Tips on Selecting Universities and Field of Study (Part 2)

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From elementary school to high school, we were exposed to a variety of subjects. While it is important to be well rounded, everyone will eventually have to pick a subject and become an expert in that field when they go to college. There are many options available to you. Choosing the one that will fit you best is the main purpose of this article. Picture above is taken from lifehacker.com.

In the first part of this article, I shared with you my top five considerations for selecting universities. Now, in this second part, I will lay out an equally important topic; selecting a field of study. Just like selecting a university, this is a huge life decision and should not be taken lightly. For most people, what they study in college plays a big role in determining the bulk of their adult lives. Your major in college will have a big impact on the jobs you will have and careers that you will be in. Even the lifestyle that you will probably have, where you will likely live, and type of people you will be surrounded with at work are determined by the field of study and the profession that the field leads you to. With this in mind, I will delve deeper into some considerations I had when selecting my field of study for my undergraduate and graduate study. My hope is that this article will help you to structure your thoughts and figure out which college major fits you best.

  • What subject are you interested in?

When selecting a field of study, your passion for that subject is the most important factor. You will study this subject for 4 years (e.g. for undergraduate) and possibly more (e.g. 3-6 years, if you pursue graduate school). If your passion is not aligned with what you study, your college years will feel very long. On the other hand, if you enjoy what you study, you will be happier and your mind will be hungry to go deeper into that subject. This will lead to another big question; what is your passion? Think about what you wanted to be when you were a child. Think about what subject makes you happy. Think about what makes you think. Think about what you are good at.

The subject of passion has been discussed a lot elsewhere and I have to mention a big caveat here. Selecting a field of study based on one’s passion can be difficult if he/she does not know what his/her passion is. Based on my own experience, I did not know what my passion was when I was in high school trying to choose my undergraduate major. I was only 18 and I did not have a complete understanding of what it was like to be a pilot, a doctor, an engineer, a surgeon, or a teacher. With my vision being so narrow, how was I supposed to know what my passion was? The reality is, many people simply do not have a very obvious passion that can act as their guiding star. For some people, passion develops later in life after they have actually entered a field or career.

If the previous paragraph resonates with you, a good method to determine what field to pursue is to go after what you are good at and build on that foundation. In the book “So good they can’t ignore you”, Cal Newport argued that passion is developed as a by-product when someone is good at something. According to his research, as people deepen their understanding on a certain subject, their crafts and skills become enhanced, they enjoy their work more, and the passion automatically develops. Passion is not a pre-existing condition that allows people to base their career selection on. In reality, for many people, passion is what will spring up when they become good in the subject they choose to muster.

  • You have to be aware of the job market for your field of study.

The second consideration that you should think about when selecting a field of study is how you can make a good living working in that field. This is not a materialistic advice. This is a reality check to make sure you know what future holds for you and what you are getting yourself into. One day, you will graduate and your career will start. From here onward, you will be in the workforce for many years until you retire. So, it is important to think about how your career can provide the lifestyle you want and cover your expenses. Life is not as simple as following your passion or developing your passion. At a certain point, everyone has to start thinking about how to make a living off his/her passion.

I would suggest checking out the latest job reports or career statistics to find out which field or industry has the best job growth. These reports usually provide information on the salary range for the different careers. Use this information when you are weighing your choices. Check the universities’ career page as well, where you can find the latest career surveys of their graduates (e.g. which industries their alumni work in, their salary range, etc). Go to Business Insider website or Yahoo Business to read up on the latest market trends and find out which industries are thriving and which ones are slowing down. I personally use the Yahoo website on a daily basis to get some news on the latest market trend. In today’s economy, you have to monitor the direction where the wind blows all the time or otherwise, you will be left behind.

Another piece of advice I can give is to think about what profession will still be around 30-40 years from now (e.g. if you expect to retire in your 60s). Think about what jobs are least likely to be replaced by automation. Areas such as IT, analytics, sciences, healthcare and creative industries have a higher probability to be around in the future. In the era of robots and automation, we have to keep learning new skills and equip ourselves with the latest knowledge. Standing still and just doing the work that has been given to you is a very dangerous tactic that can result in you being replaced by the robots. Keep upgrading yourself by learning new skills using free online sources. Many websites provide structured lessons in a variety of subjects such as math, literature, arts, music, business, and many others. Say goodbye to mediocrity and embrace perpetual self-improvement.

At least once every few months, evaluate the current job market. Look for the latest reports on job growth broken down by industries. Analyze the salary, location, and forecast growth of various jobs. Ask yourself these questions; how is my industry doing? Will I still have my job 30-40 years from now? What job do I want to have/switch to in the future? What skills do I need to have to get that job? The table above is taken from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
At least once every few months, evaluate the current job market. Look for the latest reports on job growth broken down by industries. Analyze the salary, location, and forecast growth of various jobs. Ask yourself these questions; how is my industry doing? Will I still have my job 30-40 years from now? What job do I want to have/switch to in the future? What skills do I need to have to get that job? The table above is taken from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • What transferrable skills can you learn?

My third advice in selecting your field of study is to figure out what kind of skillsets you will learn during your course of study. After you graduate from college, you will enter the workforce and start your career in a certain profession. Over the course of their lifetime, people normally change their profession from one to another. For some people, they even change the industry they work in. This is absolutely possible if you have skill sets that are transferable and can be applied to different jobs.

