This paper examined the factors influencing the choice of area of specialization among postgraduate students in Nigerian universities. A secondary method of data collection was used, in which books, journals, and internet-based articles were reviewed. The data extracted was analyzed using manual content analysis. The paper showed that personal interest, academic achievement, the school curriculum, financial prospects, prestige of the profession, educational level of parents, the country’s needs, socio-economic background, opportunities, and motivations, among others, were the factors influencing the choice of specialization among postgraduate students. The paper also revealed that guidance and counselling have an important role to play in providing realistic information for students to make an informed choice of specialization. The paper further showed that the effects of making a wrong choice of specialization among postgraduate students include but not limited to stress and anxiety, work dissatisfaction, poor performance at work, unemployment, and demotivation, etc. The study concluded that postgraduate students aspire to further their education by pitching interests in a particular specialization, but choosing an area of specialization can be quite challenging as a lot of factors come into play, and so the paper recommended that students study these factors deeply as it helps them to reach the top of the ladder of their chosen career. As it is a question of their futures, students’ career success can be best attained if the right major course suited to their personality, ability, and attitude serves as a guide in choosing the major they are to take in the pursuit of their future career.
Keywords: Specialization, Career Development, Decision Making, Influential Factors
Globally, higher education is acknowledged as one of the answers to the world's socioeconomic issues. It is viewed as a panacea by nations and individuals for a variety of problems, including starvation, inadequate housing, mental illness, unemployment, terrible governance, ignorance, and drought. Every country in the world strives for social standing and a high standard of living. One of many significant decisions postgraduate students make when deciding their future plans is the choice of their field of expertise. They will be affected by this choice for the rest of their lives. What the student wants to do with their life's work will be central to who they are at their core. In Nigeria, postgraduate students have had severe issues in choosing their areas of specialization. No matter the student's age, choosing an area of specialty is a crucial decision for postgraduate students who want to advance their studies (Salami & Salami, 2013).
Because, it affects their ability to continue their studies, future earning potential, occupational prestige, professional advancement, and social standing, and so postgraduate students must carefully consider their area of concentration. Making wise decisions is crucial in this regard as it relates to their future pleasure with their careers. This decision takes into account a number of factors that frequently affect the choice of a desired field of expertise. Kids can make the best decisions when they have access to the right knowledge and advice. It is vital to pick the correct subject in this era of globalization and technological advancement in order to establish a position in the international labour market. To help them make wise decisions and achieve their career goals, parents, educators, and student advisors play crucial roles.
According to studies on the choice of profession, students only select their desired careers as a last resort (Bennell, 2004; Nwalo & Issa, 2008). The majority of students are therefore not well-suited for their vocations, and as a result, they frequently end up in occupations that do not meet their requirements and interests (Nwalo & Issa, 2008). This suggests that majority of graduates will work in fields in which they were not formally trained. A few graduates who choose to start a career definitely won't stick around for very long. As a result, their ability to do their jobs would suffer, and likewise have an impact on national development.
Selecting the appropriate area of expertise can be a very difficult task, especially when there are many options available. Choosing a speciality is one of the most important decisions a student will ever make because it can actually make or mar the student’s career. (Braza & Guillo-Jr., 2015). There are many things to think about when choosing a field of expertise including socioeconomic factors, mental and physical abilities, and personality traits.
According to Edwards and Quinter (2011), the advent of data innovation has made selecting a field of specialization a mind-boggling science. The rise of the postmodern revolution and employment competition are other factors. As long as he uses his knowledge and talents, it is possible for a regular person to become affluent in today's industrialized world (Wattles, 2009).
Wattles (2009) further opines that in order to fit into the evolving financial environment, one must now not only conduct a thorough career analysis but also make appropriate specialist preparation. Majority of students lack adequate understanding of professions and professional opportunities that may aid them in choosing the right specialization. As emphasized by Kerka (2000), a variety of factors, including social, economic, academic, job opportunities, personality, interests, attitude, self-concept, cultural diversity, globalization, future perspective, socialization, modern trends, role models, social support, and existing resources like facts and financial matters, influence the choice of a particular area of specialization. Although most students do not have correct information about job-related opportunities, which helps them make appropriate choices of specialty, Every unique person, according to Bandura et al. (2001), is influenced by a variety of factors, including personality, the environment in which the individual lives, his or her own decision-making, aptitudes, social connections, and academic elements. Hewitt (2010) noted that factors that affect a person's decision to specialize might be both intrinsic and extrinsic. Hewitt went on to say that the decision to specialize in a certain field relies on the individual.
