Picking a college major can feel like selecting a weapon and form of combat. You want something you can wield effectively, enjoy, and, of course, protect and defend your quality of life. Surely this has been on your mind during your high school days or even sooner. You put in all that hard work of studying, good grades, and financial planning to get there, and now the time to make the fateful declaration is fast approaching.
There are many facets to choosing a field of study and career within agriculture. After all, this is where you’ll (likely) spend the better part of the years in the near future. Passion, personal experience, and academia are all very important and deeply personal elements to the ultimate decision. Nevertheless, a healthy dose of realism is also a good compliment to those young fever dreams.
So be sure to ask yourself these three very important questions before declaring your ag major:
What are my long-term goals?
Some students have their goals crystal clear from day one. Even if you’re among the live-in-the-moment crowd, you likely have some marginal idea of what you’d like to get out of life at one point or another. Where you spend your education and career should be conductive to those goals, personal and professional.
Someone who sees themselves back on the farm one day and maybe taking an additional job close to home probably wants a flexible major that’s relevant to the family business and local economy. Someone aspiring to attend grad school may want an undergraduate major that’s very broad and that can offer a variety of niches.
Expressing certain personal lifestyle details with your counselors and trusted teachers will help them offer better advice tailored to your situation. Remember, your career needs to reflect your values as a person, not just a student. Be honest about what you want to get out of your education and how you want your career to fit your life.
Where does practicality meet my passion?
All the passion and enthusiasm in the world won’t get you very far if a career can’t support you. Ask yourself the hard, critical professional questions. What career fields are growing or shrinking? Are the hot majors getting jobs right out of school or is the market oversaturated?
One approach is to evaluate your skills before factoring in your interests. If you haven’t yet felt that “click” with a specific industry or career prospect, remember there are plenty of broad studies that fit into nearly every niche of the ag world. Things like finance, communications, business, mechanics, technology, and economics are just a few examples.
You may be wondering what the “real world” is looking for and where you fit in. It can feel intimidating, but be sure to attend any job fairs that come your way. Maybe you have a company you’ve always admired but don’t know where you’d fit in with them. Or you could just do some casual investigation and find out what job types are in the highest demand and where they fit in the different industries. By simply making casual small talk and observation, you’d be surprised about what you can learn. The same goes for internet research. Don’t just look at what different colleges are saying about their majors, look on the job boards and the different hiring pages.
What am I willing to compromise and sacrifice?
While you want a career that will be conform to your life and your values, there will always be some form of compromise or sacrifice in this undertaking. For example, if staying on the home farm is necessary for you, you’ll need a job within reasonable driving distance or to work remotely. This will limit some options. Or you may find some fields require a bit of grad school to make a worthwhile salary. Some potential employers may require you to have a specific minor or double major. If you’re eyeing a government job, you’ll be in a work environment with limited privacy and under public scrutiny. Are you prepared for that?
One of the beauties of fields of study is that there are numerous career potentials within each. But let’s not undersell why declaring a major is daunting — it’s taking that first stride down narrower and narrower halls until you find the one career that’s specifically and uniquely yours. Breaking down the complexities of questions and emotions into the above three categories will hopefully help save you some headache. Smile, take a deep breath, and remember to allow your experiences to shape you along the way.
Jaclyn Krymowski is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic agvocate, professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.