Listen to Steve Jobs: Selecting Your College Major

Sometime during your high school years, your parents start nagging you with this question “so have you thought about what you want to major in college?”  And if you are already a college student, then what do most people ask you when they meet you the first time?  Yes, you guessed it right!  They would ask you “What’s your major?”  –  The icebreaker that has launched numerous friendships and romances.  But it could also be a source of annoyance and nerve-wracking!

Why are people so interested in knowing your major?  Because many people believe your college major may directly or indirectly point you to certain career directions.  So the real question behind that question is: what do you want to be when you grow up?  And that’s one of the most important decisions we all have to make in life!

But you are 17, you have no clue about selecting something that is going to affect your future.  So you remember the little boy days when you get hints from your parents and you thought, I am a boy, I am doing okay with my math & sciences even though I am not crazy about them, but I think I can study engineering.  You have no knowledge about what engineering is about but you know engineering graduates get good jobs and your parents would approve anything that will get you good jobs.

What happens next is you sit in your engineering classes thinking about how boring and dry these classes are!  You have absolutely no interest to study them and your disinterest shows on your GPAs, so you decide you need to change your major.  The problem is, you don’t even know what major you want to change into, or you cannot find anything interesting enough for you to commit.  You are afraid if you make the change, you will find you don’t like your new major, again.

So what’s a sensible way to choose your college major that somewhat makes sense to your future when you don’t know what your future will be …or you do?

Here is the advice from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Graduation Speech:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

According to Jobs, we all somehow already know what we truly want to become.   Don’t we?  Think about how you grow up, there are things you are more interested & talented in doing than others if you are being totally honest to yourself.  Don’t let your school grades or your parents fool you.

Here are some stories to inspire you follow your inner voice and intuition:

1. You have special skills to help people

During my consulting days, I taught a few classes of college math and statistics.  One day, I asked my statistics class if this were not a requirement, would anyone take that class.  No one.  So I told them if anyone can convince me that s/he does not need this class, s/he does not need to take the Final.  I was an unconventional teacher and could never get a tenure in academia! Ha ha

So one day, a male student came to my office.  He wore a red suit jacket just like how he attended every class.  He looked at me and told me that I would look really good with some make-up.  He opened a suitcase he brought filled with cosmetics and brushes, “would you let me do a make-over for you?” he asked and told me his story: he grew up with a lot of skin problems so he learned how to take care of his skin from his mother and sister who were both Mary Kay’s make-up artists.  He then realized he is good at using his hands to create beautiful faces for women, so he selected business as his major and work as a Mary Kay sales and make-up artist on the side.  Ah ha, that explained why he always wear his red Mary Kay jacket on campus putting make-ups on female students.

He told me his plan was to first become Mary Kay’s regional manager in Los Angeles and ultimately he wants to create his own cosmetic lines one day.

That day, when I all dolled up with his “make-over” and walked out of my office, I got a lot of compliments and whistles.  Of course, he didn’t need to take his Final.  3 years later, he sent me a message that he has become a regional manager at Mary Kay.

An Analysis of His Talent

MBTI Personality Type: ISFP

Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter: Artisan (SP)

Highlands Ability Battery would show he has high spatial visualization & high design memory

This is the type of people who are skillful in using their hands or tools to create & design beautiful 3 dimensional things.


2. There are signs from when you were little

My Web developer is a true techie.  He self-taught himself how to fix cars and write codes to develop Websites.  He help people around him fix their car problems often and he enjoys doing that for people.  He is interested in anything he can automate, think logically and analyze critically. I have no doubt he can learn and become good at anything technical.  I asked him how he decided to major in mechanical engineering.  He told me when he was 4 years old, his father got a new computer, but didn’t have time to figure out how to hook up the new computer with the old printer they have before going to work.  As a 4 year old, he desperately wanted to play with some computer games and print out his score sheet, so he figured out how to make the old printer work with the new computer and print out his game score sheet.  When his father got home from work, he proudly presented his father his score sheet.  The technically-savvy father was amazed, not by his little boy’s game score sheet, but how his boy figured out how to make the technology work.

