By Carmel Fisher, Director
21 July, 2017
They say the best time to make mistakes is when we're young. It's okay to follow our hearts before settling into the long, serious phase of being an adult.
But how much regret is acceptable and when do the poor decisions of youth become a burden?
According to several recent studies, a fair chunk of university students regret their decisions and pay the price for many years.
In a Gallup and Strada Education Network survey, 90,000 US university students said they would change their major, university choice or type of degree if they could do it again.
Choice of major was the biggest regret with 36 per cent wishing they had chosen a different field of study; 28 per cent would have selected a different university and 12 per cent would have picked a different level of degree.
In research by British insurance company Aviva, more than a third of graduates regret going to university; half reckon they would have landed their current job without studying for a degree.
The most surprising research finding — for me, at least — was that English is the most regretted college major in America.
In a career training site survey, more than half (54.3 per cent) of people who majored in English said they were not satisfied with that choice of major, closely followed by a fine arts major (51.6 per cent) and a political science major (38.2 per cent).
The number one skill employers say they are looking for is good oral and written skills. So I found it interesting that, at a time when employers want graduates who can write, students regret pursuing a communications study path.
At the other end of the scale, accounting and computer science are the majors students say they are most satisfied with (85 per cent satisfaction), followed by information technology with a 79 per cent satisfaction rating.
Some regret may be due to the potential earnings graduates face, depending on their major. Over a lifetime the difference in total earnings between an English major and computer science majors can be more than US$500,000, according to Georgetown's Centre of Education and the Workforce.
The likelihood of getting a job may be another factor. In 2015 British graduates in computers, science and maths had an unemployment rate of under 4.3 per cent compared with those in humanities and arts, with unemployment at 5.8 per cent.
While it may be true youth can survive mistakes better than adults, the halcyon days of following one's dream and discovering oneself at university are over.
Finishing university with a student loan, a poor earnings outlook and declining job prospects is a regrettable outcome indeed.
What should students do to avoid post-university regret?
Firstly, don't just rely on the advice of job-holding adults whose ideas of the best majors and universities may well be outdated.
According to the College Board, students should research, research, research. By monitoring trends, statistics and pay rates at the beginning and during their university career, a student may well minimise regrets.
Similarly, internships and work experience while studying allow students to change course early should they realise their major is not what they imagined.
Bill Gates never regretted dropping out of Harvard and recently advised students in a series of tweets: "Consider artificial intelligence, biosciences and energy for your career; grit and emotional resilience are better predictors of success than IQ; surround yourself with people who challenge you, teach you, and push you to be your best self."