There are thousands of majors and universities for students to choose from, each one with a specific trajectory. The inundation of opportunity may make students feel overwhelmed but the key to picking what will be the most fulfilling for each student lies within their very own foundation. 

Any given college student can tell you their Myers-Briggs® type, Enneagram, zodiac sign, Harry Potter house or DISC profile. Even if they can’t, they will admit to taking a Buzzfeed quiz every once in a while to find out what dessert they are based on their dog preferences. There is an underlying motivation within most people to know themselves because with self-awareness comes power. However this power does not only help in relationships and self-improvement. Self awareness can play a large part in academic success. 

Knowing oneself requires students to look deep within themselves for their values and motivations. If they’re lucky, they will find a commonality within their lives, something that excites them every day. More broadly, this can be described as their interests. As students continue on their academic path, their interests should play a pivotal role in their major, university, and extracurricular selection. Looking further, these interests play a vital role in their career and earnings. 

When students don’t know themselves and what they like, they enter college as ‘undecided’ or change their major after discovering that the major they chose wasn’t the right fit. This phenomenon is not uncommon. According to Penn State’s research article, “The Developmental Disconnect in Choosing a Major: Why Institutions Should Prohibit Choice Until Second Year,” a staggering 75% of students change their major at least once before graduation. The study found that a great deal of students chose their major based on “influence and assumption rather than through an understanding of their own personal goals and values.” And while a freshman changing their major may have a minimal effect, this could be detrimental for a senior, pushing their graduation date back significantly.

The best and most effective way to combat this issue is to encourage students to get to know themselves, their interests and personal values. These personal traits can be far more predictive of students’ success.  Researchers Judith M. Harackiewicz and Chris S. Hulleman conducted a study focusing on “The Importance of Interest: The Role of Achievement Goals and Task Values in Promoting the Development of Interest.” They explain in their research that “being interested in a topic is a mental resource that enhances learning, which then leads to better performance and achievement.” Specifically, when a student studies what interests them, they are better able to recall and persist in their academic efforts because they care for what they’re learning. This lies at the heart of self-awareness—when a student knows what matters most to them, they are more motivated to learn the material, leading to higher GPAs and faster graduation timelines. 

Even after college, students who choose majors that matched their interests and enter jobs that do the same also end up more satisfied with their life. Pushing that notion further, Innovation Labs, a division of The Myers-Briggs Company, compiled research into a whitepaper called “What Makes Interests So Interesting?” They cited the effect personality and interest has on student’s future income. Combined, interest and personality are 93% more predictive of income and 41.1% predictive of professional prestige. In other words, “Those who find the right occupational fit for their interests excel in their careers by virtually all metrics: finance, professional status, and happiness, among others.” The research proves that students’ interests remain relevant even after graduation. As students continue to chase more information about their interests post-graduation, they become experts in their field. Then, they simply reap the benefits of doing what they love. 

Students must know themselves and what matters to them most before even setting foot on a college campus. Only they know what will be predictive of their prosperity. It’s no wonder universities like Stanford post advertisements about students finding themselves at their university; they, too, recognize the power in their students knowing who they are because that is where they can succeed. 

Student Success Lies in Self-Awareness

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