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14 days ago

A guide to finding the right major at university

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Navigating through the long list of majors right after high school seems daunting. With tonnes of advice from everyone, or lack thereof, it is natural to get confused and overwhelmed. A few years into the course, some find themselves stuck in a major that they have little interest in. While that can still happen as our interests continue to evolve, a strategic approach toward choosing a major can give us some clarity.

Delve into the courses: Often, we get carried away by the fancy names -- law, mechanical engineering, English-- without having a solid idea of what they teach. Going through the outline of the courses, especially the core courses, taught in that major helps you avoid this mistake. For example, although humanities subjects in HSC such as psychology or economics don't require much mathematical skill in our education system, higher education in these majors will have a lot of statistics and math courses. If you major in law or pharmacy, you will need a strong memorising skill to get through most courses.

Most public and private universities will have an outline of their majors that can give you a realistic idea of whether the major is a good fit for you. Then, you can decide whether the major is something you'll enjoy studying.

Explore the professional aspects: The professional aspect of potential majors is essential to consider. However, it is easier said than done, as the job prospects in Bangladesh are quite uncertain and lack sufficient data. This is when you can reach out to seniors from school or relatives who have experience in your desired major and its job sectors.

For example, if you opt for BBA and its related majors, it is likely that you will be working in a corporate sector like banks, FMCGs, startups, consultancy agencies, etc. where the jobs will require handling clients, connecting with people along with technical aspects. On the other hand, if you opt for biological sciences, expect to work at pharmacies like Incepta, Square, or in the lab as a researcher, which mostly require rigorous technical skills.

Whether you want your career to be more people-centric, technology-centric, or simply want to travel as you work, these are some of the significant angles to assess one's decision. Moreover, some majors like applied mathematics, computer science, and economics also offer greater job flexibility if anyone is indecisive or wants to keep options open.

A top-down view with an eliminative approach: Instead of choosing a specific major or interest, starting with an aerial perspective paired with an elimination method would be easier. At first, try to decide whether you want to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), business, fine arts, humanities, or social science. After that, try to eliminate options within that stream based on interest, potential career, etc. that you might not be interested in. It not only helps you narrow down your choices but also diminishes the overwhelming feeling that comes with a long list of majors to choose from. For instance, if you want to work in the development sector and want to avoid technical courses, then you might want to go for social science. Then find out which majors in social sciences require a few mathematical courses and more theoretical courses.

Know thyself: As cliche as it sounds, an appropriate decision for yourself comes from knowing your likes and dislikes. To figure that out, you need to explore your interests as much as you can. Much like the top-down method of choosing a major but from the opposite end, you need to visualise your future and determine how you want your career to look. If you are good at debating and have a genuine interest in global politics, majoring in international relations or political science will give you an edge. The creative friend you have who keeps doodling and sketching in class might want to consider the fine arts department to flourish her creativity.

However, considering the systematic constraints in our schools, most students don't get the option to explore in clubs at school or college. Nevertheless, you can still get a taste of every broader field of interest through YouTube videos, crash courses, and free online courses on Coursera or Udemy. There are a lot of materials to give you an initial idea of what a major is.

Be flexible: Given the current system, we have to accept that we can't always choose what we want to do. Apart from interest, expected salary and employment opportunities play a major role. It helps to consider multiple interests, fields that are tangential to one's interests, or have opportunities to branch out later. Being rigid in one field of interest might increase the already heightened pressure on a candidate and distract them from explorable opportunities. It is always a good idea to have some backup plans. If medicine doesn't work out, one may consider pharmacy, fisheries, zoology, or other majors that align with one's other interests.

Finally, potential major choices can be found in the overlapping area of what the system offers, where interests lie, and other personalised criteria of the candidate. For example, if one likes mathematics but also wants to pursue social science, economics might be a good option. If one wants to combine their artistic abilities with STEM, they might consider looking into architecture. Approaching from both ends to meet at a middle ground can help strategise an otherwise hectic process.

Choosing a major is a crucial decision, and admittedly, it is quite overwhelming to commit for four years (and beyond). Planning ahead of time and focusing on your interests can pave the way forward. It is important to remember that while employment opportunities are important to weigh in, what is considered a ‘good’ major is entirely subjective. In this era, it might be more realistic to take a leap of faith, provided there's enough rationale behind it.

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