A Question of Aptitude: Discovering your Major

College is expensive. Over a hundred colleges (with UC Berkeley for out-of-state students among them) now cost over $50,000 a year, and the price keeps escalating at a 4-6% clip. Yet college can also be difficult and confusing. Only 30% of the students in public, and 53% in private colleges graduate in four years. Some students never graduate, while others have lengthy and expensive stays. There are a number of reasons students do not have timely graduations, but one that truly impedes progress is indecision over what to major in. Some sources report more than 80% of the students change their major after matriculating, with some changing majors 2 to 3 times. What then is a good method of determining your major?  

Internships, work, job shadowing, and volunteering, all are useful but, let’s be honest, there are only so many hours in a day, and between all the school and extracurricular efforts, just how much time is there to dedicate to these activities? If you take the ACT, it includes a Holland Interest Survey (to measure your interests), which is sent to you along with your scores. Career assessments are also available on-line.  The Cal State Fullerton Virtual Career Center site, https://campusapps2.fullerton.edu/Career/students/ includes links to interest surveys, Myers Briggs personality tests, and many others. The problem with taking a series of interest, aptitude, and personality tests on-line, however, is that when you merge the results, you still might have only a sketchy sense of your capabilities.

A more structured approach might be to measure your aptitudes, your innate talents, with trained consultants who can offer a fuller interpretation of the results. Aptitudes, after all, are not as likely to change over time, while interests (in something like stamp collecting, for example) might.  The Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation (http://www.jocrf.org/testing_centers/index.html), a non-profit organization, is one such place where you can go to discover your aptitudes.  Johnson O’Connor began his career in 1922 at General Electric, testing employees to determine their best job fit. Since then this research foundation has assisted people from all walks of life, even a former president of the United States, gain a better sense of their natural abilities. For students attempting to decide what to major in, matching interests to aptitudes could possibly save tens of thousands of dollars, and a boatload of doubt and frustration. 

If you decide to visit a Johnson O’Connor office you’ll spend a day and a half, during which you’ll be administered a battery of about 25 tests, some one-on-one, others by computer, to determine a range of abilities, ranging from idea generation (called ‘ideaphoria’) to spatial capabilities. At the conclusion, you review your comprehensive written report with a staff consultant and discuss how your aptitude pattern might indicate certain specific majors or possible future careers.  

These are not IQ tests; rather, they are objective measurements of natural abilities.  For example, if you were planning to become a physician, having a strong aptitude in structural visualization, in order to visualize a body organ for example, would be very beneficial. Additionally, having inductive reasoning would help you make diagnoses more quickly, and ‘ideaphoria’ would help in generating a rapid flow of ideas to assist patients in determining multiple ways to attack problems. You need not have high scores in all these aptitudes, but it certainly helps to be capable in some to ensure a greater potential of satisfaction and success in medicine.

Gaining knowledge of your aptitudes is a useful tool in figuring out a potential major and your fit in the world of work and beyond. It is, however, a tool and not a specific career recommendation (though written reports contain a list of potential occupations best tailored to your aptitudes). Doing anything is probably better than going through high school and college without an attempt to figure out where you might find your best job prospects. Frankly, the costs are too high not to. No matter how it is you pursue finding your major, go at it with effort and determination. Done in conjunction with knowledge of your aptitudes, it could save you a great deal of time, money, and worry.