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July 3, 2022

Guest View: Campus diversity should extend to choices in careers

Next to picking a college, picking a college major can be the most important and nerve-wracking decision facing a young person. Unfortunately, students often fail to recognize that a good education is about more than just the degree; it’s about exploring multiple disciplines, ​finding and being comfortable following your passion.

Students recognize the value of education, but ​many feel they must quickly decide on a field of study, rather than taking time to explore and find what interests them. This leads to regrets. A recent study found that 82 percent of degree holders believe college was a good investment, but 61 percent said they would change their major if they could go back. 

Colleges don’t make the situation any easier. Students are often told to explore possible majors by taking introductory classes, requiring them to invest a full semester of their time and money in a field they may later discover they don’t enjoy. In addition, many introductory courses fail to properly characterize the many diverse courses associated with a given major, leading students to choose a path they later regret.

This problem is especially acute for first generation Americans, and students who are the first ones in their family to attend college. Their lack of familiarity with college can increase their anxiety about picking the right degree and the right career path. Many default to the choices of their families, who assume that careers as doctors or lawyers are the best paths for success, ​whether or not they are the right choice for that person.

The fact is that many of the best careers are now multidisciplinary. For example, in fields like technology, law degrees can be helpful in better understanding many issues like patents that are important to the company.​ Contrary to the beliefs of many students, a law degree can lead to a plethora of careers and does not presuppose that one be a lawyer. 

The best and most successful companies today are increasingly seeking diversity, not just in race and gender, but in backgrounds and expertise. Good corporate leaders want teams with free thinkers who can attack problems from different angles, and there are a variety of educational backgrounds that can help make that happen. 

To better prepare students for the modern workplace, colleges must begin making some changes. Many students don’t understand the myriad different options that a college major or an advanced degree could present to them. So, universities should start by having professors spend more time discussing the variety of career paths available in a given field. ​Introductory courses should include components that explain these choices, and what students can look forward to in future classes if they decide to pursue the major.

Professors and colleges have a frequent and understandable bias toward leading students—particularly those in humanities—to careers in academia. There needs to be greater efforts to teach students about the diversity of careers and jobs available to them beyond their university walls.

Colleges should also invest more of their resources into career advice and counseling. This should begin early, when high school students are exploring and applying to universities. This will allow young people to feel like they have a good handle on all the options available to them before being required to make choices that will stay with them for a lifetime.

These approaches will do more than provide value to students, they would provide value to American society. We will be building a nation of young minds that are more open-ended about their future. College shouldn’t be about leading students down a path; it should be about presenting them with all the options. In doing that, we will be instilling students with more creativity—and that is a skill that is valuable in virtually every career path, and in life.

Reya Kumar is a Los Gatos native and a sophomore at Tufts University. Arvin Patel is the Chief Operating Officer at Intellectual Ventures’ Invention Investment Fund.