College, generations of Dads used to say, is a time to make your mistakes and learn from them. Now, a major new research project into education after high school reveals that the biggest mistake a majority of Americans feel they made was going to that college in the first place. Or picking their majors. Too late now.
Taking the time to learn from youthful errors may have worked better before college became a seller’s market, forcing students and families to take out mortgages to finance tuition, room, board and books. Now, selecting a college and a field of study are decisions that will live with graduates often over decades of repayment plans and, worse, job hunts.
Reading these findings may prompt policymakers to rethink blind encouragement of high school grads to move onto campuses and fields of study they picked for reasons of geography, family tradition, emotions or “comfort.” Then again, that’s probably too much to hope for.
Gallup and the Strada Education Network have joined for a three-year research project called Education Consumer Pulse to “provide regular insights from current, past and prospective education consumers about some of the most pressing issues facing post-secondary learning today.”
The first topic: Do you regret your college choices?
Turns out, most do. (Are you listening, college presidents?)
A majority of Americans (51%) who continued education after high school said if they had it to do over, they would choose a different school, degree and/or major field of study. So much for all those college visits, guidance counselor consults, kitchen table discussions and snap decisions by students at the know-it-all age of 18.
The greatest regret is their choice of a field of study — 36% would do that differently again. More than a quarter (28%) would pick a different school altogether. And 12% would pursue a different degree.
Of course, in today’s dynamic society the relevance of a chosen field in the modern workplace can change drastically over time. The demand for Greek philosophers, for instance, has been waning now for some centuries.
Making decisions about higher education, of course, is far from a science. But Pulse researchers did detect some patterns:
People who completed their college degree at a later age are happier and more satisfied with their choices.
Those who earned a Bachelor’s degree are more likely to regret their degree choice than those who pursued technical, vocational or associate degrees.
And those who majored in engineering, science, tech and (yuk) math are far less likely to have second thoughts about their degree and career choices. That deeper satisfaction could be because they’re nerds. More likely, it’s tied to the occupational reality in today’s economy that they remain employed, in high demand and well-paid as opposed to — oh, say — journalists, many of whom don’t.