An Analysis of His Talent

MBTI Personality Type: INTP

Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter: Rational (NT)

Highlands Ability Battery would show he has high spatial theory, high spatial visualization, & high concept organization (logical ability)

This is the type of people who are naturally curious about why & how technical things work and good at building and innovating 3-D technical system.


3. You have distinct interests

My Web developer, being a techie he is, uses apps on a lot of things including his diet.  So one day he showed me his diet plan on an app at Panera Bread where we usually meet to discuss about Website development.  We were trying to figure out what to order because his app calculated he has already eaten 700 calories and he is allowed to have 1200 calories each day.  A guy sat at the table next to ours turned his head and started talking to us about the different diets he has gone through.  I could not understand all the diet jargons but his enthusiasm and interest toward that subject matter was exuberant! He is very knowledgeable about diet, nutrition, exercise, and fitness.  Judging from the way he looks, trim and lean, I know he must be very sportive.  So I asked him if he is an athlete.  Of course, he told me he plays several different sports and he is studying to become a nutrition and fitness specialist.  His ambition is to one day open his own fitness center.

An Analysis of His Talent

MBTI Personality Type: ESFP

Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter: Artisan (SP)

Highlands Ability Battery would show he has high spatial visualization, high rhythm memory, and high pitch discrimination

This is the type of people who have athletic genetic make-up, well-balanced body coordination, sensitivity to food & beverage intakes, and are naturally interested in anything related to health and fitness.  He would make a good fitness specialist and athletic coach


4. You are talented in something

A colleague I met at the university I taught has an exceptional talent in language & writing from when she was a little girl.  She decided to major in English Literature, a subject she enjoys.  She went all the way to get her Ph.D in English Literature and got her teaching job at the university.  A few years later, she wanted to have a more independent life style and more pay, so she went back to law school and become a lawyer.  All her talents in language and writing make her a very successful civil right lawyer and law professor.

Follow your talent, there is a surprise somewhere in the future that you don’t see now!

An Analysis of His Talent

MBTI Personality Type: INFJ

Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter: Idealist (NF)

Highlands Ability Battery would show she has high concept organization, low spatial ability, high verbal & tonal memory, high vocabulary

This is the type of people who are good in dealing with complicated language, concept, & human relationship; and who are empathetic and compassionate with a strong desire to contribute to the welfare of others.


5. You have a burning desire to do something

A couple of parents told me that they have done everything they could to help their son improve his math ability – after school programs, private tutoring, incentives, etc.  However, none of it works.  So after talking to his son, I was amazed by how eloquent he speaks.  He has the vocabulary, fluency, poise, persuasiveness, and charisma to do public speaking.  So I asked him what he really wants to do.  He said “I have a burning desire to stand in front of a crowd and persuade them to buy.”   WOW!  After evaluating his talent profile, I suggested him to study communication or public relations and I told his parents “your son is a talented speaker and you don’t have to worry about his future at all.  He will talk his way up!  The talent that most people don’t have.”

An Analysis of His Talent

MBTI Personality Type: ESFP;

Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter: Artisan (SP)

Highlands Ability Battery shows he has high spatial visualization, high design memory, high verbal memory, & high vocabulary

This is the type of people who can sell ice cubes to Eskimos.  He would make a great sales person selling tangible 3-dimentional ojects.


Do you get any clues? If you are one of those people who have many interests and multiple talents, you may have a harder time to decide which way to go.  Make a decision to start in one direction that make more sense to you now.  After you get into that field, you will have a new realization about what you should do next as long as you are doing something that you are truly good at.  It’s a snowballing effect.

And if you are still unsure by listening to your own intuition and inner voice, then get a career coach to help you may be a wise thing to do.  A coach will provide expertise, methodology, support, and encouragement to help you figuring out your life direction.  But make sure s/he has the talent & professional expertise to evaluate you holistically because you are amazingly complicated and talented!

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