McQuaid and Bond, 2003 show that a student's background, personality, length of time in school, level of success, choice of scientific and arts disciplines, attitudes, abilities, and the number of job opportunities can all affect how they see their choice of specialty in relation to certain jobs.
According to Beggs and Bantham (2008), selection of the right area of specialization is the most important and suitable for helping the student to accomplish their educational goal and post-educational objectives, and the one which gives a match between the student's capacities and interests, which is crucial for the major, is vital in choosing an area of specialization at university level (Al-Rfou, 2013). Jensen and Natalie (2006) in their own views opined that choosing a specialization is a very difficult task for students because it involves several considerations. Previous studies on "elements influencing the choice of area of specialization" have been conducted. For instance, Bapat et al. (2015) sought to determine the factors influencing the choice of area of specialization and discovered that work opportunity, future scope, contemporary demand, and career guidance contribute to the decision-making. Nauman and Mamoona (2020) likewise did a comparative study on factors influencing the choice of area of specialization among management and social science students at the university level.
Most of these studies in the literature on career choice and specialization have focused majorly on secondary school students, little on post-secondary school students, and none have been found in the literature on the factors influencing career choice and specialization among postgraduate students, especially in Nigerian universities and other institutions of higher learning. This paper bridges the gap in the body of knowledge.
In addition, after completing their undergraduate degrees at university level, many students who choose to continue their education by pursuing master's and doctoral degrees have a difficult decision to make over what field to specialize in, to progress in their careers. The lack of an exploratory investigation in this field has led to the publication of this paper.
The paper also explores how postgraduate students in Nigerian universities choose their areas of specialization; how they see the many major courses on offer at the universities; and where they get their information about the range of available specialities. This paper is crucial for students because it informs them of the factors they should think about carefully before deciding on postgraduate area of specialization. It is also important for higher education institutions because it helps them understand the needs and wants of their students and include those needs and wants in the development of career-specific course materials (curriculum).
1.1 Statement of the Problem
Higher education beyond graduate level continues to be an important mobility option for Nigerians today in order to develop and empower themselves and remains very competitive and relevant in a given specialization. Certain factors influence postgraduate students to pursue certain areas of specialization more than others. In some institutions of higher learning, especially in Nigeria, some specializations tend to have more students as compared to others in the same institutions. Transitioning more students to postgraduate education is critical to the country's socio economic development. The demand for a more-educated workforce means greater numbers of students need to further their education beyond the undergraduate level. (Fradella, 2010). This is influenced by the amount of information that is disseminated to them, time flexibility, better career opportunities and the fees to pay. Competition among institutions of higher education to influence more students to select, choose, and retain them in their institutions has become fiercer than ever before. Hence, the institutions have improved the quality of education they are offering in order to be sustainable in the market.
Because there are more colleges and universities in Nigeria, there is more competition. This means that employers need to be more aware of the underlying factors that students think about when choosing a field of specialization at the graduate level. Many attributes have been thought to be the underlying factors in the selection of the area of specialization in institutions of higher learning, while more and more determinants are coming up due to the dynamic change of the labour market which needs to be identified. This leads to the need for this paper on the factors that influence postgraduate students' choice of specialization at postgraduate level in Nigerian universities.
1.2 Objective of the Study
The general aim of this paper is to examine the factors influencing the choice of area of specialization among the postgraduate students in Nigerian universities. The specific objectives of the paper include the following:
i. To identify the factors that influence the choice of area of specialization among postgraduate students of Nigerian universities.
ii. To ascertain the role of guidance and counseling in the choice of area of specialization among postgraduate students in Nigerian universities.
iii. To examine the effects of choice of area of specialization on the career advancement of postgraduate students in Nigerian universities.
1.3 Materials and Methods
The paper utilized qualitative method of data collection and adopted content analysis as a tool of data analysis. Content analysis is a technique of making inferences about the content in which the data is found. Secondary sources of data utilized for this paper include documented journals, articles, and books written by leading authors and scholars in the area of career choice and specialization. Among other online articles, abstracts, documentaries, etc., they also served as secondary information sources in this paper. The materials were systematically reviewed, referenced, and content analyzed based on the aim and objectives of the paper.
