Choosing a major: Avoiding the banking and marketing trap

Choosing a major is one of the most difficult decisions a young adult must make.  For an eighteen- or nineteen-year-old, it is often an overwhelming task, fraught with anxiety. Few teenagers know what they want to do with the rest of their life. Faced with such uncertainty and ignorance, kids turn to parents, relatives and counselors to help them make a decision.

Unfortunately for these kids, much of the advice they are given from well-meaning adults is not in their best interest, and far too often leads them into fields for which they are ill-fitted and in which they will be unhappy.  Parents are prone to forcing their children into majors which they have heard are ‘hot’ fields and will lead their offspring into lucrative careers upon graduation.

These days, especially here in Asia, those ‘hot’ fields are banking/finance and advertising/marketing.  The vast majority -over 80 percent- of the young adults I have met who are attending university tell me they are majoring in these fields. Of the remaining, fifteen percent, most are in business school or economics.  In America, the figures are probably comparable.


So how this trend bode for those kids and the countries in which they will soon be working? Clearly, these kids did not grow up saying to their peers, “some day I dream of being a banker.”  Nor did they play football in the playground and confide to their playmates, “you know, I dream of working for a giant transnational, helping them boost their bottom line by a few billion by creating a clever marketing scheme.”

Dreams and idealism are drummed out of kids at a very early age now. In Asia, where wealthy parents spend a fortune for their children on private education, bi-lingual  schooling, preparatory courses, private tutoring and extra-curricular activities, the thought of their child choosing any career other than those fields above is  unthinkable. After throwing down 100,000 USD on education, there better be a good job and paycheck waiting at the end.


However, funneling so many kids into these fields will be disastrous. For the kids themselves, the vast majority will be disillusioned. The smorgasbord of jobs they fancy waiting for them will not be there. The jobs that are available will not be the super lucrative ones they imagined, and they will spend their lives working behind a desk, shuffling papers and selling their souls to a faceless and heartless corporation.

For the society and country in which they live, the consequences are even worse. Countries and economies need well-trained college graduates in a wide variety of fields. We need trained wildlife biologists, water resource managers, early childhood educators,  oceanographers, urban gardeners, astronomers, permaculture designers, urban planners, historians, artists, journalists, engineers, nurses, mechanics, and chefs. And poets.

We need to be honest with the kids and ourselves: bankers and marketers produce nothing for society. Actually, it’s worse than that. They literally suck the lifeblood from an economy, misdirecting people’s energy, money, and wealth. As an educator, I have seen far too often parents and teachers speaking from two sides of their mouths. First, we tell them, “follow your dreams.”  Then we turn around and not so subtly nudge them into these  careers in banking and marketing and turn them into little corporate drones, while telling them to “be practical.”


There are ways to survive, and even thrive, in this world outside of the narrow paradigm of a university education geared toward a career in big business. But those ‘alternative’ methods require a lot of thinking outside the box, experimentation, risk, and some creativity, not to mention a lot of support from family and peers. Few teachers and relatives of our youth are equipped to guide them in another direction, and  choose the safe routes of recommending university education. Having traveled the conformist path themselves their whole life, they can hardly be expected to counsel kids to do otherwise.

There are numerous ways to work for oneself, and the age of the internet has opened up enormous opportunities for those with the courage, determination and energy to manifest their dream. As teachers and educators, we cannot simply tell kids to ‘follow their dreams’ and then turn around and walk away. We have to model it and give them practical know-how on how to do it.

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