01/16/2013 01:49 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2013

A Dean's Secret Success Tip for College Freshmen -- and No, It's Not 'Follow Your Passion'

Telling a college freshman to "follow your passion, do what you love and a rewarding career will follow," is usually as futile as encouraging them to begin saving for a retirement account. It may be good advice, but it's premature. Most of them have yet to discover just what it is they are passionate about, since up to this point their "passion" has simply been to graduate from high school and be admitted to their top pick college or university.

Yes, there are those lucky few who enter college knowing exactly where they want to go in life and are driven to get there. They certainly don't need to be told to follow their passion... they are already doing just that. In fact, it's dragging them relentlessly forward.

Other students had a consuming hobby or interest in high school but find that their passion is not going to translate directly into a lucrative career. Realistically, only a minute number will get a chance to enter the world of professional sports, or become A-list movie stars, or win multi-million dollar recording contracts. In the wider world of the college campus they find that their talent is not as great as their passion, and their goals must change.

Telling most students to 'follow their passion' won't work because they don't know themselves well enough to know what that passion is. My tip for students? Learn about yourself to discover your passions -- and that will be your path to success.

A good first step is to start with the basics. For example, this fall, all of our incoming freshman in the College of Business will be taking a talent assessment. They'll create a personal SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) that will be a huge help in their self-awareness, and will be an invaluable tool in career planning. The fact is, not every student is right for every career. What they learn about themselves in this assessment can also give them another clue into finding a passionate direction for a career.

The goal is to try to expand their thinking and take them outside the box to find career options. Sometimes it's not about what they like, but why they like it. They may discover that the field they enter is less important than the type of job they do: a passion for "teamwork," or "a desire to work alone" can find fulfillment in many fields.

We also encourage our freshman to immediately take a course in a major they are considering. Many schools don't allow it until junior year, but we want them to know right away if it sparks an interest or not. Too often students will choose a college major not because of their interests, but because their best friend did, or because that's what their mother wants, or because they think they will make a lot of money. By letting them "test drive" a major early, they find out quickly if they have a genuine interest in it or not.

College is all about discovery. New facts, new knowledge, new skills. But to truly help our students find the path to success, we must go beyond academics, we need to also give them the tools and opportunities to discover the passion inside themselves.