I have been meaning to write this post for the longest time!  Thankfully the below video, inspired and reminded me exactly why and how I chose industrial psychology as my degree major.

How to choose a degree major

1. Sit down and make a list

When I decided on a degree major, I literary sat down and made a list of all the things that were:

  • important to me in a career / lifestyle.  (eg. a career that pays well; travel options; the possibility to work from home / for myself).
  • what I enjoy doing in work and life. (eg. helping and encouraging people; training; solving problems; making a difference; being creative, seeing the results of what I do; a challenge…).
  • all the things I am naturally good at.  (not going to blow my own horn here, but you get the drift)

If you battle (and even if you don’t), take the time to do a free online personality test, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI).  I’ve always just done these for fun, so I kind of knew what career choices my personality leaned towards.

2. Find common ground between the items on the list

I tried to find commonality in the items.  I tried to see how I could fit, helping people, solving problems and earn a decent salary together.  I played around with a couple of ideas and managed to reduce my unending list of items to about three of four options.  If I remember correctly it was something like:

  • psychologist, because I could help and encourage people
  • teacher/ training, but I was concerned about teaching kids & the salary / advancement opportunities (I was a single mom at the time)
  • accounting, because I was kind of good with numbers, but pertrified I would get bored.  But the money is good.
  • graphic design, creative aspect.

3. Research your academic institutions in and around the area

I knew I had to study part time and I knew I wouldn’t be able to attend evening or weekend lectures.  So open distance learning institution like UNISA was really my only rational choice.  Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, because sometimes too many options overwhelm us even more!

4. Research the courses the institution offers and match them with the items on your list

I knew I wanted to study a B.Com degree.  Looking back, I am not really sure why.  I think the colleague that was about to enroll and led me to considering the idea of continuing my studies, painted the picture that a B.Com would be better.  Perhaps the fact that a B.Com, even if, just a general B.Com would be a good direction, considering the idea that I was working in the business world.  I’m not 100% certain, but I remember looking at the list of degree major offered in the B.Com degree and reading the descriptions carefully.  The list is a lot longer now than it was back then, then my choices were pretty much:

  • Accounting
  • Business Management
  • Economics
  • General / Generic
  • Informatics
  • Industrial Psychology
  • Tourism

Secretly the thought of psychology involved a whole lot of chemistry and I wasn’t very good at chemistry or science at school.  Imagine my relief, when I realized psychology and industrial psychology had nothing to do with chemistry!

Here’s how I matched my ‘wishlist’ with the courses on offer:

I started researching both psychology and industrial psychology and made some pretty amazing discoveries about the industry, for example:

  • training and counselling was a part of an industrial psychologist’s tasks.
  • ergonomics is an area in industrial psychology that incorporated a whole lot of design and lighting elements to promote a healthy work environment for workers.
  • psychometric testing – you mean I can get other people to do the same personality tests, I love doing and charge them a fee?
  • if I decided to register as a psychometrist, I could work from home / work as a consultant to various organisations.
  • board certified industrial psychologists earn a killing!
  • I get to solve a lot of problems – what is the best career choices for you?  How do I get this group of people to work with that group of people?  How can I get the CEO of a company to understand the underlying problems in his organisation?   That kind of thing.

I knew I had a winner.  Bottom line, I knew this would be an industry were I could make a difference in the lives of the people around me.

5. I researched courses offered by the institution of my choice and verify the degrees offered by other neighbouring institutions.

Once I knew what I wanted in a degree major, I checked the different options offered by UNISA, for example: UNISA offered a BA degree in industrial psychology and a B.Com degree in industrial psychology.  I found it odd, so I researched it and discovered both are valid and accredit courses but the B.Com degree would give me easier access when selections took place for their honours course.

I also checked what courses was offered by the University of Pretoria to compare with UNISA.  At the time they only offered a B.Com degree in Human Resource Management and that wasn’t what I wanted to do.

6. Consider the commitment

Let’s be honest, any 3 or 4 year degree will be a commitment.  But I knew I was signing up for at least 10 years of working hard and sacrificing a lot, if I wanted to become a board certified industrial psychologists (the one that makes a killing).  My short term became the undergraduate degree, with the honours a medium term, followed by a longer term goals of completing my practical hours and becoming board certified.  Long term and ultimate would be a masters degree and board certification.

7. Consider your current career (if you are currently working)

The reason why I chose industrial psychology over psychology was because I knew I would need to transition from my then position of a travel agent to my newly chosen career choice.  Industrial psychology seemed to be a better fit in terms of my passions (the last thing I wanted to do, was counsel people all day every day) and the practicality and career limitations of the transitions.

Gratitude Graduation

How are my plans working out?

I am currently in my ninth year of studies, bearing in mind I got married and had a baby and took roughly two and a half years off, I’d say I am doing quite okay.  I am busy with my honours degree and if all goes well, write the examinations at the beginning of 2017, in order to complete the degree.

I am also happy to say that I have managed to transition from a travel agent to a business systems support specialists.  I do a lot of what I love doing, training, solving problems, enhancing systems, integration, automation, etc.  I really enjoy what I do.

I am yet to transition to industrial psychology and the plan remains to do the practical hours in order to register as a psychometrist.  But if all goes well, I would really like to go into organisational development!

How did you choose your degree major?  Was it an easy decision?

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One thought on “How to choose a degree major that is right for you”

  1. Enjoyed reading your posts on your studies. I’m currently pursuing BA general – majors psychology and communications. Also a long term plan like yours, ultimately want to pursue my very first career choice, a Psychologist.

    Good luck with your Honours – take it you may have written your exams already?

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