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How to pick a college major in 2021

Are you a high-school student preparing to go to college in 2021? Chances are you’re still debating the huge decision of which major to pursue. Maybe you’ve narrowed down your list to two or three but haven’t finalized anything yet. The global COVID-19 pandemic might’ve added even more uncertainty to your decision, as you and your parents debate what college will actually look like going forward.

We get it—picking a major can be intimidating, especially in a year like 2020! To help out, we’ve put together a few ideas below to guide you through the process, plus a handful of majors and career fields that will be in high demand in the coming years (even in the crazy pandemic world we find ourselves in today). Read on!

Before you begin: 5 questions to ask

Let’s start by asking a few questions. 

1. What do I enjoy doing?

This can be anything from playing basketball and video games to shopping for clothes. List all of it out. Your answers can help you realize where your interests lie.

2. Out of what I enjoy doing, what am I good at?

This is where you have to be honest with yourself, meaning neither too positive (“I’m good at everything!”) or too negative (“I’m not good at anything”). This is about finding where your hobbies and your skills intersect. So if you love playing basketball but don’t do well with it, then “playing basketball” shouldn’t go on your list. Or you may have a good fashion sense, but have no desire to work with clothing, so leave “fashion” off the list.

3. What do others think I’m good at?

You’ll need to talk to your family and friends to answer this question. Allow them to be frank with you. Don’t be defensive or attempt to argue. Just hear them out and take note of what they say. How others perceive our abilities can sometimes give us greater insight into what we’re truly talented at doing.

4. What do I like learning about?

Out of all your schoolwork, what subject feels less like a chore? Maybe they all seem like chores, in which case, ask yourself, “What do I like learning in my free time?” Even if you don’t read books outside of school, every time you watch a movie, go to a basketball game, or take a walk in nature, you’re learning something. So what is it that most interests you?

5. Once you decide on a major to pursue, do you enjoy the classes?

If you take a class or two in a major and you don’t enjoy the subject, you may want to consider a different path. You may be able to count any courses you take in the major you leave behind as extracurricular classes, so the hours can still go toward whatever degree you eventually pursue.

High-growth job fields

So what jobs should you consider for the future? Here are five jobs to think through. Keep in mind that the projected job growth is through 2029. Most of this data comes from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

1. Position: Nurse Practitioner

Projected job growth: 52%

Average salary: $115,800

College degree needed? Yes, plus graduate school

Major: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) 

Graduate school needed? Yes

2. Position: Solar Photovoltaic Installer

Projected job growth: 51%

Average salary: $44,890

College degree needed? No, but you might stand out better if you have a bachelor’s degree or an associates degree from a technical college. According to OwlGuru.com, nearly 56% of folks in this position have only a high-school diploma.

Graduate school needed? No

Major: Solar Energy Technology

3. Position: Statistician

Projected job growth: 35%

Average salary: $92,030

College degree needed? Yes

Major: Bachelor’s degree in Statistics, Mathematics, Economics, or Computer Science

Graduate school needed? Yes

4. Position: Information Security Analyst

Projected job growth: 31%

Average salary: $99,730

College degree needed? Yes

Major: Bachelor’s degree in Cybersecurity or Management Information Systems

Graduate school needed? No

5. Position: Speech-Language Pathologist

Projected job growth: 25%

Average salary: $79,120

College degree needed? Yes

Major: Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD)

Graduate school needed? Yes

Parting advice: Don’t stress!

In closing, here are two additional points to keep in mind when choosing your major:

1. You don’t have to choose a major right away

Plenty of folks don’t know what they want to do when they first start college. So you can start out by taking some general-education courses that every student needs to take while you consider your options.

2. Your major isn’t a lifelong sentence

If you graduate with a degree and then realize you hate working in that field, you have the freedom to go back to school if you want. But that may not be necessary—many folks don’t have a job related to their degree. And increasingly, people are switching careers entirely. The point is, don’t feel like the rest of your life hinges on the major you choose, because it doesn’t. 

Well, that’s all for now! We hope you’ve been able to find some useful information here, and we wish you the best of luck in choosing your major.

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Accelerated Distance Learning by Brad Voeller

Despite the exponential increase in distance education programs across the country, there haven’t been very many books written about how to find and enroll in a good school. There are plenty of books for instructors that explain how to teach at a distance, but there aren’t many published resources for prospective students. There are some, however! One of those is Accelerated Distance Learning by Brad Voeller.

Brad earned his college degree in just six months (and at a fraction of the cost of a traditional degree program) through aggresive completion of a distance education course of study. Brad’s example is certainly not normative for the majority of students, but his book does outline how similar speed can be achieved by:

Earning college credit through exams and life experience
Using proven techniques to cut study time in half
Preparing and following a study plan
What’s great about Brad’s book is that he also provides solid advice on how to choose a fully accredited distance education program. This is the section of the book that’s likely to be applicable to most prospective students. Not all of us want to complete our 4 year degree in 6 months, but all of us could most certainly use advice on what we should be looking for when evaluating a distance education program.

