5 possible reasons you’re having trouble pinpointing an academic program – and what to do about it

Why is it difficult for some students to choose an academic program? Whether you’re a recent high school graduate or adult learner, selecting which program to study sometimes causes fear and anxiety. Self-assessment and career exploration are critical steps in the process. But you still might be stuck. What could be the reason and how can you persist to find the program that best suits you?

1. Are you relying on feedback from others? Seeking input from family and friends is understandable. They may offer different perspectives and ideas you haven’t considered. After others have offered their perspective, ask yourself what you believe you should study?

Families play different roles in different cultures. Some cultures stress individuality while others emphasize family first. What is your family dynamic when it comes to making choices? What are your thoughts about this? If you’re struggling to find balance between receiving input from others and making the decision for yourself, look for ways to develop your decision making skills.

2. Do you have too many interests and can’t eliminate any of them? One student may equally love health care and business. Another student enjoys the arts but really wants to work in a field where he is helping people. Both may have difficulty narrowing down their options because they fear that focusing on one means they’re giving up the other.

Not necessarily. If you enjoy art but want to help people, could working in the museum’s education or membership departments satisfy both interests?

Volunteering is a great way to channel interests. Is your interest is in one field strong enough to pursue as a profession or would volunteering be a good fit?

Do some research about the different occupations that are possible with the academic programs or majors you’re considering. You may be surprised by the options.

3. Is nothing grabbing your attention? Other students have difficulty choosing a major and finding any careers that look appealing. Consider talking to a career counselor. You may have some false or exaggerated perceptions about the world of work that are keeping you from making decisions.

Have you worked in the past? Making decisions with no previous experience is tough. Working a part-time job – even if in a field that’s of no interest in the long-term – gives you a better perspective of the world of work. Volunteering can expose you to different career fields, too.

4. Are you selecting programs of interest that don’t match your skills? It’s tough when skills and interests collide. A student may have a strong passion for the nursing profession, but struggles to pass science classes. Another student may be focused on engineering but doesn’t do well in math. If you find yourself having to consider a different academic program because of your skills sets, take a look at what your strengths are. Additionally, what other programs capture your interests? You may not yet know if you’ve been focused on unrealistic career paths for so long.

5. Are you concentrating too much on the “hot jobs lists?” Websites and magazines publish “Top 10” lists highlighting job areas with the best growth, stability and salaries. All are important factors to consider, but none should be the sole reason for choosing an academic program or career path. Skills, abilities and interests play larger roles in career satisfaction and success than predictions on “what’s hot” in the job market.   

At the end of the day you’re the person who’ll be attending the classes, writing the papers, working on the projects and taking the exams as part of your chosen academic program focus. Ask yourself what’s keeping you from making a decision and seek out solutions that could help.