Posts Tagged 'student'

Choosing a Major, Preparing for a Career

One of the toughest decisions a college student will face is choosing a major and subsequently a career.  There are certainly some students who come into college knowing what subject they want to major in and what type of career they want, but most students do not know at that point.  In fact, most students go to college precisely to figure out who they are and what they like to do.

There is no need to rush the process of selecting a major.  In fact, a majority of college students change their major at least once while they are in college and some students even change their majors several times during this time.  As with the process of selecting a college, deciding on the right major will take some time and fine-tuning.

Instead of rushing the decision on a major, the goal of this process should be to identify your natural strengths and the skills you need to enhance your natural strengths.  With enough planning, you will eventually be able to decide on a course of study that allows you to build multiple competencies and explore certain areas in depth.

Additionally, please bear in mind that what you decide to study on the college level does not necessarily mean that your eventual career choice will be in the same area.   As much as your major in college is important for your first job after graduation, studies show that most people will change careers about four or five times over the course of their lives.  Most employers know that they can train a bright person to do any job, but they also know that training an employee is a very expensive and time-consuming process.   In that regard, the objective of your undergraduate major is to allow you to get your foot in the door so you can prove that you are a good worker, which will encourage an employer to take a chance and make the initial investment to train you in a new position or even a new field of work.

There is no one major you can pick which will prepare you for the career shifts you will likely encounter.  Instead, you should focus on developing a basic skill-set that will enable you to “learn on the job” in a wide range of positions.  No matter what position you go for, you will always help yourself by having writing skills, quantitative skills, and proficiency with productivity technology like MS Word/Excel/Powerpoint and web technology.  Luckily, these are all skills you can develop without having to commit to a certain major, so take classes that require you to practice these skills and develop them.

As you proceed on this journey, you should also be aware of the fact that there is the possibility of electing to double-major or, in some cases, to pursue a double degree.  Many students who are not familiar with the US education system often get mistaken between the two.  I will take this opportunity to explain the difference.

Double Major vs. Double Degree

Today, where there are many top graduates vying for top jobs, graduates can differentiate themselves by obtaining a double major or even a double degree.  Increasingly, employers are looking for individuals who are not only competent and intelligent, but who possess different skill sets and who are knowledgeable in multiple fields.

Part of the charm for employers is that your extra work demonstrates a willingness to take on difficult tasks.  The logic therefore is that if the student is willing to put in the extra work to gain added credentials while at college, he or she is likely to exhibit similar initiative and motivation in the workplace.

Double Major:

By studying for a double major, although you will be studying for only one degree, you will be focusing on two related and integrated majors that complement each other.  Classes overlap between the majors, meaning fewer classes are required than with a double degree, so it is easier to finish within four years.

Double Degree:

In contrast, with the more rigorous double degree, you will be studying for two different degrees in two completely different areas of study.  Although pursuing such a course of study allows students to complete two wholly separate degrees in less time than if they were to earn them separately, many strong students still find it incredibly difficult to complete in 4 or 5 years.

If you are committed to a double major/degree, it is wise to start with a little bit of planning.  Some students try to find two courses of studies which are related, while others seek to round out their academic repertoire by choosing two completely unrelated fields.

For double majors, common pairings include:  (i) Economics and a Foreign Language; (ii) Political Science or Government and Journalism; (iii) Economics and Psychology.

For double degrees, common pairings include:  (i) Engineering and a business program such as Finance or Accounting (Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Business respectively) and (ii) Engineering and Economics (Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts).

Tips for choosing a Major

Although everyone might go about determining a major in different ways, here is a process :

  • Self-assessment of interests

In this first stage of the process, you should undertake an honest assessment of your interests.  What courses excite you?  What types of careers excite you? Almost all career centers at colleges and universities offer self-tests to help you illicit your true disposition.  You can also go online to take such a self-test.  The benefit of taking such a test is that very often without these tests, students find it very hard to be truly honest about their abilities.

  • Self-examination of abilities

The second step involved you undertaking an honest and objective examination of your abilities and skill sets.  You should seek to uncover what your strengths and weaknesses are.  Ask yourself what kinds of skills you have.  A good point of reference is seeing what courses you took in high school and in which courses you did best, and then determine if there is a consistent pattern.

Additionally, you should look to see what kinds of extracurricular activities or summer jobs you participated in while you were in high school.  Try to ascertain what you learnt about yourself from participating in these activities.

