Choosing a field of study in college – which way to go?

“College is the reward for surviving high school.” – Judd Apatow 

Or at least in your case if you are from India, the 12th Grade, or 12th standard. If you have dealt with the pressures of going through Board Exams, and possibly Entrance Exams (Hello there, fellow science student!) and you are on the proverbial path to the next stage of life after school, you may now be dealing with the dilemma of arriving at the crossroads, not knowing which path to take or which way to go.

In a nutshell, you have pretty much little to no idea what field of study you wish to pursue in college.

A student graduating from school in the near future will look to his or her nearest and dearest ones for advice on what to do next. (Or may seek help from peers.) Either way, the student is greeted with an answer that comes in droves, which seems akin to an act of ‘swarming’, a practice (rendered pretty much useless, albeit more harmful in the long run) where the prospective college student is given ‘sound career advice’ by supposedly well-meaning relatives. These relatives range from being close to never have talked to the said person very much in their entire lives. Parents of the student (mostly Indian parents), conform to the ideas and opinions given by the others as it is deemed much safer to do so. They then completely disregard what their child would like to do further.

The student may have an interest or passion for delving into a rather unorthodox field of study (compared to the Indian societal standards of Medicine and Engineering), and will be scorned by parents and acquaintances alike, thus subjugating him or her and forcing them into a field they do not prefer or even dislike.

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of the tech-giant Apple, has also observed this problem in India, and stated so at the ET Global Business Summit in New Delhi.

Steve Wozniak. (Courtesy: Google Images) 

The culture here is one of success based upon academic excellence, studying, learning, practicing and having a good job and a great life. For upper India, not the lower. I see two India(s). That’s a lot like Singapore study, study, work hard and you get an MBA, you will have a Mercedes but where is the creativity? The creativity gets left out when your behaviour is too predictable and structured, everyone is similar. Look at a small country like New Zealand, the writers, singers, athletes; it’s a whole different world.”

India being a country that has only fairly recently gained independence (compared to the other developed countries), has much to learn on this front. Every year, institutes in India churn out a multitude of Doctors, Engineers and the like, only to have them later pursue careers in other fields of interest. This needs to change, as it also adds the burden of repaying financial debts, in addition to explaining a change of field to the family.

What needs to be done?

  • This will leave a bitter taste in every student’s mouth, but the presence of actual job opportunities in the field of interest are very necessary and must be given consideration. If absent, it renders the process of getting a college degree irrelevant. This heavily applies to fields of interest such as music, arts, and even more so to others such as Human History (people are known to even obtain PhDs in such subjects). In a country like India, career opportunities in these fields are very much in the rudimentary stages at present (they may develop more in the future). But pursuing a degree in such fields in the hopes that career opportunities may arise in the future is a very risky business indeed!

  • Moreover, in a country like India, there is no lack of competition. Even today (though numbers are slowly decreasing), hordes of 12th standard pass-outs pursue Engineering. This increases the competition, and lowers the chances of obtaining a job after graduation. A student pursuing it needs to be serious and passionate about getting into the field. If Engineering (or any field, for that matter) is a something you are disinterested in, stand up to your parents and let them know. You will be doing them (and yourself even more) a huge favour. (Although if Engineering is your field of interest, you will need to work harder and obtain much more than just a stellar academic record to get a job after you graduate!)

  • Do not doubt the power of sound advice. Yes, it is true that most advice for choosing your field of interest may seem redundant, especially if you are headstrong. Do listen to people’s advice, but take it with a grain of salt. Most people offer advice based on their own life experiences, and less so on whether things are right or wrong.

  • Read information on the Internet about your field of interest in which you plan to study, and find out about the current job opportunities, the quality of the institutes providing the education (this is very important), and also the overall cost. Do remember that your parents are funding your education, and try not to go about it in a casual manner.

  • If your field of interest entails something similar to a hobby, such as music or acting, do not give it up. If you pursue a career in another field, do indulge in your interests during your spare time. Joining a college group pertaining to such activities may help.

  • Online (or offline) counselling sessions for choosing your preferred field of study may also be beneficial.

  • Lastly, if a parent is reading this article, please try to be supportive in your child’s future endeavours. If he or she wishes to pursue a degree in a field that may not relate to Medicine or Engineering, do not fret (unless the supposed field is . Societal opinions do not matter in this. It will only bolster your child’s confidence if you decide to support them in their decision.


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