Choosing the right course for you

THOUGHTS IN MOTION

Choosing the right course for you
Transitioning from Class 10 to the last two years of school can indeed be a gruelling process for many students. Apart from the tremendous pressure posed by competitive entrances and Board exams, youngsters also make a very important decision at this stage of life. Choosing a course of study at this point can have far-reaching consequences as it opens doors to certain careers while closing them on others. Deciding whether to opt for Science, Commerce or the Humanities can be agonising for myriad reasons.  While students should try and make an informed decision regarding what course to opt for, they should also realise that there are many pathways to a successful and meaningful life, and everyone needn’t necessarily take the same route.

Most people envy students like Aman who is very clear about what he would like to do. By Class 7, Aman was into coding and he kept learning new programming languages on his own right through high school. So, by Class 11, this youngster was well-versed in programming languages such as Java and Python. No one doubted that Aman would major in Computer Science. And sure enough, he got into a prestigious college. It was only when he went to the United States for a Master’s degree, did Aman begin to have misgivings about his field of study. He neither fancied himself in the corporate world, nor was he drawn by the research in his department. Instead, he gravitated towards particle Physics and ended up doing another Master’s, and, eventually a doctorate in Quantum Field Theory.

In contrast, Vani was always dithering about her field of study. In high school, she loved Biology and English Literature, and had a hard time deciding between Science and the Humanities stream for Class 11. She relented to parental pressure and took up Science, but an internship over the summer convinced her that she was not cut out for Biology. She then decided to pursue Economics in college. However, after working for a year in a bank, she opted to do Law. Subsequently, she worked for a law firm for three years. During that time, she also auditioned for a play at a local theatre company. Finally, Vani felt most at home with theatre and now runs her own production company.

Detours are common

While Aman and Vani may not represent ‘ideal’ career trajectories, many people switch tracks more often than we would like to admit. And, in today’s world, where jobs are in a constant state of flux, people have to be ready to change course depending on changing circumstances and job opportunities. Being able to mould and reinvent yourself based on current demands is indeed the best qualification you can equip yourself with. Even if you pick a course that you like and find a job in the same field, you have to keep learning to remain relevant in today’s fast-changing world. 

That said, there are some broad guidelines you can follow while selecting a course of study. Choosing a career involves balancing a number of parameters, and each person has to take the decision for him or herself. While it is perfectly okay to consult others, like parents, teachers and professionals, the ultimate decision has to come from you. When you make the choice, you are more likely to pick yourself up if your decision backfires for whatever reason. If you feel coerced into choosing a field, then your motivation to excel may be dissipated from the start. Furthermore, you will always cast the blame on others if the path doesn’t work out for you, instead of redirecting yourself in a more constructive fashion.

So, when you are making a choice, ask yourself if you like the subjects involved. If you are ambivalent about a couple of them, that’s okay. You may still grow to like them as you study further. But if a certain subject evokes feelings of dread or aversion, you are probably better off choosing another field of study. While there are individuals who later choose to study a subject they hated in school, only to find that they now love the subject, it’s better to go with your present instincts and predilections.  

Practical knowledge

That said, you should also consider pragmatic aspects. What are your career options if you decide to pursue Environmental Science or Psychology or Law? Talking to different people in the field and possibly shadowing them at work for a day or even a week will give you a window into the world of work. Doing internships in different organisations related to your field can also be eye-opening. While you may not find the work you do as an intern very challenging or stimulating, you should try and find out what other people in the organisation are doing. Do you see yourself in their shoes a few years down the line? Would you like to work in such an environment for the next two to five years? If your answer is a clear yes, you know you have picked the right course.

Next, you should consider your growth in the field. What are your prospects five years down the road? Does the job also pay sufficiently to meet your lifestyle needs? While it is important to consider the remunerative aspects of a job, don’t use that as the sole criterion. You need to make sure that you are cut out for a career and are going to be reasonably happy at work.

It is essential that you take an active interest in selecting your field. Don’t leave the decision to your parents. And, if your parents are pressurising you to study something you are not fond of, try and get another adult to counsel them on the importance of giving children autonomy. 

While we cannot really predict our future and know for certain what we would want or be like five or even two years down the line, you must remember that you can always change course at various points in time. The key ingredients to a successful life are willingness to learn,  ability to cope with change and a mindset that sees obstacles as opportunities.

 (The author is director, Prayatna, Bengaluru)

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