The Freshman Dilemma

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A lot is wrong with the educational institutions in Egypt. It’s a corrupt system from the Ministry of Education straight down to the students and their parents. It’s a toxic cycle of ridiculous expectations, weak curriculums, and societal expectations that, in the end, pile up, and the sad part is that the one who has to carry that burden is the student himself, becoming an adult and serving the cycle. A lot of the backwards culture that surrounds education in Egypt has been, to an extent, reversed, thanks to the Internet and social media opening our eyes to the rest of the world and giving us both something/someone to compare ourselves to and an ideal to pursue. My personal favorite of these struggles is this question: “What major should I study?”

Now this question can be tackled from many angles. Should I pursue the most lucrative career? Should I pursue the career that has the highest chance of landing me a job? Should I study something that I am passionate about? Should I study whatever my parents believe is in my best interest? Now, this is a lot to unpack, especially for the person who is most likely to be forced to tackle this behemoth of a question: high school students. All of these things to consider, in addition to school work (not to mention the standardized tests depending on their education system), cause high schoolers to be on edge. After all, who wouldn’t be? You are literally choosing a discipline that you will practice for the rest of your life! That’s a terrifying choice, and not only that, but your society, your family, and maybe even your teachers are pressuring you and trying to coerce you into what they believe is the best choice. But you have to stop and ask yourself: is it a real choice if they’re the ones making it for you? After all, YOU are the one who will be studying for four years, and that’s not even counting any master’s degrees or PhDs you may or may not attempt to earn. It will be YOU who will work in that field. YOU are investing the prime of your youth to study this field. So how come THEY are the ones choosing it for you?

What about a degree that pays well? Maybe you should study medicine and become a doctor. Heck, your parents will probably approve as well, solving two of our questions. The problem with that is the amount of people who graduate from any field is huge. According to the National Center for Education Statistics: “Of the 1,895,000 bachelor's degrees conferred in 2014–15, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (364,000), health professions and related programs (216,000), social sciences and history (167,000), psychology (118,000), biological and biomedical sciences (110,000), engineering (98,000), visual and performing arts (96,000), and education (92,000).” The problem lies in that people who are more passionate about their discipline are more likely to perform better than people who are studying the same discipline for other reasons.

According to David G. Jensen, the founder of CareerTrax Inc., “The passion they have for what they do still drives their career success a decade after leaving the academic lab.” So, we can conclude that going through a major in university purely for the sake of seeing a big number in your bank account can only take you so far.

Well, what about a major that has the best job prospects? Something that can one-hundred-percent-beyond-any-doubt get you a job? Well, dear reader, I am afraid to disappoint yet again. This is something that I feel everyone has to accept, and especially when it comes to making such choices. YOU CAN NEVER PREDICT THE FUTURE. Never in a million years will you ever find any major that will guarantee you a job. The world just does not work that way. The only way for a guaranteed job is for external factors to work their magic (family business, connections...etc.), otherwise, there has never been a major that has guaranteed anyone a job, and I genuinely doubt that such a major will ever exist. What one can do is survey the world and find a gaping hole in the job market for them to fill. The only problem with that is that we humans are diverse creatures with different strengths and weaknesses. If the world desires more actuarial science grads but you have dyscalculia, which is difficulty in comprehending numbers and arithmetic concepts, there is no way that you will fill that gap in the market. Finding a major with the best job prospect sounds sensible, however, as mentioned above, the pure number of graduates and the differences in what skills are demanded versus what skills we have make this a flakey reason to base such a huge decision on.

That leaves us with the last question: Should I follow my passion? This is where it gets complicated and, quite frankly, sad. On one hand, absolutely the answer is yes, yes, and oh god yes, your happiness should always be priority number one, two, and three. Not only that, but doing what you’re most passionate about guarantees an increased tolerance for crazy workloads, strenuous assignments, and the overall stressful life of a college student. This also means that you will enjoy what you gain your income from, hence you working more, hence you gaining more money. On the other hand, though (this is when reality hits), you cannot major in writing and expect to work in a fancy place on Wall Street. The fact of the matter is that investing in what you love is amazing and encouraged, however, you must be aware of what the real world looks like outside of university. Some jobs just do not pay well. This is why this is an impossible question to just slam on a young teenager who’s fresh out of high school. The ideal answer may exist for some. Some parents want their child to be an engineer and their child actually wants to be an engineer, which is a job that pays decently and is always in demand. These people exist, but we must also acknowledge that other people exist as well. The anthropologists who were forced to curb their passion because their parents forced them into business school. The film majors who were forced to pick a cheaper school because their parents flat out refused to pay for an elite film school. The struggling graphic designer who’s doing an architecture degree because her dad knows someone who can land her a well-paying job upon graduating. These people exist, and it is our job and duty as fellow humans to make sure that this never happens again. We owe it to them, as well as to our children, to delete this toxic and insane idea of destroying our children’s dreams because of society’s expectations or even our own expectations. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to compromise a thing, but we do not live in an ideal world. As sad as that is, it’s true. One positive thing to take away though is that the majority are right there with you struggling, and that most people switch majors during their first two years in college or university so flexibility is an option, and if your parents ever threaten to pull you out of university remember that many a college grad’s parents found out what their son/daughter was studying only on stage when they received their degree.

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