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How To Choose A Major? Listen to Your Heart and Forget What Everyone Else Says


I always enjoy hearing from students I’ve advised, even long after the regular contact has ended.  Thanks to LinkedIn and other social networking sites, it’s easier to stay connected.

I recently received a nice email from a student named Mark Phan through LinkedIn. He and I had chatted about his educational plans over several months, and I followed his progress as he made difficult decisions.  Then, as he started to implement his plan, we fell out of touch.  I’m happy to say that we’re back in contact.

Despite some twists and turns, Mark has landed on his feet.  I asked if he would share his experiences with my readers, and he enthusiastically agreed–in part because he had learned a few things along his path that he knew be helpful for others.  So here is Mark’s story in his own words.


I remember planning for college ever since I was a little kid. Everyone always called me an overachiever because I worked hard in school. My freshman year of high school, I started to realize that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My parents always wanted me to be in the medical field. They wanted to me to become a radiologist. I’ve always been into computers and design, so the medical field didn’t really interest me.
As I progressed through high school, my parents basically engrained in my brain that I should be a radiologist, so I told myself that was what I was going to do. If that made my parents happy, then I guess I will go for it. I began taking many math and science classes to prepare me for college throughout high school, which I did not enjoy!
It was around Junior year where I had to start researching colleges and figure out where I wanted to go. Taking college visits was pretty exciting, but at the same time very scary! This was a big decision. It wasn’t until the summer of my Junior year I began panicking about the college process. How do I pay for college? Am I choosing the right major? Should I go to community college? So many questions were running through my mind and my parents were stressing me out even more!
This was when I consulted Mark about my issues! He was very helpful in helping me pick out colleges that fit my criteria. Basically, helped with everything relating to college! Giving tips and advice about applications, financial aid and scholarships, and more. It was very nice to talk to someone who knows everything about the college process! Being the first person in my family going to college, I didn’t know much. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start, and Mark helped get me on track! I remember asking him about my uncertainty about my major. He was very encouraging and gave me great advice! After filling out one of the questionnaires he gave me, I actually realized becoming a radiologist is not what I want to do at all.
Although, I realized that becoming a radiologist wasn’t what I wanted to do, I decided to pursue it anyways. After consulting with Mark, I decided to attend community college first to save money. I wanted to double major in Radiological Sciences and Multimedia, two completely different areas. I was accepted to a competitive radiography program at my community college when I graduated high school so I pursued that opportunity. I was doing fine in my classes, but when we started clinicals in the hospital I realized this was not what I wanted to do at all. I was not happy and the thought of majoring in multimedia was always in the back on my mind.
I finished the fall semester and withdrew from the program. When spring semester started, I changed my major to multimedia and loved what I was doing. It was much better doing something I loved, not something my parents wanted me to do.
Surprisingly I finished my general education requirements in one year of community college despite the change of major. I took dual credit classes in high school as well as college summer courses. I also took several CLEP tests that gave me credit for a couple general education classes. Luckily, I wasn’t too far behind because I had transferable college credits under my belt! The following semester I transferred to a four-year college. I am currently a Junior at Bradley University studying Interactive Media with a concentration in Animation and Special Effects.
Moral of the story:  Do what you want to do! Listen to your heart and forget what everyone tells you to do!


I’d like to amplify a couple of things in Mark’s story.
First, community college can make a great deal of sense for even the smartest, most motivated kids.  Mark not only saved money, but he reduced the time to his degree by a full year.
Second, kids are buffeted by all sorts of expectations.  The transition to adulthood is not only about moving from one educational institution to another.  It’s about learning to decide things for yourself, to recast your relationship with parents, and to have the confidence to allow yourself to follow your own internal compass.
Third, things usually work out. I’m sure that Mark’s parents worried mightily as he started down a path that made them as uncomfortable as Mark was happy.  Our job as parents is not so much to define the path, but to equip our kids with the skills and the habits of mind (and heart!) that will enable them to carve out their own path.
Thanks for sharing your story, Mark!
Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant


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