1.4 Literature Review
This section involves the generation of data from books, reports, publications, academic journal articles, archive resources, and internet-based recorded source materials relevant to the topic of this paper. Based on the goals of this work, the following subheadings were used to review relevant and related literature:
1.4.0 Conceptual Framework
1.4.1. The Concept of Specialization
Academic specialization can refer to the field in which a specialist practices, or it might be a course of study or major in an academic institution. Academic specialty in the context of a teacher refers to the subject he is an expert in and teaches (Kytle, 2012). It is regarded as a necessary condition for the existence of objective truth, and it functions by limiting the mind's predisposition for eclecticism through methodological rigor and diligent study (Davies, 2006). It can also be used as a way to find the truth by breaking a problem down into many different parts, or "domains of knowledge.
Specialization is a production strategy used in business where an organization concentrates on producing a small range of items to increase efficiency. For instance, many nations are experts at creating commodities and services unique to their region of the world and trading them for goods and services from other regions (Will, 2020). Since few countries can produce enough to meet all of their needs on their own, this is the basis of international trade.
18.104.22.168 The Need and Origins of Specialization
The concept of specialization first appeared in Adam Smith's seminal book "The Wealth of Nations," published in 1776. The researcher contends that specialization in one type of minor job enables employees to concentrate on the steps of the manufacturing process where they have comparative advantage. People will be better at some jobs than others since they have varied abilities, talents, and interests. The specific benefits could depend on educational decisions, which are influenced by interests and talents. For instance, being a doctor requires a medical degree. Geographical factors will influence specialization for some items; for example, while it is easier to grow wheat in North Dakota than in Florida, it is easier to run a tourist hotel in Florida than in North Dakota. It is simpler to draw enough clients to run a successful dry cleaning shop or movie theatre if you live in or close to a big city than if you reside in a sparsely populated rural area. Whatever the reason, people will be more productive if they focus on producing what they do best rather than a variety of activities, some of which they are good at and some of which they are not.
Secondly, specialists often pick up the skills necessary to produce work more efficiently and at a higher standard. Numerous occupations follow this pattern, including those that involve cutting hair, operating on the heart, and assembling vehicles on an assembly line. In fact, skilled individuals frequently have an inventive idea for how to complete their work more quickly and effectively. Businesses frequently follow a similar trend. Smith (1776) says that a business that focuses on one or a small number of goods (its "core competency") is often more successful than a business that tries to sell a wide range of goods.
Thirdly, firms can benefit from economies of scale thanks to specialization, which implies that for many items, the average cost of producing each individual unit decreases as the volume of production rises. For instance, each car will be relatively expensive to construct on average if a firm only makes 100 of them a year. The average cost of production per car will be lower if a firm produces 50,000 cars annually because it can build an assembly line with massive machines and personnel performing specialized duties. The end consequence is that society as a whole can produce and consume much more than if each person tried to generate all of their own goods and services. This is because workers can concentrate on their preferences and abilities, learn to do their specialized occupations better, and work in larger organizations. The problem of scarcity has been fought off by the division and specialization of work.
22.214.171.124 The Concept of Career Development
The pursuit, acquisition, and processing of information about oneself, career and educational options, lifestyle choices, and role options are the main foci of career development, a continual lifelong process of developmental events (Hansen, 1976). In other words, career development is the process by which people learn about themselves in relation to the workplace and their place there.
An individual creates their professional identity during the career growth process. When educating our kids, it is essential that our educational institutions support and take into account the importance of this duty for our children and their future. One component of socialization, which is a more comprehensive process of human development, is the impacts and results of career growth.
Career development is a developmental process that lasts virtually your entire life and helps people become capable of and involved in work as a part of their overall lifestyle. According to Lazarus (2011), career development is a dynamic process that necessitates people to continuously examine, analyze, and synthesize data about themselves and the workplace. Establishing specific career goals and determining the factors that may be beneficial in achieving the established goals are suggested as part of career development. People have better prospects of increasing their job efficiency when they develop career goals.
Professional development is the term used to describe interventions in career behaviour as well as the elements and processes impacting individual career behaviour. The National Career Development Association (NCDA) uses the term "career development" in its name to refer to both the total constellation of psychological, sociological, educational, physical, economic, and chance factors that work together to shape individual career behaviour over the course of a person's lifetime and the interventions or practices that are used "to enhance a person's career development or to enable that person to make more effective career decisions" (Spokane, 1991:22). So, the term "career development" as it is currently used includes two sets of theories, or conceptual categories: one that explains how career behaviour changes over a person's lifetime, and the other that explains how career behaviour changes because of specific interventions.
