Major Decisions

Author, College Admission Expert, Valley Prep Tutoring Services

Feb   2015



Major Decisions

Undecided? Understandable. Being asked to select a major for college while still in high school frustrates many teens. But there's a simple way to make the decision. Doing this exercise can help benefit your applications in terms of targeting the right student course work and extracurricular activities to maximize college admission options.

  • Step 1: Sit down preferably in ninth or tenth grade.
  • Step 2: Simply draw a triangle. We can all do that, right?
  • Step 3: Follow the graphic and instructions below.

Pamela's 3 P Process

As you can see, three P's pin down each corner of the triangle in this image. Yes, there is a fourth P, but notice that is the result, not part of the process.

The pinnacle P stands for Passion. No one gets far without that. Brainstorm a list of five things you absolutely love to do. What makes you come alive? What drives you? Some student know their interests from a very young age. Today's Lego enthusiast is often tomorrow's architect or engineer.

The second P stands for Proficiency. Here, you need to be very honest with yourself: list five academic and five non-academic abilities you possess. Although grades are one indicator, ease of study is another. What simply comes naturally to you? What innate talent and aptitude is there? Just because somebody wants to join NASA doesn't mean they're strong enough in science to make it to outer space.

The last criterion for determining a career path, and therefore a major, is that rascally little P that makes the world go 'round: Profitability—the ability to actually monetize that passion and proficiency. If what you love and are good at doesn't, in the end, give you a sustainable lifestyle, investing $100,000 or more in a college education doesn't make a lot of sense (or cents, if you'll pardon the pun). Research income levels or careers related to each of the responses you've given. What economic security can you realistically hope to attain in each?

At the intersection of passion, proficiency, and profitability shines a magical fourth P: Purpose. Without preemptively carving decisions in stone, here are a few purposes I've seen ignite passion, proficiency, and profits for students over the past 20 years:

  • "To service infants and children in need through my work as a pediatric surgeon."
  • "To create Oscar-winning screenplays that raise human awareness."
  • "To build a civil engineering business dedicated to creating sustainable, green cities all over America."

Notice that each of these young people had an "other" in mind as they set their goals. Although our culture often encourages teens to frame goals with inflated talk of Ferraris and mansions, once you scratch the surface, what they are really hoping to create is a sense of security and, yes, purpose.

Deciding what you can give before you get all tangled up in what you might get will often pull you from empty, material things to the relationships that generally lead to actual joy in life. But hey, if you can drive those adopted kids home to your mansion in your Ferrari, more power to you.

For more expert insights from Pamela Donnelly, be sure to check out her new book, 4 Keys to College Admissions Success: Unlocking the Gate to the Right College for Your Teen.




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About Pamela Donnelly

Pamela Donnelly

Pamela Donnelly is a #1 bestselling author (SWAT Team Tactics for Getting Your Teen Into College), speaker, and educational expert whose work can be viewed at As Time magazine's go-to college admission expert, she has appeared on regional and national television, and Larry King has endorsed her recently published book, 4 Keys to College Admissions Success.

Donnelly is a frequent speaker at live events throughout the greater Los Angeles region and a passionate advocate for education reform. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University with degrees in literature/writing and secondary education, and she has been called "the Suze Orman of education." A professional educator for more than 20 years and a former on-camera talent under contract to ABC-TV, she is the academic expert trusted by some of the most discerning and notable parents in Los Angeles.

A mother of three, Donnelly leads a team of Ivy League educators, helping parents go the extra mile to ensure their teens' transition to colleges of their dreams.

Her brick-and-mortar business, Valley Prep Tutoring Services, Inc., is the hub from which all of Donnelly's brand-related products and services flow. You can visit and for more information.