  • Value System

In this stage, you should seek to determine how you define success, both professionally and personally, and figure out what sort of values you would like your future job to embody.  Examples of perimeters for this assessment include: (i) Contribution to Society, (ii) Status of Profession/Career, (iii) Job Security, (iv) Working hours, (v) Working individually or in groups, etc.

  • Career Choices

Your career office would be a great resource in assisting you to understand what occupations are out there and advise on matching your course of study with particular occupations.  They should also be able to advise you on current and future job trends, educating you on what professions are in high demand and which ones are not.

Career counselors can suggest books and self-assessment tools to help you with choosing a college major.  Upon request, in most schools, college career counselors can put you in touch with a faculty member or student leader who can answer your questions about a particular department.  When it comes time for crafting a résumé, career counselors can also help you present your college major as an asset for your targeted career field.

In addition, your career center or academic department of interest should have a list of alumni who have gone through the department and what they are doing today.  However, none of these resources compare with just going out there and meeting someone in the field you are interested and talking to the person about his/her work.  This will give you a more candid, personal view of a particular industry.

  • Being honest with yourself

This stage requires that you understand the motivations for focusing on certain career options.  Always keep in mind your natural aptitude and your own interests.  It is important that you are choosing a certain career because you really want to and think you would be good at it and not because of parental and familial pressure.  So many students pursue careers based on the influences of friends and family, only to regret it down the road.

  • Narrowing down the list

The last stage on this journey will require you to narrow down your career choices and focus on choosing a major based on that.  In formulating this final list, you should base your final assessment on all the assessment carried out in the first five steps.  To know what majors are offered at your school, refer to the course catalog.

Below is an introduction to some of the more popular college majors:

Economics and Business

Many students talk about an interest in business as a career, and they assume that a business degree is a must.  One of the questions they ask is, “What is the difference between a business degree and an economics degree?” While almost any degree can help you enter a a “business” career, we wanted to explain to our readers the basic differences between these two popular choices.

  • Economics (Bachelor of Arts-BA)

Economics is the science that deals with the production, allocation, and use of goods and services.  It investigates how resources can best be distributed to meet the needs of the greatest number of people.  Students study economic theories to understand how economies operate and how economic agents, be they consumers or businesses, behave under a given set of circumstances.  Economic theory is usually separated into two major fields: macroeconomics, which studies entire economic systems; and microeconomics, which observes the interactions of an individual or group with the market.

  • Business (Bachelor of Business Administration-BBA or Bachelor of Science-BSc)

Business programs, rather than focusing on theory, focuses on practical skills.  Business majors often take a wide range of skill-based courses and major in one specific concentrations.  Concentrations include accounting, finance, operations, marketing, communications, information systems, and sports management, and so on.  Business majors study the buying, selling, and production of goods, as well as business management, organization and accounting. They learn how to use the basic principles and techniques of business in a variety of workplaces.

A business degree can be a great credential to have, especially if you target a skill set that companies are seeking. For example, accounting and finance are often appealing to employers who require workers with good quantitative skills.

  • Engineering

Many high school students confuse engineering majors with general science majors.  They are related but not the same.  General science focuses on mastering and advancing theories.  Engineering requires the application of scientific knowledge to real-world situations.

Most engineering majors concentrate on a particular field, and additionally take courses in the sciences and in mathematics.  Some universities focus on developing hands-on skills which engineers need at the workplace, while others lean more towards a science-like focus on theoretical  knowledge to prepare students for careers in academics or research.  Either way, engineering trains students to develop their ability to reason systematically and form logical conclusions.

Through engineering courses, students develop more systematic approaches to processing information, and become efficient at formulating arguments and formulating conclusions based on this information.  Once such good thinking habits become part of your character, you will be able to perform better in just about any job.  For this reason, many engineering majors succeed in non-engineering professions after graduation, such as finance, business, law and even entrepreneurship.

Here is a list of the main college engineering majors with common industry applications:

(i)     Aerospace Engineering:  Learning how to design aircraft and spacecraft.  Closely related to mechanical engineering.

(ii)   Biomedical Engineering: Learning how to create and maintain medical devices.

(iii) Chemical Engineering:  Learning how to use chemical reactions to create products for consumers and industry, e.g. the oil and gas industry.