Until there are more books specifically aimed at helping students navigate the waters of pursuing a degree through distance education, we have to use what’s already out there. I’d recommend getting a copy of Brad’s book. While some of his material may not be applicable to your situation, he does provide some invaluable and practical information that should be taken into consideration when making a decision about which school to attend.

Read more at Amazon.com

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2014 College Rankings From the Open Education Database

The Open Education Database has published their 2014 online college rankings. This is a great reference if you’re looking for a good distance education program. The top colleges are sorted by area of study (i.e. engineering, nursing, MBA, and so on). They even have a degree finder. Select a degree type and major and you’ll see the top ranked colleges in that category.

The metrics used are very practical and detailed. For example, they rank colleges according to the faculty-to-student ratio, retention rate, graduation rate, and job placement rate. The college you attend should help you achieve your academic goals. That’s why it’s important to “do your homework” ahead of time. OEDb’s ranking tool helps you do that.

See the rankings at OEDb

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Is College for Everyone?

Here at The Distance Learner we advocate a non-traditional approach to the process of earning a college degree. It’s just not practical for everyone to attend a brick-and-mortar college or university, pay exorbitantly to live on campus, and run up an astronomical student debt that takes decades to pay off after graduation.

Distance education offers a cheaper, more practical alternative to this approach. But for some young people, college may not even need to be a consideration to begin with. This post from The Art of Manliness gives 11 alternatives to a college degree. These include starting a business, attending community college, and learning a trade.

For some professions – like many of those in STEM fields – college is absolutely the right choice. But for many, it ends up being a waste of time and money. For some, college even limits your career options, as you get strapped into thinking you have to go into a certain major (most often business) in order to be successful. That’s just not the reality, however.

Those who say every high school student needs to attend college to get a good job are either misinformed or lying. Any high school graduate can land a stable job with a healthy salary by pursuing their natural inclination or talent in a vocational school or apprenticeship. Similar to earning a degree through distance education, this is a smart and economical alternative to taking on student debt for that “magic” piece of paper.

Read the full article at The Art of Manliness

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Attend College Overseas

Here’s an interesting alternative to the traditional American college experience: consider attending college overseas. Despite what you might think, it’s much less expensive to study abroad. Experiencing a new country is exciting. And earning a degree overseas can distinguish you from other graduates who didn’t bother to travel.

On his blog Sovereign Man, Simon gives examples of several foreign colleges that are less expensive than American options, yet consistently rank among the top schools in the world. If you’ve ever wanted to visit another country, you should seriously consider whether earning a degree at the same time might be a good option for you.

Read the full article at Sovereign Man

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MIT Offers Free Online Education

In late 2011, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched M.I.T.x, an online learning program that offers hundreds of courses for free. This isn’t a full degree program, but it does allow those who demonstrate mastery of a course of study to receive a certificate of completion.

This new program is a continuation of MIT’s original free online learning curriculum, OpenCourseWare. It’s very exciting to see a respected university like MIT offer additional distance learning options. The groundswell of online programs over the past few years has been nothing short of spectacular. In the Forbes article linked below, James Marshall Crotty calls this new education initiative a “game changer.” I agree with his assessment.

Read the full article at Forbes

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Think Before You Intern

As someone who began a career in software development with an unpaid apprenticeship, my personal experience has been that any internship, paid or otherwise, can be beneficial. But these statistics compiled by Online College Courses are nonetheless very interesting and may indicate a trend away from what I experienced 10 years ago.

Studies show that students who intern without receiving pay in return tend to learn less, perform more menial tasks, and be hired on full-time at a lower rate than students who are paid for their internships.

As with any aspect of your education and career, it’s important to evaluate whether a given opportunity will advance you towards your goal or just waste your time.

Read the full article at Online College Courses

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Don’t Let College Interfere With Your Education

David authored this article for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy back in 2010. It remains relevant for those making decisions about where, or whether, to attend college.

I made a decision early on that college was about getting a piece of paper, not an education. My goal wasn’t to become a better-rounded individual, or even to gain a greater understanding of my major area of study. Rather, it was to gain the educational credential that employers now use as a screening device for most jobs. And my experience confirmed what I had expected—that post-secondary education today has only a lackluster ability to provide real value aside from that credential.

It’s critical to understand the true value of a college degree before embarking on an expensive voyage that may or may not get you where you want to go.

Read the full article at the Pope Center

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Does Earning a Degree Increase Your Salary?

One commonly held belief about college degrees is that earning one will boost your income in your current job, or help you secure a job with a much higher starting salary than someone who only has a high school degree.

This may have been true at one point, but in recent years the earnings gap between high school and college graduates has been shrinking dramatically. Mary Pilon takes a detailed look at the earnings landscape in a recent Wall Street Journal article. It’s well worth a read whether you’re considering college for the first time or planning to return to school to earn a post-graduate degree.

One advantage to pursuing a degree via distance education is the lower cost. Combine that with the ability to work a full-time job while studying in the evening and you have a powerful alternative to the traditional college experience. Of course, it’s still a good idea to research your target career field and determine whether the cost of a college degree is truly worth the salary increase. It might not be.

Read the full article at WSJ.com

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The Case for Working With Your Hands

High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass.

Read the full article at NY Times