María has a question about college life outside the U.S., but that’s cool, because, in the immortal words of Lil’ Wayne, “We worldwide, hustlas!”
I have a question regarding college majors. My situation is unique for this site because I don’t live in the US. But I read the advice you give and you’re always spot on, so I’m sure whatever you tell me will be helpful!
Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, I’ll do my best.
Here it goes: Where I live, you have to choose a career/major before you begin college.
Hey, you’re supposed to tell us where you live! It’s OK, though. Wherever it is, that’s a burden, I would think. I hope you can at least change that major if you discover something else along the way?
Once you’ve chosen one, you have to take an admissions course which includes several exams. Only after passing all of them do you actually start university.
Interesting. I suppose that’s not terribly different from the U.S. Except for the choosing early part. You could consider the SAT and ACT “several exams” that you’ve gotta score well on in order to get into college.
But I can’t make up my mind about my major! My first choice is one called Human Ecology Engineering. I like it because it ties social and basic sciences together and it’s focused on community development, especially rural.
It sounds interesting and rare. Interesting is good, and rare can be both good and bad. In this case, I’m thinking it might be bad, but let’s explore it a little further.
Much of what I have to say on it has to do with a couple of pieces of information I don’t have, though — namely, a) what do you want to do with your life after college?; and b) do you want to stay in your country or go somewhere else?
Most people go to college to make themselves more employable, obtaining accreditations ranging from a degree in counseling, to an MBA. A small but not-insignificant part of that is to get a broad-based education that will at least make you conversant in the language of the educated middle class.
A bigger part, though, is to get a degree that directly increases your employability and earning power. That’s the main reason people go.
So, does a degree in Human Ecology Engineering increase your employability and earning power? I don’t know for sure, but my guess is no.
Why do I guess no? Because my first reaction to hearing that degree is the same reaction that 98% of others will have: “What the hell is Human Ecology Engineering?” 🙂
That’s a hump you’re going to have to get over with everyone you’d like to work for. Some, you’ll be face to face with, and you can explain. However, many others will see it on your resume, have no idea what it is, and toss it into the trash, never to be heard from again.
My problem here is that this major doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.
a) Yes, that may be a giant red flag. 🙂
b) Or, there’s a possibility that there are other programs like it elsewhere, and those programs are just known by a different name. Remember, it’s probably just your college that decided on calling it “Human Ecology Engineering.”
They thought it sounded cool, and it does, but as usual, academics don’t think like marketers, and you’ll have a tough time marketing that degree to employers.
Having said that, if the degree is about rural development or community development, I’d be shocked if there weren’t at least a dozen or more similar programs here in the States. We have our ups and downs here in the U.S., but the variety and number of academic programs is still the envy of the world. If it can be studied, we’ve probably made a degree out it somewhere.
So, I believe that your area of study is probably more common than you think it is — it probably just goes by a different name in different places.
The second issue, of course, is whether that degree unlocks many job opportunities. I have no experience in that field, but common sense tells me that most jobs doing the sort of thing you’re referring to will be government jobs or nonprofit jobs.
True, some freewheeling and risk-loving entrepreneurs of the future may place big bets on making a profit on developing rural communities — but don’t hold your breath.
My point is, without the private sector involved, the number of job opportunities is probably far lower than in other fields. Just keep this in mind when you decide what you’re going to pursue.
I’ve googled it in English and Spanish and all I could find was my country’s national Univ. and an Institute in Beijing that apparently doesn’t have a website.
I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t have a website, personally, so I don’t blame you at all. If you run a business and you won’t shell out $500 to hang a digital shingle so the entire world can learn about what you do, then you are not a serious person. (end rant)
That scares me because I don’t want to invest money, time and effort in a degree that won’t hold value in the rest of the world.
I don’t blame you a bit. But don’t be so scared by not being able to find degrees with exactly the same name — look around and see what else is out there, especially here in the States.
My other option is Economics, because it’s a classic
It is indeed.
and you can go anywhere from there
but it’s definitely not a passion of mine.
Eh, I wouldn’t advise it, then. Econ is not an easy major — other than Calculus, no beginner course kicks more ass on unsuspecting freshmen than Microeconomics. And things get a lot harder from there. If you’re going to make it through an econ degree, I think you need some degree of lust for the discipline.
So, my question is: How can I evaluate the possible risks and advantages of a “unique” major?
It’s not too hard. The main risk is that you’ll be less employable and make less money, and that means the possibility of finding nothing in your chosen field and instead making money waiting tables, tending bar, or something else you probably didn’t anticipate doing after college.
The main possible reward is that you’ll get a job doing something you really, really love, which in your case involves helping a lot of people, it seems.
Or should I just forget about it and take the safest option?
I wouldn’t go that far (plus, I’m not sure what the true “safest option” is these days, anyway). Can you double major, perhaps? Or, major in your ecology thing and then take a solid, traditional minor (just thinking out loud here, but English, econ, business, something like that)?
Thank you so much for your help!
Sure. Your real dilemma is choosing something you think you really like that comes with a lot of uncertainty, or choosing a more certain path of employment with a reduced chance that your work will delight you.
If it sounds like I’m carefully walking a line there, I am, and it’s because no one can choose that but you. One is not better than the other — it’s purely a decision about how you want to live your life. Take a bigger risk on something you think you’ll enjoy more, vs. take the safer route and risk boredom and/or unhappiness.
I do want to add a couple of things:
1) Just because you don’t LOVE your job doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy life. There are a lot of “do what you love at all costs” people out there, and at times I’ll sing that refrain myself, minus the “at all costs” part.
Many of the happiest people I know — and I suspect you know plenty as well — actually do *not* love their jobs. Nor do they hate them; they just accept it as part of their existence, do it the best they can, then go home and enjoy their nonworking hours with family and friends.
2) You do not necessarily need tons of money to enjoy life. I suspect you know this already, but it’s true. So consider that if you have a job doing something you really love, you may be surprisingly OK with making a good deal less money than other people you know.
3) One last caution: Just because you think something sounds cool now does NOT guarantee you’re going to think so forever. (This is why I hate the fact that your country makes you choose your career at 18 years old. )
Lots of things sound great when you’re 18, and then you start studying them for a year and realize you’d rather stab yourself in the eye with a letter-opener than spend your life in that discipline.
I was this way as an English lit major early in my college career. I was certain I wanted to read and teach classic literature in college. And then a few months in, I realized that to get the necessary doctorate, I’d need to spend the better part of the next 10 years of my very limited years on Earth essentially taking guesses about what authors who had been dead for 400 years were thinking about when they wrote their books.
At that moment, I wanted to run straight through the classroom wall like Kool-Aid Man and never touch Chaucer or Shakespeare again.
So anyway, I hope the same thing doesn’t happen to you and Human Ecology Engineering. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you, dear. Good luck!!
— So, what do you all think of this? Get the obscure degree and take the road less traveled? Walk the line? Let us know in the comments below.