(iv) Civil Engineering:  Learning how to design buildings, roads, and larger transportation systems.

(v)   Computer Engineering:  Learning how to develop computer software/hardware and computer-controlled devices.

(vi) Electrical Engineering:  Learning how to create and maintain electrical components, e.g. wiring and switches.

(vii) Mechanical Engineering:  Learning how to design various machines and devices, e.g. cars.  This is the broadest engineering field, in which students learn how all kinds of mechanical devices work.

(viii)         Structural Engineering:  Learning to how to evaluate the safety and integrity of structures like buildings.

  • Psychology

      Increasing numbers of undergraduate students are choosing to major in Psychology at college.  Psychology is the study of how individuals think, behave, feel, and relate to others.  Just because you major in Psychology does not mean you need to be a Psychologist.  In fact, a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, like other humanities and social science majors, does not give you entry into a specific feel.   The wonderful thing about a psychology degree is that it is very flexible, you will have many career options.  An education in psychology prepares you to be a perceptive and critical thinker, and the skills and abilities that psychology majors acquire through their coursework and out-of-class experiences make them marketable for a wide variety of employment options.  No matter what career path you choose, you will need to interact with human beings.  Psychology students develop strong communications skills, compassion, research and analytical abilities, and last but not least, an understanding of what makes people tick.  Most psychology graduates do not go on to careers as psychologists.  Some of the top career choices for psychology graduates are:

      (i)     Advertising and Market Research:   Advertising companies are increasingly hiring more personnel with psychology backgrounds because they have realized how important it is to understand consumer behavior when developing advertising strategies for products.

      (ii)   Business Development:  Companies all around the world have realized that to perform the business development function, the individual needs to be perceptive and be critical in their analysis of marketing opportunities.  Additionally, when performing sales activities and pitching for new business, interpersonal skills are very important.  These are all skills psychology majors have.

      (iii) Human Resources and Personnel Management:  To recruit and retain talent, human resource personnel need to have a keen awareness of candidates’ characters and skills, to be able to better place and train them.  Without such an understanding, it is very difficult for companies to maximize their human capital.

      (iv) Public Relations:   As a public relations specialist, you have to work with the media, write press releases, do research and fundraising, organize events and more.  To do this effectively and get the right message across to the audience, you need to know how to relate to people.

      • 5.  International Relations

      International Relations is a inter-disciplinary course, which teaches students the language and concepts with which to understand and explain the modern world. Students explore issues regarding power, conflict, diplomacy, arms control, terrorism, developmental politics, civil society, foreign policy, humanitarian aid, and the international political economy.

      Given the diversity of subjects which are being dealt with, the skills that an International Relations major develops is very diverse.  He or she must not only have the ability to research and analyze information from a multitude of sources, he or she might be required to do so in different languages.  Through this undertaking, students develop skills in problem solving and conflict resolution.  Additionally, because students will have to present, discuss and defend their opinions both verbally at seminars and through written essays, students need to have stellar verbal and written skills.

      All of these are qualities which are much valued by employers; in addition, your understanding of complex political and cultural issues, often in changing environments, can also be highly relevant to the world of work.  There is a range or organizations for which a mix of the abovementioned skills will be highly relevant.  They include: (i) Government Agencies, (ii) Non Government Organizations (NGOs), (iii) Journalism, (iv) Media, (v) Finance and Banking, (vi) Marketing, etc.


      English Proficiency Exams: IELTS or TOEFL?

      With many American and Canadian universities now accepting the IELTS exam as well as the TOEFL exam, students now have an option as to which test to take.  For any student having trouble with the TOEFL test preparation, it might be worthwhile to check out the IELTS, as the IELTS rewards students with good memories and a step-by-step thinking style.  Also, the IELTS is scored based on individual criteria, which means even a student with a gaping weakness in one criterion could still pass if the scores for the other criteria are high enough.   The article below will detail the characteristics of each test.

      Structure of the TOEFL

      As of last year, official TOEFL is almost universally given in the iBT (Internet Based Testing) format. It consists of four sections:


      The TOEFL Reading section asks you to read 4-6 passages of university level and to answer multiple-choice questions about them (multiple-choice means you choose the answer from provided options). Questions test you on comprehension of the text, main ideas, important details, vocabulary, inferring, rhetorical devices and style.