For example, quantitative and analytical skill sets are crucial in so many industries including banking, IT, statistician, and science. That is the reason why engineering is a very popular major. Engineering graduates go to various industries since their skillsets can be applied to tackle many business problems. Graduates from social studies and business can be found in many different industries holding professions that involve a lot of interpersonal communication, customer relationship, and managerial capability. These graduates have the flexibility to jump from one industry to another because the communication and managerial background that they have can be applied in many different industries.

  • Where do you want to live after you graduate?

Jobs can be geographically divided. In the United States, coastal regions such as San Francisco, Seattle, and North Carolina have abundant engineering opportunities. On the other hand, New York City and Chicago have a lot of finance-related jobs while many government jobs are available in Washington DC. Some major cities such as Boston, Austin, and Pittsburgh have highly diversified economies and leverage on their strengths in multiple industries. The point that I am making here is that you should have some idea of the places you will likely end up in once you graduate from your chosen field of study. You would want to go to a place where you can meet like-minded and more experienced people in your field when you enter the workforce. By researching on job opportunities breakdown by location, you can plan ahead your career, city you work in, work environment, and maximize your chance of achieving success and happiness.

A major consideration that Indonesian Mengglobal readers should have in mind about selecting a field of study; Do you plan on returning to your home country upon graduation? This is a very important question. Research on which professions have the best number of opportunities and best job growth in Indonesia. Our country’s economy is not highly diversified as US or Japan, but there are plenty of opportunities in sectors such as IT, finance, and small businesses. Use Indonesian Mengglobal website to your advantage and connect with writers, mentors, and members who are already working in your desired field. Find out from them about the industry’s future outlook and current opportunities. I would also suggest keeping track of the latest development in the business climate in Indonesia. Subscribe to Kompas.com or Yahoo Indonesia to stay tuned to the latest news in our home country.

  • Get to know people who are already working in your field of study.

My fifth advice on finding out if you would enjoy your chosen field of study is to talk to people who are already in it. This is the simplest, yet the most powerful method in forecasting your future career and find out if you would like it. Talk to 10-20 people who are doing what you want to do. Examine their daily lives, their works, their lifestyles, their personalities, and ask yourself if that is the future you imagine yourself to have. I did not have this kind of access back when I graduated from high school. I did not have a good network of mentors. However, I read a lot of articles about the lives of famous scientists and engineers. I remember that I enjoyed reading biographies of people like Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, or Stephen Hawking. I was fascinated by the fact that humanity can explain many things in the universe in a very quantitative fashion. My dream was to use science to invent something new that can be applied to life. To me, working in science was a great way of aligning my passion with pragmatism.

Getting to know people in your field is good way to learn more about the industry and company environment/culture where those people work in. Use the Indonesia Mengglobal network to your advantage to connect with the mentors, writers, and other members. Networking can also open doors to future possibilities such as internships and full-time jobs. Start early and get comfortable networking with people in virtual and in-person settings. The image above is taken from mirror.co.uk.
Getting to know people in your field is good way to learn more about the industry and company environment/culture where those people work in. Use the Indonesia Mengglobal network to your advantage to connect with the mentors, writers, and other members. Networking can also open doors to future possibilities such as internships and full-time jobs. Start early and get comfortable networking with people in virtual and in-person settings. The image above is taken from mirror.co.uk.

With the help of Internet, you can read up on the lives of famous people in your fields. Find out what their lifestyles and professional lives are like. I would also suggest you to connect with people in your industry on LinkedIn. Mention to them that you are new and considering of entering the field. Ask for their advice and find out what their jobs are like. I cannot guarantee that 100% of those people you reach out to will respond to your messages. However, I have met very nice and helpful people on LinkedIn who are willing to share their experience. Some even agreed to give me informational interview where I could ask them in detail about their jobs. So, do not be afraid to ask. Lastly, use this Indonesian Mengglobal website to read articles written about your field of interest. Connect with the writers and ask him/her to mentor you. You would be amazed by the amount of information and help you can get if you know where to look for them.

As a closing note, I would like to share my last piece of advice on this topic of selecting a field of study. Whatever field of study you select, make sure you learn how to sell as well. What I mean by “sell” here is to convince people/employers how your background education and skillsets make you the perfect fit for the profession you are applying to when you are in the job market. No matter what field of study you are in, be it arts, business, science, or engineering, the ability to communicate your ideas and to convince people to collaborate with you is a big determinant on your success.

Speaking from my personal experience, I understand that high school, undergraduate and graduate studies rely heavily on personal strengths and minimum collaboration. However, when I entered the workforce, I realized that real life business problems are much more complex than what can be solved individually. Everyone is required to work together with others. This is the part where interpersonal skills are central to your performance at work. I have spoken on this topic with many other friends who are in different fields and they all agreed that the ability to communicate and “sell” your idea is the most transferable skill that can allow you to jump from one profession to another.

The Internet is rich with information on selecting a field of study. Great resources include gradcafe, collegeconfidential, and Indonesian Mengglobal. Get as many resources as possible from Indonesian Mengglobal website and connect with the mentors/writers. If you are looking for an education consultancy company that helps you with comprehensive planning of your education/career, selecting a college, and selecting your undergraduate/graduate major, I would recommend All-inedu (http://all-inedu.com/).