One of the biggest challenges when making university applications is to make the right choice of what to study. The reality is that most learners make decisions based on what they have seen on TV, on social media, or what well-meaning parents, friends and teachers tell them they are good at. But this is not the whole picture.
Decisions are made increasingly difficult by virtue of the many choices available. Let’s take a student who is gifted at Maths, for example. “Become a Doctor – that is what clever people do!” is often the advice given to Mathematical whizzes. The question is, if you have a talent and are really interested in Maths, will you use it when you are a Doctor or is it just used as a proxy to demonstrate that you have an advanced IQ and therefore an ability to study Medicine?
There are many different attributes required to be a successful Doctor – being smart is but one of the requirements. Besides a strong commitment to caring for others, Doctors must have high levels of resilience, resourcefulness, stamina and a preparedness to work grueling hours – sometimes under very stressful circumstances Working under pressure and having to balance conflicting priorities is part of a Doctor’s daily routine. So, does that really mean that if you are good at Maths you should pursue a career in Medicine?
The role of significant others should be to support you in making informed decisions and choices. Through my extensive interactions with students, I have often witnessed students choosing to study Medicine, not realizing that they might not be a good fit – but their marks are an indicator that that is the route they should follow.. But have alternatives been carefully researched and considered? Besides Medicine, what other options might be of interest, given a talent for Maths?
When registering, most Universities will require students to indicate a second-choice degree – and this is where things can also go wrong. Student’s second choice is often more ill-considered than their first choice and is usually based on basic information. For example, “I liked Accounting and Science at school as well – so I will tick Accounting or Chemistry as a second choice.” Again, one has to ask, “Is that right for you and what happened to the idea of wanting to serve and care for others?” There are so many options, aside from Medicine that would fulfil the same goals and might be a better fit for an individual’s interests, talents, and abilities.
IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK
- What are your existing talents based on your schooling – for example, are you good at Maths, Accounting, Chemistry or History?
- What abilities have you displayed both inside and outside of the classroom, for example organizing, planning, leading, and influencing?
- Do you see yourself using your talents and abilities all day, every day?
- Why and how do you want to use your talents and abilities – to solve what problem?
- Once you know what problems you would like to solve, where do they commonly occur? For example, helping people (Doctor or Nurse, Psychologist, Social Worker, or Lawyer), helping the environment (Marine Biology, Forestry, Archaeology, or Engineering), helping the economy (Computer Scientist, Economist, Accountant, or Marketer)? What employment opportunities are out there that use these talents and abilities, and have you read up on them? In researching career options, what other ones did you come across that may be a better fit for you but that you did not know about before?
- Most importantly, can you identify examples of people who have similar talents and abilities to yours and who are being paid to use them?
With a good education and some of the skills and talents referred to above, there are several employment opportunities you could consider – be they in the private sector working for a company, in the public sector, focusing your talent on contributing to the social, economic and political agendas of our country, or a not for profit company focused on solving problems that our country faces. You may even choose to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities and start your own business!
So, whatever role you play in advising youth about their career options and degree choices – as a Maths teacher, a Career Counsellor, a Parent or Guardian – use all the information at your disposal to expose learners to a wide variety of opportunities so that they are in a strong position to make the best possible degree and subject choices that are suited to their unique talents, interests and strengths. In so doing they are far more likely to enjoy their studies and successfully complete a degree.