      The Listening Section presents long 2-3 conversations and 4-6 lectures. The situations are always related to university life i.e. a conversation between a student and a librarian about finding research materials or a lecture from a history class. The questions are multiple choice and ask you about important details, inferences, tone, and vocabulary. The conversations and lectures are very natural and include informal English, interruptions, filler noises like “uh” or “Uhm.”


      The Speaking section is recorded. You will speak into a microphone and a grader will listen to your answers at a later date and grade you. Two questions will be on familiar topics and ask you to give your opinion and/or describe something familiar to you, like your town or your favorite teacher. Two questions will ask you to summarize information from a text and a conversation–and may ask your opinion as well. Two questions will ask you to summarize information from a short conversation. Again, the topics of the conversations are always university-related.


      Finally, there are two short essays on the TOEFL. One will ask you to write your opinion on a broad topic, such as whether it is better to live in the country or the city. One will ask you to summarize information from a text and a lecture–often the two will disagree with each other and you will need to either compare and contrast, or synthesize conflicting information.

      IELTS Structure

      The IELTS contains the same 4 sections, Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing, but the format is very different.


      The reading section of the IELTS gives you 3 texts, which may be from academic textbooks or from a newspaper or magazine–but all at the level of a university student. One will always be an opinion piece–i.e. a text arguing for one point of view. The variety of questions on the IELTS is quite broad, and not every text will have every question type. One question type asks you to match headings to paragraphs in the text. You may be asked to complete a summary of the passage using words from the text. Or you may have to fill in a table or chart or picture with words from the text. There may be multiple-choice questions that ask you about key details. One of the hardest question types presents statements and asks you whether these statements are true, false or not included in the text. You may also be asked to match words and ideas. Finally, some questions are short-answer but the answers will be taken directly from the text itself.

      Some questions come before the text and may not require careful reading to answer. Others come after the text and may expect you to have read the text thoroughly.


      The IELTS has four listening sections. The first is a “transactional conversation” in which someone may be applying for something (a driver’s license, a library card) or asking for information (say calling for more details about an advertisement or a hotel). The second section is an informational lecture of some kind, possibly a dean explaining the rules of the university. Third is a conversation in an academic context and the final section will be an academic lecture. For all sections you may be asked to fill out a summary, fill in a table, answer multiple-choice questions, label a diagram or picture, or classify information into different categories. You will be expected to fill out answers as you listen.


      There are two writing tasks on the academic IELTS. The first asks you to summarize a table or chart in about 300 words. You will have to identify important information, compare and contrast different figures or maybe describe a process. The second task asks you to present your opinion on a statement about a fairly open topic such as: “Women should look after children and not work” or “Too many people are moving to cities and rural areas are suffering.”


      Finally, the speaking section will be held on a different day from the rest of the test and in the presence of a trained interviewer. The questions are the same for all examinees but some parts may be more in the form of a conversation than a monologue. The first part of the test will be a brief introductory conversation followed by some short questions about familiar topics. The interviewer may ask your name, your job, what kinds of sports you like, what your daily routine is, and so on. In the second part, you will be given a card with a topic and a few specific questions to address. You will have to speak for two minutes on this topic, which may be about your daily routine, the last time you went to the movies, your favorite part of the world or a similar familiar topic. In the last section, the interviewer will ask you to discuss a more abstract side of the topic in part 2–why do people prefer daily routines? Why do people like the movies? How does travel affect local life?

      Which is Better for Me?

      So now you have some understanding of what each test involves, but you might be wondering which is better for you. Maybe in reading about the structure, you thought, “Wow TOEFL sounds so easy,” or, “Oh the IELTS sounds like it’s kind of fun!”  That might be a good sign that one test will be easier for you than the other. More concretely, there are a couple of key differences between the tests.

      Multiple choice versus Copying Down

      For the reading and listening sections, TOEFL gives you multiple-choice questions, whereas IELTS generally expects you to copy down words from the text or the conversation word-for-word. Multiple-choice questions will tend to be require slightly better abstract thinking, but the IELTS favors people who have good memories and think more concretely. The good thing about multiple-choice is that it is easy to pick out wrong answers, whereas the good thing about copying down is that the answer is sitting there in the text. You just have to find it and repeat it. So, concrete thinkers will tend to do better on the IELTS and abstract thinkers will tend to excel on the TOEFL.

      Predictable or Different Every Time

      Of course, the TOEFL is also more predictable than the IELTS. The IELTS throws lots of different question types at you, and the instructions are often slightly different every time. That makes it harder to prepare for. The TOEFL, on the other hand, is pretty much the same test every time–pick A, B, C, D, or E. On the other hand, the IELTS certainly keeps you on your toes and that can keep you more alert.

      Speaking to a Person or a Computer?

      Another large difference is in how the speaking section is carried out. For some people, it’s very relaxing to just record your answers into a computer because it feels like no one is listening. You just try your best and forget about it until you get your grades. Because the IELTS test is done in an interview format with a native speaker present, you might get nervous or feel you are being judged. And they take notes: Oh God, did he write down something good or something bad? On the other hand, you might feel more relaxed in a conversation, with a person there to explain if you don’t understand a question, or simply having a face to look at, instead of a computer screen. Getting feedback from a native speaker can be helpful too, in order to correct mistakes and improve during the test. So it depends on what you are more comfortable with. If you like talking to people, the IELTS is a better bet. If you just want to be alone and not feel judged, the TOEFL will be more comfortable for you.

      Holistic versus Criteria-based scoring

      Finally, the speaking and writing sections of the TOEFL are graded holistically. The grader gives you a score based on the overall quality of the essay, including vocabulary, logic, style, and grammar. The IELTS by contrast is marked by individual criteria and you are scored individually for grammar, word choice, fluency, logic, cohesion, and a dozen other criteria. In other words, if you write well but have a lot of small grammar mistakes, your TOEFL score might be quite good because graders will ignore small mistakes if the overall essay is logical and detailed. The IELTS will not overlook bad grammar. On the other hand, if your grammar and vocabulary are strong but you have trouble expressing your opinion or organizing an essay, you could end up with a low TOEFL score but the IELTS will give you good marks for language use. So while it may sound like the IELTS is much tougher since it grades you on everything, in fact you can get quite a good score if you are strong in a number of areas. The TOEFL emphasizes the ability to put together a logical and detailed argument (or summary) and looks at clarity, word choice, and style above all. If you don’t feel comfortable writing essays but you think you have excellent grammar and vocabulary and overall are a decent writer, the IELTS will probably be easier for you.

      Harvard project hopes to involve more Vietnamese students

      Organizers of the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) are hoping to involve more Vietnamese students in its annual Asia Conference, a forum that strives to promote understanding of the economic, political and social issues facing the Asia-Pacific region.

      “We bring the students into contact with very important people today,” said Edward Thai, HPAIR Executive Chair Emeritus, who was at Hanoi University recently to promote the HPAIR Asia Conference, with the theme “Sustaining Momentum: Ten Years into the Asia Century”, to be held in Singapore this August.

      “If more Vietnamese participants attend, I think it will provide a richer experience for those who attend the conference,” he said.

      Thai, a Vietnamese-American, said Vietnam’s increasingly important role in the region can serve as a strong foundation for Vietnamese students to engage in dialogue with future leaders from other countries.

      Founded in 1991, HPAIR has hosted 24 conferences in 18 cities with more than 600 delegates from 30 nations each year. Speakers include heads of state and corporations, ministers, distinguished faculty members and leaders from Asian governments.

      HPAIR is considering holding the conference in Vietnam and hopes to establish partnerships with student clubs and organizations in the country.

      Reported by Thu Huong (from

      U.K. Universities and Recruiters Criticized for Treating Foreign Students as "Cash Cows"

      In a scathing criticism of university administrators in the U.K., British Council Chief Executive, Martin Davidson, accuses certain U.K. universities of treating foreign students as “cash cows”.  Davidson implies that the students are being admitted for their tuition dollars instead of their minds.  He frames their new appreciation of international students as a gimmick meant to patch up their budgets at a time of financial hardship.  Davidson’s criticism gets to the crux of an increasingly prevalent phenomenon among Anglophone universities worldwide.

      Can one really blame universities for adjusting their admissions policies to bring in more tuition revenue?  The British Council seems to think so.  Perhaps the element missing in the approach of these universities is a true commitment to diversity and international engagement.  That commitment would make a university’s efforts to attract international students more constructive and enduring.

      For now, the number one priority for U.K. universities should be to mitigate the damage of this attack from the British Council.  The reverberations of this criticism could extend into the admissions cycle for next year.