1.5 Conceptualizing Decision Making
The act of choosing an option from an alternative is known as decision-making. It is the process of offering suitable answers to the majority of difficulties in life. Decision-making is the process of choosing a choice and the trait of being deliberate. There is a distinction between making a decision and simply choosing. Therefore, decision-making involves more than just selecting a choice (Edime, 2015). The word “DECIDE” could best be understood when it is splitting and expatiated in the form of acronym as it is analyzed thus: D - Define the problem. E - Exploit the Alternative. C - Consider the Consequences. I - Identify the value. D - Decide the Act. E - Evaluate the Result.
The distinction between choosing and deciding, according to Edime (2015), is that making a decision involves many important factors because the results could either positively or negatively impact the person's entire life as well as future generations. Because it needs more thought than simple decision-making. For instance, choosing what to eat and what to wear may not need much consideration. Making serious decisions about your career, whether you should continue your education, whether you should smoke or use drugs, whether you should marry a specific person or not, the type of profession you should pursue, and your area of specialization, on the other hand, is necessary. On a daily basis, the vast majority of people make rash decisions that are illogical or unreasonable, including those that affect their marital status, higher education courses of study, commercial ventures, and a variety of other life careers (Edime, 2015).
According to Jane (2013), the four steps of decision-making include problem detection, search, alternative evaluation, and final choice. When someone acknowledges that there is an issue that has to be fixed, they have reached the problem recognition stage. When a prospective student recognizes the need for additional education, whether for a career or because they desire a promotion, they know that they can only get one by taking a certain course. In the second stage, a person starts looking for information on the locations where the particular course they are interested in is offered. The individual may look for information online, in the newspaper, through co-workers, family members, and other sources. An individual can use this information to assess the data gathered in order to make decisions. At this point, a person has a wide range of possibilities to consider, including several fields of concentration at private universities, public universities, constituent university colleges, international colleges and universities, via correspondence, or local tertiary colleges. According to Jane (2013), the third step, alternative evaluation, is where interested parties evaluate various choices before making a final choice. Based on cost, reputation of the profession and institution, career to be chosen, existing career, reputation of course, and current environmental challenges, an individual will examine several areas of specialization and the institutions. These lead to the final step of decision-making, where the person chooses the path or field of specialty to pursue. Meanwhile, there are two scales used here to consider specialized choices:
a) Specialization by choice: This refers to postgraduate students choosing a career based on their interests.
b) Specialization by coercion or limits: Coercion in the choice of a career means that parental resistance or coercive merit-based standards put limits on what a person can do.
1.5.1 Factors Influencing the Choice of Area of Specialization among Postgraduate Students in Nigerian Universities.
Choosing a field of specialty is a difficult process because it involves several factors, especially for postgraduate students. These factors, or determinants, that affect a student's specialized decision have some overlap. Students' personal objectives, aptitude level, and most crucially, their enthusiasm for the subject matter, as well as the length of the course, all have an impact (Jensen & Owen, 2010). On the other hand, the academic component—which includes the calibre of the course material, the level of difficulty of the subject, and the workload—is equally crucial. Future prospects, such as opportunities for career advancement and employment, are connected to several other dimensions. Students, on the other hand, typically seek advice from their parents, friends, and teachers before making a final decision about their field of study (Perez, 2010).
An improper professional decision can make one sad, just as choosing the wrong partner will make life unpleasant (Bedu & Addo, 2000). As a result, many factors have been discovered to influence students while making this crucial and life-changing decision in their quest to select the appropriate specialization. According to Kazi & Akhlaq (2017), postgraduate students' career decisions regarding their choice of specialization are influenced by a variety of factors, including their environment, talents, skills, academic achievement, school, social setting, financial prospects, interest in the country's needs, their culture and socioeconomic background, opportunities, and motivations, among others.
The influencing elements were categorized into two major groups—internal and external influences—by Downey et al. (2011). These categories may overlap. The external factors that have a direct bearing on career specialization and advancement are those. There are many things to take into account, including employment prospects, job security, job availability, prestige of the institution and degree, workload, and last but not least, the influences of friends, family, and teachers. While external influences have an impact on internal factors, which are primarily the attitude, image, interest, aptitude, and influence of others, internal factors are a person's beliefs, personality, and perception. When students are given the freedom to select their own courses and concentrations, it inspires them and gives them a sense of independence, which improves their performance and aptitude in the areas of cognition and reasoning. So, the following are some considerations to make when picking a specialty: