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Articles / Preparing for College / Heart vs. Head Issues

Heart vs. Head Issues

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | March 5, 2014
– “What should I study in college?"

– “I just finished my first semester in pre-med and just barely passed chemistry and math. What should I do? Do I really want to be a doctor?"

– “I've always wanted to be a research scientist ever since I was a little kid, but now I'm not sure what I should do."

I encounter these types of questions all the time. First of all, I think it's the rare 17-18-year old who knows without doubt what s/he wants to do for a life's work. Uncertainty was a big part of the beginning of my college journey. I started out in accounting (!). The business world seemed like a logical default path for me back then, but the first time I tried to make a balance sheet balance, I knew that my brain would eventually short-circuit if I had to continue to deal with all those numbers.

I've dealt with this issue with a number of my clients over the years. I just searched my archives and found how I dealt with career-direction confusion for one client, in particular. This may help you if you're in a pre-college quandary and especially if you're a new college student who has become disillusioned because of the ongoing battle between your heart and your head.

[Parents, if you think your child is struggling with these kinds of issues but s/he isn't discussing them, this may help you help him or her.]

Here's what I suggested to my “heart vs. head" client:

>>… So, I have two “fun" assignments for you. First, a “quiz":

This won't take long at all and I think you'll enjoy it. Please go to http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp, read the instructions, and click through the 72 questions on that page. This will take only a few minutes. Honest!

Note: Please don't spend a long time pondering your answers. Just go with your immediate gut reaction for each one. This will render a more accurate result. When you're done, click “Score it!" and then send me a copy of the results page (please include the “preference" numbers that appear for each “letter"). After I see that, I'll send you some profiling information that I think you'll find fascinating.

Second, here's a short question I'd like you to answer for me. Please be as honest as possible. Don't tell me what you think I want to hear, but, rather, exactly what's in your heart. Be as brief or expansive as you wish. (This is a variation of a Princeton University application essay prompt.) Here goes:

What is your true passion? If you could spend a full year doing any one thing, what would that one thing be?

(Again, even if you would write, “Happily dusting my room while watching reruns of Wipeout!" that would be fine by me. I'm just trying to dig for what most passionately interests you.)

Okay. That's my Quiz & Question assignment. Take your time. No rush. I'll look forward to your answers.<<

This “quiz" questionnaire is a Web-based version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I've used the MBTI since the early '90s to help students (and adults) try to find their true personality and temperament leanings. It's a cool little tool.

As I mentioned, I was confused about my life's direction when I was this college freshman's age. When addressing this situation with students, I always include some version of the following: “Let me assure you, though, that your life will be successful and fulfilling, without doubt. You just have to allow your heart to guide your head about what to do. Even if you make some misguided steps along the way, they will all contribute to a happy resolution when you finally settle into your ideal life's work. Take it from someone who has been there and done that."


Okay. Continuing my story of how I deal with heart-head college-direction conflicts, let me explain my advice to one client who followed through with my “quiz & question." Here's what I wrote back to her once I had her quiz and question results:

>>Okay. So, how can these “ISFJ" letters help you begin to see yourself and true motivations more clearly? Well, right off the top, we can correlate a list of possible career directions with your ISFJ “preferences." I went to Google and typed in “careers for ISFJs." That gave me this top hit. If you scan down that page, you'll find this list of possible career directions:

Interior Decorators



Administrators and Managers

Administrative Assistants

Child Care / Early Childhood Development

Social Work / Counselors


Clergy / Religious Workers

Office Managers



Home Economics

Now, in your “What I would do if I had a whole year to do it" statement, you said: “I'd love to learn how to cook, perfect my art and writing skills, or take up a new hobby that I'd never tried before." That's a great honest reply. If you look at that list of possible career directions, you'll see “interior decorator" and “designer." They are related to “perfect my art." You'll also see “home economics," which is related to “learn how to cook." Your “writing skills" is a broad umbrella that can be a valuable asset for any career direction, but could be applied to the fields of designing and domestic economics.

Obviously, I'm not saying that you should purpose to become a designer or home economist. However, because of your life preferences (as discerned by this Jungian questionnaire), you have some core leanings toward those careers.

One other direction on the list that relates to your current pre-med track at MSU is nursing. There's a national shortage of nurses and that profession happens to be one of the few that offers almost guaranteed employment and good pay during these difficult economic times.

If you would care to look at your situation logically, without any pressure due to expectations (either from yourself or others), you could make a transition from MSU honors to their nursing program. This would combine both your current “medical" leanings with a solid pre-professional track that would provide you with multiple options at graduation, such as continuing on to become a Physician Assistant (see http://degreedirectory.org/articles/RN_to_Physician_Assistant_Training_and_Degree_Programs_FAQs.html). If your medical leanings are, indeed, true, then this would be one way to accomplish a satisfying career without enduring the long and winding road of medical school, internship, residency, etc. to become a doctor.

MSU honors is a rugged road if you don't have a focused goal in mind. Trust me; there's no shame in moving from honors to the general undergraduate programs. There's a lot to be said for finding yourself without all the pressure of maintaining a very high GPA. Of course, that's just my opinion.

Getting back to those four letters (ISFJ), I see that one of your numbers is relatively low: 12% for Feeling. This could mean that you may possibly “prefer" as an ISTJ. If so, we can see which career paths resonate with that:

Business Executives, Administrators and Managers

Accountants and Financial Officers

Police and Detectives



Medical Doctors / Dentists

Computer Programmers or Systems Analysts

Military Leaders

On this list, you'll see medical doctors, which coincides with your pre-college aspirations. In order to more finely focus your preferences, read through some profiles of ISFJs vs. ISTJs to see which sounds more like you:

ISFJ profiles:




ISTJ profiles:




(If you need more profiles, just Google “ISFJ" and “ISTJ." You'll get tons of results.)

Once you have confirmed which of these two possible types you are, you can then explore a huge inventory of literature about yourself. There's also another level of analysis you can explore (if you're not already exhausted doing all this). It's called “temperament." If your “S" and “J" preferences are correct, then you are of the so-called Guardian temperament. Here's a quick overview. You can also explore a sea of info on Guardians by Googling “SJ Guardian."

So, what does all this mean to you? First, it should help you discover a little more about who you are and how you prefer to live in the world and relate to others. Second, it MAY help you discern your true passion in life, which will then open some career directions for you. HOWEVER, all this is not a simple formula. I didn't discover my true calling (college admissions advising) until I was in my middle 40s, and it took a lot of courage to pursue that direction.

There's a really cool book out there that may help you think about what you would really like to do with your life: Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood, by Marsha Sinetar.

In my life, I found that title to be true, although the “money" part is secondary, in my opinion, to happiness in my work. There may be some insights for you in Sinetar's book.

Sorry for the long-winded response, but I hope that there may be a shred of insight for you here somewhere. So, what's your next step?

I think you should review the information above, then ponder it for a while. You might also want to discuss your thoughts with your parents. I'm sure that they are sympathetic to you situation.

Once you do that, feel free to contact me again and let me know if you have reached a less dazed and confused position about your direction. I'd like to hear what you think and will be happy to lend further advice, as needed.

Hang in there, Emma. You have your whole life ahead of you and even if you make some debatable decisions at this point, your life is going to turn out well. I know that mine did and made plenty of miscues along the way.

Keep smiling!<<


I said all this to offer some hope (and possibly comfort) to those of you who are agonizing over the “What should I study in college?" and other life's-work-related questions. In matters of heart vs. head, most times you'll find your best answer in your heart.


Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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