completing your degree. I initially picked International Affairs because I figured, hey, I like international relations and our world is (cue the overused phrase) increasingly globalized. What I didn't do was figure out what the ranking of my program was at the time nor did I think about career prospects (fortunately I have a strong interest in finance and wizened up by adding that track as part of my undergrad education).

Imagine many high schoolers doing the same thing but then being pigeonholed in their "chosen" "career". I put chosen and career in separate quotes because to me making a choice means making an informed decision - something most high schoolers likely won't be able to do. Then I put career in quotes because the idea of a career is absurd to most high schoolers.

This is a small scale outrage. Earlier this year I found out via my younger cousin Carolina, who lives in Spain, that this has been the case over there for quite a while. Students are separated into two general "tracks" (either into sciences/engineering or a law/humanities/social sciences type of track); the process is very stressful for most people her age because they don't know what they want to do in life. So how can they make an informed choice? And why are we trending towards this in the United States? So that people have a better shot at getting into a higher ranked college?

On the whole, we should be emphasizing taking one's time in picking a major and pick a career. People shouldn't be afraid to dabble - it's extremely important in developing alternative viewpoints and broadening one's perspective. I count the random electives I took at GT (out of my own initiative and discouraged by my advisors) as some of the best learning experiences. Sure, I've forgotten the facts I learned in African American Politics and in the Building Construction seminar, to name a few random classes I took... but I now have a better perspective on learning and life than if I hadn't taken the classes. If you're a current student, I encourage you to take random classes as well because as I've found out it's the things you currently aren't comfortable with (and/or don't know too well) that help develop you as a person and student.

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